Issue page Rural Development
Photo courtesy Sierra Magazine
Rural Development

Listening to Rural Minnesota on Climate Change

For a decade, Harvey Krage drove semitrailers, passing the long hours with talk radio, especially the diatribes of right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh. That's how he first heard about climate change, "about how crazy these scientists were." 

Minnesota rural residents and state agencies work together on climate

Rural communities are at risk to be disproportionately affected by the direct impacts of climate change and by efforts to mitigate climate change. This is especially true when considering solutions and policies that increase energy, resource, or transportation costs. At the same time, much of the production in climate friendly economies will occur in rural areas through renewable energy deployment, reinvigorated local food economies, and changes to land use patterns. Rural communities will play an integral role in addressing climate issues. 

Despite this, rural America is often overlooked in climate conversations, and policy changes tend to emphasize urban and suburban perspectives. In many communities, this has led to a culture of misinformation and confusion that prevents publicly supported policy from emerging.

But it doesn't have to stay this way. Rural residents and communities have the potential to remain vibrant and develop innovative solutions that respond to local and regional challenges. The Jefferson Center and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy are moving conversations about climate change forward by working with rural community partners and residents.

The Rural Climate Dialogues use the innovative and time-tested Citizens Jury method for community problem solving and leadership development. This approach, which brings together a microcosm of the community to study an issue in-depth and generate a shared community response, has consistently provided a productive, educational, and inclusive way to address complex or divisive challenges. Each Dialogue focuses on a specific rural community and gathers a randomly selected but demographically representative group of citizens for a multi-day moderated study and deliberation forum. They are tasked with creating a shared, community-based response to the topics at hand; these topics have included climate resilience, energy systems, and renewable energy siting and development. The panels are completely citizen-driven; no one tells them what to do or what to think. The panelists have the liberty, information, and resources to produce their own recommendations that respond to community needs, priorities, concerns, and values.

Sustainable systems change will require a rural population that is empowered to be part of the climate solution. The Rural Climate Dialogues not only help rural communities think critically and plan strategically to address local challenges related to weather and climate; they allow the opportunity for community members to embrace their starring role in the creation of good policies and on-the-ground solutions. 

Overview of the Rural Climate Dialogue process:

1. We involve partners, community members, and other stakeholders to define the purpose and scope of citizen engagement on a specific issue. How are climate and energy issues impacting the community? What are the most important conversations happening locally? We use this information to tailor the information presented at the Dialogue event.

2. We recruit a diverse, demographically balanced community group (Citizens Jury) to study, deliberate, and make recommendations on the issue. The group spends 2-3 days together hearing from a variety of expert witnesses and deliberating together on the issue. On the final day of their moderated hearings, the members of the Citizens Jury produce recommendations for decision makers and the public.

3. We work with participants, sponsors, community members, community organizations, businesses, public officials, and others to support, amplify, and implement group recommendations.

Interested in your own Dialogue?

The Jefferson Center and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy are in the process of identifying communities for future Rural Dialogues. If you are interested in hosting a Dialogue in your community, or would like to receive additional information, please contact:

Hosting a Dialogue requires significant engagement with community members months prior to the event in order to identify issues of principal concern, engage local and regional experts, work with community institutions to develop information sources, and determine community receptivity among policymakers and the general public to incorporate Dialogue findings into community planning efforts.

Morris Climate Dialogue

In June 2014, a Citizens Jury came together at the West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris, Minnesota for an intense three-day deliberative forum to discuss risks posed by climate change and develop a shared, community-based response to climate change. The jury, a randomly selected but demographically representative group of 15 citizens, had access to resources and experts to produce their own independent recommendations that responded to the community's needs, priorities, concerns and values. Morris High School students helped assemble data for the meeting through a series of local energy surveys. 

After three years of partnership with the City of Morris and the University of Minnesota, Morris, IATP and the Jefferson Center convened two more events; one in December 2017 and one in February 2018. On December 6, 2017, 50 community members gathered to continue the conversation about the future of local energy. Community engagement before the event revealed that community members prioritized reliability and reducing pollution as the two main goals that should drive the county’s future energy actions. At the event, we aimed to determine what local changes would help accomplish those goals. A few main themes appeared: 1) interest in renewable energy, 2) energy efficiency, 3) batteries and storage, 4) local energy ownership and microgrids, and 5) district heating. 

The next meeting in February 2018 furthered the conversation. Community members heard from local experts on each of the five focus areas identified at the December meeting. After listening to the presentations, participants discussed the potential benefits, challenges to overcome, and action steps they could take to bring these goals to life. Finally, participants voted on the areas they’d like the community to address first, with district heating, energy efficiency, and local energy ownership rising to the top.

Our continued engagement in Stevens County will focus on partnerships built throughout this process and furthering community-identified needs. 

Itasca County Dialogue

In May 2015, Itasca County community members gathered in Grand Rapids for an in-depth three-day deliberative forum to study and discuss changes in the area’s climate and weather. Participants in the Dialogue developed a community-based response outlining concerns, opportunities, and actions to address challenges the community faces. The Itasca Climate Dialogue invited a randomly selected but demographically balanced group of 18 individuals from the county. Participants had access to resources and experts to produce their own independent recommendations that responded to Itasca County’s needs, priorities, values, and ambitions.

In conjunction with the 2015 community event, Grand Rapids High School students hosted a panel of 9 local experts in March 2015 to discuss the local impacts of climate change. After the panel, students identified their top climate concerns: impacts on wildlife habitat and migration patterns, new diseases that will impact the forests and local residents, and water quality in local lakes and rivers. Two students attended the community Dialogue to share their experiences.

The second community event took place on May 18 and 19, 2018. Building upon the first event's recommendations, this event honed in on Itasca County's energy future. This two-day Itasca County Energy Dialogue engaged a group of 18 community members selected to represent the demographics of Itasca County. 13 participants were randomly selected from a pool of Itasca County residents to reflect the demographic makeup of the county in terms of age, gender, education, political affiliation, and more. 5 participants were chosen to represent public officials and others involved in Itasca County energy issues. Over the two days, participants studied the energy system in detail, assessed criteria for evaluating the energy system, identified challenges and opportunities related to the energy system in Itasca County, and created action plans to help address challenges and realize opportunities.

Our continued engagement in Itasca County will focus on partnerships built throughout this process, and furthering community-identified needs. 

Winona County Dialogue

In March 2016, Winona County community members came together on the Winona State University campus for a three-day deliberative forum to study and discuss changes in the area’s climate and weather. Participants in the Dialogue developed a community-based response outlining concerns, opportunities and actions to address challenges the community faces. The Winona Climate Dialogue featured a Citizen's Jury of 18 randomly selected but demographically balanced individuals from the county. Participants had access to resources and experts to produce their own independent recommendations that respond to Winona County’s needs, priorities, values and ambitions.

In conjunction with the 2016 Dialogue, students at Winona Senior High School participated in a student Dialogue in February 2016 before the community Dialogue took place. Students heard from local experts and discussed their own priorities and concerns around climate and weather issues.

The second community event convened on June 22 and 23, 2018. Building upon the first event's recommendations, this event honed in on Winona County's energy future. This two-day Climate Dialogue engaged a group of 21 community members selected to represent the demographics of Winona County. 14 participants were randomly selected from a pool of Winona County residents to reflect the demographic makeup of the county in terms of age, gender, education, political affiliation, and more. 7 participants were chosen to represent public officials and others involved in Winona County energy issues. Over the two days, participants studied the energy system in detail, assessed criteria for evaluating the energy system, identified challenges and opportunities related to the energy system in Winona County, and created action plans to help address challenges and realize opportunities. 

Our continued engagement in Winona County will focus on partnerships built throughout this process, and furthering community-identified needs. 

Rural Climate Dialogues Winona High School
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Collaborating for the Community: Winona Climate Dialogue Convenes
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State Convening

On Thursday, September 8 and Friday, September 9, 2016, IATP and the Jefferson Center hosted a State Convening of participants from the three Rural Climate Dialogues to guide policy and on-the-ground actions that are needed to effectively address climate change and its impacts in Minnesota, the region, and the nation.

This gathering was the culmination of the first phase of local Rural Climate Dialogues IATP and the Jefferson Center (together with local partners) held around the state from 2014 - 2016. It brought together community leaders from Stevens County, Itasca County, and Winona County who already participated in deep climate education and discussions in their communities to discuss statewide rural Minnesota climate change adaptation and mitigation issues, and to identify priorities for policy and action for Minnesota to pursue.  

Rural Climate Dialogues Shana
Rural Climate Dialogues Shana
Shona Snater Rural Climate Dialgoues
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Troy Goodnough
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Eric Barnard
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Caleb Tomilla
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Jon Geleneau
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Katherine Sublett
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Melissa Weidendorf
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