Rural communities in the face of climate change

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Climate change can be difficult to fully wrap your mind around. My fear is that more people will engage only after facing a crisis themselves — losing a home due to flooding, markets upended by multi-year droughts, or water shortages.

We know warming trends can accelerate or decelerate quickly depending on emissions and policies. We do not know when we will cross a threshold from which we cannot return. Carbon emissions increased in 2018 to nearly twice the rate seen in 2017 after three years of little to no increases.

This summer, two major reports were released with serious outlooks for our future in facing climate change. The Fourth National Climate Assessment presented a climate change outlook facing the U.S. and weather variability for the next century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a deep dive on what it would take to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The latter says we can still limit warming if we make drastic changes by 2030. That means we have 11 years to transition to a carbon-free economy or we will face significant consequences.

Our best path forward is to stay focused on solutions. This means a dramatic increase in carbon-free energy such as wind and solar, termed decarbonization. More states, cities, and even utilities are stepping up and setting timelines to become 100 percent powered by clean energy.

Another key element is the need for negative emissions through soil health, and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. A benefit of bioenergy is that plants used for energy pull carbon from the atmosphere.

Soil health can play an even larger role than bioenergy in building a healthier climate and retaining our agriculture productivity. Our rich soils can act as a carbon sink by restoring soil health and topsoil. The most recent farm bill includes a few efforts to expand work in this area.

While large cities across the country are taking on their own climate initiatives, rural communities can offer valuable insight and cannot be left out of these conversations.

Katie Rock writes for the Center for Rural Affairs, which is a nonprofit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.

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