The urban-rural climate divide should be bridged by nature

The urban-rural climate divide should be bridged by nature
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When people hear about climate change and rural communities in the same sentence, some might think of “skepticism,” or maybe even outright denial.

This stereotype persists in part because rural communities are more closely associated with fossil fuels — including gasoline-powered cars — than cities, and, thanks to mainstream environmentalism, we’ve been conditioned to think of farming and forestry as nothing but harmful for the environment. These ideas are incompatible with meaningful climate action, and even more than that, they’re frankly not true. 

Increasingly, Americans are less and less likely to care to learn how the other half ­— meaning the city dweller or “ruralite” — lives. For example, 53 percent of urban residents said that rural residents don’t share their values, and a similar number of ruralites said the same about urbanites. But, despite these misunderstandings, urban and rural residents largely agree that climate change is a problem worthy of our concern and attention. In fact, a strong majority of rural residents are concerned about climate change, and rural communities have been deemed some of the most at-risk places for the effects of climate change. 

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So, what’s the problem? With a consensus that we should be addressing climate change across city and county lines, it seems that we should have widespread action by now. Yet, the rhetoric around climate change is full of talk of top-down government action and radical change. More government oversight simply doesn’t appeal to rural communities and alienates them from the climate conversation at large. 

Fortunately, there is a brand of climate solutions that has the potential to unite Americans across city and county lines. Natural climate solutions — or trees, oceans, soils and many other natural resources pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it in — are often bipartisan and have benefits for every community.

In action, natural climate solutions can take a variety of forms. Most famously, the Trillion Trees Initiative would mean planting 1 trillion trees worldwide to naturally sequester carbon emissions. Other solutions include sustainable agricultural practices like planting cover crops or no-till crops or restoring and conserving natural ecosystems like grasslands or estuaries.

Importantly, this brand of climate solutions has widespread support. For example, 90 percent of Americans support planting 1 trillion trees. To put that in perspective, 77 percent of Americans support developing alternative energy. Employing natural climate solutions combines conservationist values with climate action, which is the perfect formula for garnering this level of backing.

Fighting climate change with nature greatly benefits both rural and urban communities. In cities, lack of tree cover can greatly affect the health and wellbeing of residents, so by increasing urban tree cover, we’re not only sequestering emissions but lowering temperatures and improving air quality. For farmers concerned about how climate action affects their livelihoods, cover and no-till crops improve soil quality while sequestering emissions and can increase a farmer’s overall yield.

There’s no question that politics and an unwillingness to hear different perspectives has gotten in the way of climate action. While we cannot stop at natural climate solutions and must continue building a consensus for clean energy and other solutions, the beauty of nature-based solutions is that they serve many purposes to many stakeholders and can be enacted right now. They help us adapt to the current events of climate change and mitigate future damage. Perhaps most importantly, they unite Americans across lifestyles and counties for the wellbeing of our nation’s many ecosystems. 

Karly Matthews is the communications director at the American Conservation Coalition. A Pennsylvania native, she now lives in Washington, D.C.