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Time is Ripe for Rural Climate Action | Opinion

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by Pete Kolbenschlag, Colorado Newsline
June 2, 2023

There is no better time to invest in rural Colorado and in climate action. The best science is telling us that the window is still slamming shut for staving off significantly worse effects from climate change. Congress might be focused on the debt limit and spending cuts, but we should not be distracted by the drama.

Still, for those who insist on weighing the price of action or inaction today as a bottom line, take note: The future in which we do not act to avert this cascading catastrophe will be far more expensive than almost any future in which we did.

The good news is that there is more funding available than ever to help rural communities transition into 21st century economies that center conservation, climate action, and prosperity. The catch is that they need to participate to get these resources. And for many small communities, that in itself is a burden that may be too much to overcome.

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Smart investment in frontline climate action needs to make it to the regions facing the most severe risk from climate change. It needs to reach the places that have borne and will bear the impacts from past and current fossil fuel activity. And it needs to be accessed by the communities that have the furthest to go to catch up in metrics of prosperity, including income, education, and access to housing, jobs, and services. But many of these places, needing such investments the most, do not have development staff or lobbyists in Denver or Washington, D.C.

In response to these constraints, my organization, the Colorado Farm & Food Alliance, is seeking to assist the North Fork Valley, where we are based, to find these federal and state partnerships that can bring those resources here. And we want to do it in a way that serves as a model for what rural climate leadership looks like.

Recently we were the named recipient in a national prize to spur community solar projects. This award is for a collaborative, community-based project that we are helping lead that will pair solar energy and farming in a practice called agrivoltaics. As exciting as this pilot project is, for us and we hope for others watching, it will truly be a success if it is followed by meaningful investments that make more ideas like this possible — such as state policy changes to smooth the way for rural electric co-ops to facilitate and integrate more community solar projects.

For starters, here are three places where smart state and local policy should align to ensure that historic federal investments are making a difference for rural communities.

Expanding community-based rural renewables Strengthening land and watershed health and resilience Boosting and incentivizing farm-based ecosystem services

So, while it is the case that the debt-ceiling debate has shifted media and other attention to competing economic needs and proposals, it is worth recounting why investment now in climate action remains more critical than ever.

In our recent report, “Gunnison Basin-Ground Zero in a Climate Emergency,” we lay out clearly the high stakes of failure to act. It all adds up to more human suffering, declining environmental health, and severe economic hardship. Most importantly, though, and on point, is that this report lays out the path for action. It makes the case that western Colorado is particularly well suited to be a national leader in rural-based climate leadership. But to get there, we need government partners that prioritize those outcomes.

We are grateful for federal investments that can drive this type of thoughtful, innovative and scalable climate action, especially for frontline, transitioning, and disproportionately impacted communities. And certainly, Congress ought not “claw back” or otherwise diminish that funding. Climate action is an imperative and rural America should not be left behind.

So we are also eager to see that investment show up in our communities now. We are ready to make a difference before the window for effective climate action slams shut. There is no more time to delay and an incredible opportunity to act. Smart investment now will help rural Colorado, and help all of us to succeed.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.