A Renewable Rural America

Date: 20 Oct 2022 | posted in: Building Local Power | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

“The climate movement, by and large, has overlooked rural America,” Josh Ewing, Director of the Rural Climate Partnership, argues on this episode of Building Local Power. Yet, America’s rural economies are expected to be the hardest hit by climate change. What accounts for this disconnect?

Josh makes the case that rural communities are plagued by misinformation. Monopolistic companies and corporate interests are spending huge sums to dissuade people from embracing clean energy, especially across the rural United States, which has historically been heavily reliant on oil, gas, and coal. The profit motive of these corporations is harming the real opportunity in rural America to transition to clean energy.

But Josh is clear-eyed in his mission. Given the degree to which gasoline super-users, the climate-sensitive agricultural economy, and the future of clean energy infrastructure reside in rural America, it is imperative that rural communities sit at the center of our climate policies and that politics get left aside. This transition to clean energy is an economic necessity, and communities of all political stripes must embrace this transition for the sake of generational survival.

Check out our additional resources below.

Unfamiliar with a term that came up in this conversation? We’ve added helpful definitions below.

“Success begets success. When we have more communities embracing clean energy, reducing their energy bills, having their property taxes going down, that spirals. And so in my view what we’re trying to do is work with people who really want to make change and lift those stories up, create those success stories, and then try to get some critical mass and momentum going.”
– Josh Ewing

Rural Climate Partnership 

Rural Democracy Initiative’s launch of the Rural Climate Partnership 

Gasoline Superusers Report from Coltura

Mapping Rural America’s Diversity and Demographic Change — According to the Brookings Institute, 24% of rural Americans were people of color in 2020.

Evolving Towards a 21st Century Energy Economy in Minnesota

National Grid Renewables Celebrates American Clean Power Week at First Solar Manufacturing Plant and Ohio Solar Project

Inflation Reduction Act (IRA): Enacted by the Biden administration the Act “lowers prescription drug costs, health care costs, and energy costs. It’s the most aggressive action on tackling the climate crisis in American history, which will lift up American workers and create good-paying, union jobs across the country. It’ll lower the deficit and ask the ultra-wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share. And no one making under $400,000 per year will pay a penny more in taxes.” Listen to “Inflation Reduction Act Boosts Local Solar” on Local Energy Rules.

Find this book at your local, independent bookstore:

Rural Renaissance: Revitalizing America’s Hometowns through Clean Power by Michelle Moore

Regenerative agriculture: A holistic farming system that improves water and air quality, enhances ecosystem biodiversity, produces nutrient-dense food, and stores carbon.

Josh: You will see very conservative mayors in Indiana that are embracing climate solutions and diversifying their economies. So I think climate solutions, particularly clean energy and regenerative agriculture does not need to be a culture war issue. This is really an economics issue and how do we embrace how the world is changing and make lives better. This doesn’t have to be about politics this really should be a bipartisan issue.
Reggie: Hello and welcome to Building Local Power. A podcast from the institute for local self reliance, dedicated to challenging corporate monopolies and expanding the power of people to shape their own future. Hi, I’m Reggie Rucker, and today we are taking a trip out into the country to see how rural communities across the United States, no matter their political stripes, are ditching energy monopolies and gaining energy independence by building clean energy solutions right in their backyard. Literally in many cases.
But before we jump inlet me introduce you to my cohost who I’ve noticed is sort of like the cool other side of the pillow, Luke. What’s up, Luke?
Luke: Cool as the other side of the pillow. I definitely don’t hear that phrase enough. I love it. Thank you, Reggie. So we have a perfect guest on the show today to talk about these clean energy solutions in the country. Josh Ewing is the director of the rural climate partnership, and is a nationally recognized conservation leader. In his past position, he worked with indigenous tribes across the west to protect land in Southeast Utah, where he is located. Which I have to mentioned because I’m from Idaho and I don’t often meet people in the neighboring states.
Anyway, we are going to jump right into the show. So welcome, Josh, we are so happy to have you.
Josh: Yeah great to join you.
Luke: So Josh, can you tell us, what is the rural climate partnership?
Josh: Basically we’re a funding collaborative that works to elevate philanthropic support for rural climate solutions in clean energy, in regenerative agriculture, also in helping to get local communities to get able to tap in and pull down some of the federal funding resources that are available on climate solutions. Our basic premise is that the road to climate progress runs straight through rural America, and we really need to transform the way people in rural America think about climate.
Right now, the predominant narrative is that climate change and addressing the climate crisis is all about regulating rural people out of existence and making them move to a big city. And that’s not the case, it’s really a huge economic opportunity to embrace clean energy and sustainable agriculture. And it’s a way that we can keep rural communities thriving and healthy and kind of turn around some of the decline we’ve seen in rural communities especially around monopolies. Energy monopolies, agricultural monopolies, bring the power back to the people, so to speak. Use that as a way to help rejuvenate rural economies and help young people be able to stay in rural places.
We’re just getting going, rural climate partnership’s only been around since April. But our primary work is to provide grants and support for people on the ground doing the good work but also to do kind of the movement building work of changing narrative, changing policy, and giving tools and opportunity to working people in small businesses to help make a change.
Reggie: How did you come to this place to where you’ve identified the need for rural communities to be not the afterthought of climate policy and climate solutions, but to be at the forefront of this movement?
Josh: I was born and raised in rural Nebraska. My family has a cattle ranch in western Nebraska. In fact, we just faced a climate disaster where our entire ranch was destroyed in a 15000 acre wildfire. Certainly climate induced drought caused that wildfire. My parent’s home burned to the ground. So I have more- more passion than ever on climate. Kind of have a long history of really caring about rural places, being from a rural place. And now living in a town of 150 people in rural Utah.
When I was making the change from land conservation, I really wanted to try to find a way to have an impact in climate, it’s like the rural space was really what called to my heart. And I felt like this is one space I- I can maybe have a unique impact because of my life experience and my understanding of rural communities, particularly in the Midwest and in the western United States. I think a lot of rural spaces have similar issues that they need to deal with, similar feeling of distance and kind of cultural distance from urban areas and urban policies. And a need to be brought into the climate movement.
Luke: So you’ve commented on this a little bit, Josh, on the rural climate partnership website it says that climate change disproportionately impacts rural areas. Could you explain this a little further?
Josh: Yeah sure. I mean think of the farmer that loses his entire crop in a flood. A thousand year flood that’s now happened three times in the last five years. Right? Or think of in my backyard on the Navajo nation and the Hopi nation, think about the Hopi nation who their revenues for their tribe are going down 80% because of the closure of a coal fired power plant that was essentially the main revenue for their tribe. And it’s a very rural tribe, having a huge impact from the transition. How do we have a just transition there? And wild fires, I mean my family just experienced this. There aren’t a lot of big urban areas that have huge impacts from wild fires. Sure there’s a lot of smoke and those sort of things, but it’s by and large rural people who lose their homes or lose their livelihood from wild fires.
I don’t wanna downplay at all how much climate change is impacting big urban areas, but when you talk about just like almost every rural person I know is really feeling the impacts of climate change. And certainly from an economic standpoint, the economics of rural America I think are impacted even more by climate change than the economics of cities that have economics that are more diverse. Right? In rural America, the- the economic makeup of many communities is pretty non diversified. And sometimes 100% reliant on fossil energy.
The climate movement by and large, has kind of overlooked rural America and that’s not good because where is most of the clean energy gonna get built? You know, it’s gonna be built in rural America. Where is almost all of the transmission gonna happen? Rural America. Where do most of the superusers of gasoline that need to adopt electric vehicles? That’s in rural America. And where does agriculture happen? Well 10% of all United States emissions are from agriculture, so that happens in rural America too. So we’re just not gonna get where we need to go on climate without really focusing on rural places. And yet by and large the philanthropic community has really had ad hoc funding in that space and there just hasn’t been a real focus on what needs to happen out in the country as those of us in rural America say.
We actually don’t think of ourselves as rural people, we think of ourselves as being from a country. (laughs)
Reggie: That’s good to know. And you’ve laid out very clearly, very brilliantly what’s at stake for rural communities, or for country folk. There’s a perception that folks who are working in ag, and just people in rural communities in general, are a little skeptical of sort of transitions to cleaner energy. There’s a little bit of opposition. So one, is that true? Is that perception that there’s not as much of an embrace towards this clean energy transition, so is that part true? And if it is, what is it that creating that opposition?
Josh: Yeah I think it’s important to realize like all of America, there’s a lot of differences and rural America is just not one thing. In particular like people don’t realize, rural America is not white. Actually about 25% of rural America is made up of people of color. So you can’t do too broad a brush. But I do think it is pretty accurate that when it comes to climate, and especially comes to clean energy, that there’s more reticence in rural communities who embrace that changes than you might see in urban areas.
And some of that has to do with politics, and kind of the information vacuum that rural folks face hen it comes to getting good information about climate. It has to do with the impact of monopolies and how much they are able to influence the conversation, especially around agriculture, but also clean energy in rural spaces. It’s not that rural people are inherently like opposed to clean energy, but they do have a different information set that is coming to them. And I think because of the lack of investment in rural America, rural places are very vulnerable to misinformation about what climate progress looks like and what that will mean for communities. And there is a ton of misinformation out there.
I was in Minnesota recently and drove by this big billboard that said, “Wind is not the answer.” And there’s a website and it’s just full of misinformation about wind energy. And it’s like easily debunked, but right, like corporate interests are paying to dissuade people from embracing wind energy. Property taxes should be going down because of wind energy, farmers should be putting their kids through college because of wind energy. It should be a really positive things for these places, but misinformation is pretty rampant.
Reggie: That’s so powerful. It makes me this, is there a specific example that comes to mind to you first, of a community that has sort of cracked that code? Has solved how to overcome those misinformation challenges or the challenges of monopoly power in special interests that want to pursue this backwards looking agenda? Is there a community that comes to mind that’s doing it right to sort of get out of this downward spiral?
Josh: Yeah and so that’s where it comes back to you can’t paint all of rural America with one brush. There are a lot of communities that are really leading out in rural clean energy in particular. I think of the Kit Carson rural eclectic cooperative in Northern New Mexico. It’s a very rural area, but they’ve embraced clean energy and they actually made an announcement in August that they were cutting their bills to their consumers by 20%. Right, like who gets a bill that goes down right now during super inflation that everybody’s talking about. But their customer’s bills are getting cut by 20, 25% and they announced that during the daytime all of the energy for their electric cooperative member owners was being produced by the sun. Right? So they’ve embraced clean energy in a way that is like not just making them headlines, but is actually putting more money in people’s pockets, reducing their electricity bills.
There are examples like this all around the United States in different places. It’s one of the best parts of my job, I get to learn about this really cool stuff that is happening. There’s a- a really revolution in clean energy happening in Northern Iowa right now. There’s a little town in Northern Minnesota called Monroe, Minnesota that has adopted 100% clean energy goals, is making huge progress in going there. Yellow Jacket, Ohio is the place where the governor of Ohio was born there, but it’s a little small town that’s having big clean energy progress. So there’s a lot of bright spots that we don’t really hear about in rural America that are doing good things.
And in some cases, it has nothing to do with politics. You’ll see very conservative mayors in Indian that are embracing climate solutions and diversifying their economies. So I think climate solutions, particularly clean energy and regenerative agriculture does not need to be a culture war issue. This is really an economics issue and how do we embrace how the world is changing and make lives better. This doesn’t have to be about politics this really should be a bipartisan issue. And I think it’s moving in that direction. But there’s some hurdles to totally getting there and that’s what we’re working on.
Luke: So looking across the county at some of these communities that you mentioned, Josh, whether it’s a community that’s able to reduce the cost of electricity, or able to meet 100% clean energy goals. Are there common strategies that you have seen that these communities are using that other small rural or even just other communities in general that they can take to use as well?
Josh: Yeah I think there is a diversity of strategies people are taking. It’s really like looking at the economics. I mean if you just look at like the economics of solar, for example, putting in solar energy is definitely cheaper than fossil energy now. Right? Like the technology has just improved and we just realize the technology is different, and the cost deferential is different. Instead of like holding on to this dirty energy that’s actually more expensive, we’re just gonna embrace that. And yes, that’s gonna take some work to transition that direction. We have some issues with intermittency, you know, the sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow, we gotta figure that stuff out. But generally speaking, the communities that are doing well are- are the ones that are depoliticizing it and really thinking of it as a cost saving and ec- economic issue.
There are places where the oil energy system has a lot of power, a lot of monopoly. And there’s certainly a lot of money being spent in those places to dissuade people from making the transition. But I think generally speaking, I would say the strategies that are working is pulling the community together to really think about what their energy system is gonna look like in the future. And how that could be unique to their geography. I think that’s what’s really cool about clean energy is it used to be like to build a coal fire powered plant is millions if not billions of dollars. It can’t be local, you can’t have a local coal fired power plant in every community. You can have solar energy in every community, on every school, on most every home, right? And so you can have energy independence, you can have economic independence. We don’t have to be paying huge electric company monopolies money.
And so I think the- the folks that are having success are the ones that are kind of bringing it back to people, having energy independence for themselves. And being like, we’re not waiting for somebody to tell us what to do. We’re not waiting for Washington DC, or Denver Colorado, whatever, to tell us what to do. We’re gonna grasp our own future. And now, particularly with the inflation reduction act and financial resources that are going to be available to communities for a lot of this work, in the past like the Kit Carson, uh, cooperative that I told you about, man, they had to do so much work to do that on their own. Because there was no financial support. There was not a lot behind making that happen. They just had to bootstrap it.
But most communities not have the resources they can tap into. And it’s just a matter of putting together the political will and the plans, and the programs to make it work.
Luke: Talking about the IRA and the federal government’s position within this local movement. And on building local power we like to interrogate this question of what does local really mean? What- what does that entail? And so I’m curious, first, are rural communities building power in terms of sustainable project development, planning, without the aid of the federal government? And when does that come in? When is that necessary?
Josh: Certainly there are examples like the ones I mentioned that haven’t had much aid from the federal government to do it. They’ve really figured out how to do it on their own. And I’ll say almost every rural community is gonna have to have some element of entrepreneurship to make that happen. Just because like I think in my hometown it’s 150 people. We have a part-time mayor. And we don’t have a team of grant writers to go do this stuff. So yes, we need some support. That’ll probably come from the philanthropic community or volunteers in the community working together to put together plans. Right, most small towns, rural communities, rural counties, they don’t have a lot of that in-house capacity to like say, write the grants from the federal government even to get that help.
And so they have to go out and- and find help, find support, and do things on their own. And that’s one of the things rural climate partnership is trying to do, is like how can we support these communities who want to change their energy system, they want to have local energy and power, but don’t have the resources to put together that, for themselves. How can we help provide them some tools and opportunity to do that? And I think that is a big different between rural and urban areas, is just the rural areas are so spread out that we gotta create coalitions out of five small towns in rural Iowa come together, right? Any- any one town is probably gonna be too big of a lift, but if the five rural towns, or the two rural counties work together.
So there’s a lot of coalition building that has to happen. Rural people are naturally good at that because, you know, in a small town everybody’s gotta do something. You know, I’m a firefighter, en EMT and a volunteer, uh, almost everything that comes up, like that’s how rural communities work. But we do need support from time to time.
Reggie: We will be right back after a very short break. As an organization seeking the end of corporate control in local communities, you’ll understand why our commercial break sounds a little different. There’s no corporations selling you something in an ad. Just me thanking you for listening to our show. And if you’re enjoying this episode, which if you’ve made it this far, I’m assuming you are, I definitely encourage you to check out more of our work, including our local energy rules podcast, which we have a link to on this episode’s page. They have tons of great content that picks up on and dives deeper into this conversation of decentralizing energy, so definitely check that out.
And you should know, we’re only able to produce this content with the generous support of people like you. So if I can, please head over to ilsr.org/donate to make a contribution. Any amount, and I mean that, one dollar, five dollars, is deeply, deeply appreciated. If you’re looking for additional ways to support, we love reviews and are looking for more of them, so please leave one. These reviews make a huge difference in helping us reach a wider audience. Okay. That’s our break. Thank you for listening. And now, back to the show.
So when I hear you talk about communities that are sort of boot strapping it and making a way out of no way, on the one hand, like my first reaction is that is incredibly impressive, applause, standing ovation all the way around. Like genuinely, truly impressive. And then on the other hand there’s this thought where, this is just incredibly unnecessary. Like as a country we have the resources to make it much easier for rural communities and communities across the country, to make it much easier for these communities to more easily transition to clean, affordable, more economical, independent, locally owned energy sources. Like that’s the way we should be going. And rather than making it such a challenge for communities, we could be making it a lot easier.
And so that makes me think about the inflation reduction act, and the sort of massive amount of resources that are being poured into this transition. And particularly, some of the resources that are going to rural communities like the ones that you work with. So can you talk a little bit about how sort of on the one hand, we do want to continue to encourage that level of ingenuity and creativity to find these sort of outside of the box solutions. And at the same tie, again, like with the, with the inflation reduction act, we can provide the- the federal resources to support that and uplift it, and make those projects really the norm rather than these outliers or these, you know, special cases. So can you talk about the inflation reduction act and how federal support is going to move this towards being the more typical outcome as opposed to sort of, again, these special cases?
Josh: Well I will say, you know, my mom always, she used the phrase, “Shoulda, coulda, woulda.” It’s like, no, you gotta make it happen. And the reality is that there’s a lot of resources in the inflation reduction act that can help clean energy happen across the United States and in rural America. But there’s no snapping your fingers, it’s not easy, it’s not going to be easy. There is, there’s all sorts of resources in there, but people have to want to go after them. I’ll give you an example. There’s rebates to put solar on your roof, or to take your heater from being oil, an oil heater or a propane heater and transition it over to be a heat pump. But you have to actually want to go out and do that. And you actually have to be willing to put some of your own money into it and figure that out. And that’s just harder in rural America, there’s not as many air conditioning contractors, there’s just not as many like solar installers.
One of the things that we need to do, and there is money in the inflation reduction act, is to help do some of that job development some of that skills development for rural electricians and solar installers, and beef up that work. And that can create local jobs over the longterm. But some of this is also a bit of a marketing challenge. Right? Like we need to help people understand how much money they can save by going after some of these opportunities.
Electric vehicles, for example, if you take the top 10% of all drivers in the United States in terms of gasoline consumption, we call those top 10% super users. And in fact there’s a study by Kulture that- that kind of defined this and looked at who the super users are. Turns out, 57% of those super uses, so 50, more than half of that 10% lives in rural America. What does that say? It says that if you drive a bunch in rural American, you’re gonna save a lot more money by switching to an electric vehicle, say, an F150, um, Lightening from Ford than a super liberal person in a city that drives 20 miles a week. And it’s hardly, that person’s hardly gonna save anything on gas, right?
So we can have a lot more climate impact in rural America but we gotta help people see that. There’s a lot of people in rural America have never seen an electric vehicle, let alone, you know, one of these new Ford Lightenings or something. Right, so there’s some work that we gotta do to get people seeing these, go to the county fairs with those F150 Lightenings. Be out and about in the community, have the farm store where people are picking up their feed for their chickens, somebody pulls up and- and charges one of those things. And so I do think we have to have some strategies to bring some of these opportunities to rural America, get people to see and grasp on to them.
And rural electric cooperators are similar. You know, there’s 10 billions dollars in the inflation reduction act to help rural electric cooperatives transition to clean energy but a lot of these rural electric coops, they’re- they’re pretty small, they’ve got longterm contracts with coal fire power plants, and it’s gonna take some education, some work, and some community organizing to push those electric cooperatives, say hey, we want cheap clean energy in our community. We don’t wanna have to buy from this coal fire power plant that’s two states away, that has coal coming from five states away. Like we wanna have that be right here.
Just because there’s money in the inflation reduction act, doesn’t mean it’s like magically shows up in rural America. In fact, the most likely situation is it doesn’t happen that way. And it’s that- that the people that usually get money from the federal government are gonna keep money from the federal government. And so that’s a big piece of the work that has to be done is how do we make sure that this good stuff lands in rural America and help changes communities, rather than being just another example of how there was this great thing that happened, that actually didn’t show up in rural America.
Reggie: So actually I think you’ve pointed to a- a lot of the issues of what’s holding up the transition. Whether it’s not doing a good enough job of just like educating people or again sort of powerful interests intentionally misinforming people, and the lack of- of resources that have the full suite of tools available in rural communities to make progress. Of all those, I guess like what’s the first step? Like what’s the first thing that you think needs to happen in order to sort of create change here?
Josh: Well my opinion on the first step, and I think we’ve gotta do a lot of steps at the same time. Like this is our opportunity, this five year period is an incredible opportunity for all the United States, but particularly rural America to see the benefits of a clean energy transition and a transition in our agriculture system, ‘Cause we gotta walk and chew gum at the same time. But in my view, the most important first step is crating bright spots, creating these success stories. Success begets success. And when we have more communities embracing clean energy, reducing their energy bills, having their property taxes going down, that kind of spirals, right?
And so in my view we’re, what we’re trying to do is work with people who really want to make change and lift them, those stirs up, create those success stories and then try to get some critical mass and momentum going. Especially early on with the- the funding from the inflation reduction act coming out. There’s just a lot of communities that are not even in a position to be able to accept it. But there are people that have been thinking and working on this stuff in rural America. Let’s make sure that they are, you know, really meeting out so that other people can see this success.
I like to point to what’s happening in the Midwest right now around clean energy siting. You know, where do we build solar and particularly wind farms? And you look at a place like Indiana where there are a bunch of counties that have passed, what are in my view fairly crazy restrictions on wind energy. They’re essentially bans on wind energy in those counties. And that has happened because interests that don’t want clean energy to happen are fueling a lot of misinformation, there’s a lot of this kind of not- not in my backyard sort of thing happening. And even though there are farmers who want to take advantage of putting their kids through college or what have you, and by having wind energy on their private property, people are saying no, you can’t do that on your private property. Private property rights aren’t a thing around here anymore. That’s happening in Indiana and there’s a number of counties that have said, you can’t build wind energy in our county. All right?
You go just a state over, you know, into Iowa and that’s not happening very much. And that’s because a lot of Iowans and I’ll say Senator Grassley was a good piece of that, they embrace wind energy early on and they’ve seen the community benefits. Right? They’ve seen in right in their community to have their property taxes are going down and farmers have a diversified income stream so they don’t have to rely on just that corn or soybean crop for income on their property. And so I think that example illustrates how because Iowa has seen the benefits early, before the misinformation got started, they are having success.
And so if we can build those success stories in those Indiana communities, or near those Indiana communities so they start looking across the county line, like, how come their tax bills are going down? How come their schools are doing better? I think those success story building is the first step in my opinion.
Luke: Yeah I love that, success story building. So, Josh, we’ve talked a bit about the IRA and federal funding. And I wanna turn back towards the rural climate partnership, ’cause I’m curious how the rural climate partnership decides which communities to fund?
Josh: It is hard work to do the deciding because it’s not like we have infinite resources. Like I would like to be working in every community in America that wants to be working on clean energy. Largely we’re working with communities where we see opportunity to work across the aisle, work with people who wanna work on changing the economics in their county or their small town, their area, that we can create those success stories.
I’ll just give you some examples. In- in rural Minnesota there were a number of small towns and areas that had developed climate action plans. And they had decided, here’s how we want to approach this issue in our community. Here’s the type of project we would like to do. So they already had had these discussions. And they’d already kind of prioritized, this is what our community wants to do. This community already had some momentum, but they needed some support with the grant writing and putting together the programs and projects. And so we’re essentially funding, along with some other partners, three grant writers just to work on climate solutions and federal funding for those rural communities in northern and central Minnesota. Right?
So it’s like, how do we pick that? Well, you know, we talk to folks like who’s doing good stuff? Who’s already kind of working on this? Who can we kind of lift up and support and what do they need? Right? And that looks different in Indiana and it looks different in New Mexico, and it looks different in rural Georgia. By and large what we’re doing is talking to people, like who’s doing good stuff that needs more support in rural America? I hope that my job gets harder and easier at the same time going forward. I hope there’s more resources that I have to help rural communities, but also more rural communities asking for those resources. But right now it’s kind of been a matchmaking of like geographically around the United States, how can we have different bright spots in different communities? And where can we tap into energy that’s there that can maybe inspire the next town over, the next county over, and then the next state over?
So how are we going about, I can’t say it’s like incredibly scientific, but it’s you know it when you see it. When you see a rural leader who’s like boot strapping, doing the thing, you’re like yes. I wanna be on that person’s team. What can I do to support that person’s team? I wanna be on the bench for them. Can I bring out the Gatorade, right? You know when you see those people that are working hard. And particularly those people who are like, I’m not letting this become a political thing. Like I- I’m a Republican mayor or I’m, you know, an Independent type person, I’m not even that involved in politics, but I wanna see my community be better and clean energy is a great way to do it.
Reggie: I love that point. I wanna pick right up on it. You’ve mentioned in a few different portions of this conversations, where leadership matters. Where both organizationally, from a grassroots perspective, but then also political leadership that that mayor who says, I don’t care what party I’m affiliated with, this makes economic sense, or environmental sense, whatever the case may be. So I wanna just put like a very fine point on that, just have you explain, how does that make a difference? How much does leadership matter, political leadership, elected leadership matter to these communities and these solutions?
Josh: Yeah I do think that elected leaders matter a lot. They control a lot of the levers in rural communities and in states that have big rural populations. It’s one of the most difficult things right now in our country is just how divided we are as a nation in a lot of what I call the culture war issues, these litmus test issues. And I really think climate and particularly clean energy and regenerative agriculture, they have the ability kind of transcend this political moment. And be something that’s good for communities, be good for economics.
I think that leadership that comes up and sees the opportunities, you know, I heard a speech from governor Holcomb in Indiana not long ago. And I was like, wow, here’s a Republican governor who is really seeing the opportunity for his state of electric vehicles and clean energy. He’s willing to talk about it quite openly and he’s not getting shot in the head by the right flank of the party on that.
I think it’s more likely in my area of the country, my representative is a Republican representative, representative Curtis. And he’s leading the conservative climate caucus in the House of Representatives. Part of that is that he leads the youngest congressional district in the United States and a lot of young people are like, hey, we see what’s happening here, we need some change to happen. Now there’s differences in opinion about how to go about it and how to make change. But I think that we are on an upswing where leading out on climate can be a bipartisan issue. And we’re a ways away from that but I think as we make change in rural communities, as we have these bright spots, the more and more bright spots we have, the more kind of cover it gives people to lead on these issues regardless of what political spectrum they come from
Luke: That’s great. Yeah, these are some really big and challenging questions that you did a great job of answering, Josh, so thank you for that. We are gonna turn to our final question, and this is where we love to highlight and embrace our independent bookstores. And so what book has inspired the work that do today? What would you say is a must read?
Josh: Oh that’s such an easy answer. (laughs) Um, it was a brand new book out called Rural Renaissance. You just, you gotta read it. It’s by a wonderful woman named Michelle Moore. And it’s all about how clean energy can help renew and restore hometowns across the United States. And in the book, Michelle does a great job of kind of laying out how rural communities really benefited in the past from electrification. You know, in the 1930s the Dust Bowl and most farms didn’t have electricity. And now we have an opportunity to rejuvenate rural communities again through local clean energy. And she’s got a number of incredible success stories in the book. I recommend she might be a great person on a, on a future podcast. Rural Renaissance, I couldn’t recommend it higher for anyone who’s thinking about how to reinvigorate economies out of the cities, out in the country, all across America.
Luke: Well that’s a great title, Rural Renaissance. I love it already. Thank you so much, Josh. This has been a great conversation. What has really stuck with me is just really taking politics to of it, that this is a bipartisan goal. What leaders are, what makes a success story. So thank you so much for coming on today.
Josh: Absolutely it was great to join both of you. And thanks for all of your hard work with ILSR and there’s so many people that have to be engaged in this work going forward. So thanks for your hard work and thanks for having me on.
Reggie: Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode of the Building Local Power podcast from the institute for local self reliance. You can find links to everything discussed today by going to ilsr.org and clicking on the show page for this episode. And if at any moment you thought to yourself, huh, I don’t really know what that term means. You can go check out our new definitions list on the show page, that is ilsr.org.
Luke: We have all kinds of ways for you to get involved in our work. Sign up for one of our many newsletters, connect with us on social media, or even reach out with a podcast guest. All of your reviews likes, and donations help produce this very podcast. And support the research and resources that we make available on our website. This show is produced by the brilliant Reggie Rucker and me, Luke Gannon. This podcast is edited by Drew Birchbok. Our theme music is funk interpreted by Dysfunctional. And before we end, remember to head over to woosteryouthcoops.org. Get inspired and take action in your community.

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Audio Credit: Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

Photo Credit: Worcester Youth Collaboratives 

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Follow Luke Gannon:
Luke Gannon

Luke Gannon is the Research and Communications Associate for the Independent Business team.

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Reggie Rucker

As Communications Director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Reggie develops communications strategies and leads campaigns to build public support for ILSR local power initiatives. Contact Reggie with media inquiries.