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MN Rural Counties Lead the Way in Climate Talks

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Eighteen neighbors compared notes and brainstormed policy suggestions during a citizen's jury meeting last March in Winona. (The Jefferson Center)
Eighteen neighbors compared notes and brainstormed policy suggestions during a citizen's jury meeting last March in Winona. (The Jefferson Center)
December 20, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. – In three Minnesota counties, neighbors are using citizens' juries to compare notes and reach consensus on issues that have been divisive in other places.

The nonprofit Jefferson Center is convening regular people – not experts or elected officials – to discuss climate change in Itasca, Steven and Winona counties.

Andrew Rockway, the Jefferson center’s program director, says when you get farmers, insurance agents and Main Street business owners together, it isn't hard to find common ground on the impact of climate change.

"The opportunity to do so in an environment that's not necessarily driven by activists, or driven by one side politically, but really getting to sit across from neighbors that really have the same interest in mind – that is, how can we keep the way of life in our community that we so value?" he states.

The Jefferson Center pays a cross section of neighbors to study and deliberate together intensively for three days. Recommendations that result are brought to utility companies, county commissioners and state legislators.

Rockway says one outcome has been a willingness to address global warming in innovative ways.

For instance, as the state moves toward encouraging electric vehicles, it will need special incentives to make them practical in rural compared to urban communities.

"Folks aren't necessarily, you know, losing trust in democracy, but rural climate dialogues and other initiatives can help reinvest folks' energy that they have into something productive," he points out.

Rockway says policymakers and environmental groups have been eager to learn from the citizen jury process.

The Jefferson Center's partner in creating these rural dialogues is the Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

Laurie Stern, Public News Service - MN