COLUMBUS, Ohio — Climate change may be hurting rural communities in Ohio and other states, but new research says federal investments could help turn things around.
At the Center for American Progress, senior policy analyst Ryan Richards said rural areas face unique challenges — from flooding and droughts that reduce crop yields to conversion of farmland for development and oil and gas expansion. The research showed that federal programs that improve soil health and trap carbon can help safeguard rural areas against climate volatility, but Richards noted there isn't enough money to go around.
"Agriculture programs, for example, have way more people who are interested who cannot participate," he said. "Really, we're not talking about reinventing the wheel here. We have these tools that are underfunded, and we need to give them a boost to help folks who want to do good go out there and take action."
Richards said doubling the investment in four federal conservation programs could drive $3.5 billion in annual revenue to farms, and about $1.4 billion in cost savings. The study also recommended setting a national goal of protecting 30% of U.S. lands by 2030.
Also in the research, a shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources, such as solar and wind, would benefit rural communities. Fadhel Kaboub, an associate professor of economics at Denison University, agreed, and said the environmental and quality-of-life costs associated with oil and gas drilling are unsustainable.
"These create temporary bursts of job creation and income creation," he said, "but as soon as those oil and gas wells are dry, they shut down and the jobs are gone, and the communities are left behind in a much worse situation than they originally were."
Richards said rural Ohio has what it takes to protect its way of life, and contended that federal climate policy needs to take rural voices into account.
"You really see broader economic challenges that communities are facing, combined with these increasingly common climate challenges," he said, "and a lot of these solutions give communities a chance to really use their resources to take charge of their own future — and, in doing so, help society."
The report also recommended that federal leaders improve investments in rural broadband and encourage smart growth in rural towns and cities.
The report is online at americanprogress.org