GUEST COLUMN: North Dakotans Want a Seat at the Table on Climate Change

What do changes to crop growth cycles, increased risks of flooding, and severe droughts in North Dakota all have in common? They’re all brought on by climate change.

The issue of global warming stands at the forefront of North Dakota’s economy and affects almost every industry and community in the state. There is widespread awareness of this issue across the Heartland, and the notion that rural Americans in and out of North Dakota don’t believe in climate change is a false and outdated stereotype.

According to a recent poll released by the One Country Project (OCP) and Third Way, which surveyed rural likely voters in seven states, the majority of rural Americans are aware climate change is happening, and 48 percent say it’s man-made.

And how could a majority not be aware? The effects of climate change are hard to miss in North Dakota. Fargo is the tenth-fastest warming city in the United States, and the amount of days over 90 degrees in the state overall is predicted to increase 10 to 25 days, possibly as many as 35, by the middle of this century.

These intense weather changes are already affecting the largest part of North Dakota’s economy – the agricultural sector. About 90 percent of North Dakota’s land is used for farms and ranches and the sector employs about a quarter of the state’s population, giving a large number of North Dakotans experience with everything from trouble managing crops to delayed planting seasons and intense droughts brought on by weather deviations.

Climate change’s effects on North Dakotans and communities across rural America are distinctive and unique, which is why 71 percent of rural voters polled believe rural voices should play a leading role in the conversation.

Rural voters are right. They should be included in discussion on climate change, but, nobody is listening and, frankly, these communities don’t trust leaders in either party to hear their perspective.

The majority of rural Americans believe that both parties and the White House are ignoring their viewpoints and lifestyle when making policy decisions around climate change. In fact, only six percent of rural voters report trusting the federal government to handle the issue. Distrust in government pushes rural Americans to believe other groups can better handle the issue, with 36 percent of rural voters putting their trust in scientists, and 25 percent putting it in farmers and ranchers.

These communities could put their trust in Democrats, but only if the party begins listening to their voices and actually hearing them out. Rural Americans are not looking for an all-out mobilization on climate change. They are looking for measured solutions that will allow them to adapt to changing climate conditions, create jobs, and position the United States as a leader in innovation, all while protecting their livelihoods and way of life.

Rural Americans like those in North Dakota deserve a seat at the table when talking about the issues that affect them, climate change included. Democrats need to be the party that chooses to listen and act.

Tessa Gould
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