You’re tabling at a rural county fair with your friend from the city, who is regaling you with tales of her Tesla and new hundred thousand dollar solar array. Though suspicious, you try to show your approval. A local you’ve made acquaintance of walks by, catching your conversation, then stops. You know he’s not a hard line republican climate change denier and “coal roller”, but you’ve never seen him at a democratic party event either… He’s probably an independent, lots of them out here.
He interrupts: “Wish I could afford one them ‘electric cars and solar arrays, but sounds like the environmentalists are going to take away my old diesel truck and my diesel VW, and ban my wood stove too”. Before I can get a word in edgewise, my environmentalist friend from the city lays into him, telling him “You’re polluting and warming the earth, and you should dump that dirty diesel car and truck for a Tesla and power it with a solar array on your barn”
Our persuadable swing voter walks off, persuaded that democrats are environmental loons trying to sentence him to a life of cold poverty on the prairie, with maybe a bicycle to ride the long gravel roads to town. You could cut the air with a knife, but my city friend returns to extolling the virtues of his urban environmentalist lifestyle. But my memory now jogged, I ignore him… Ain’t he the guy that lives up on that swampy and hilly quarter section 20 miles from the nearest convenience store? Yup, the image is coming back, doorknocked him on a cold november morning in 2008. Invited me in for coffee and told me the story of the family homesteading there, and he might be the last to live on that land. He made the best of the maybe half of the 160 acres that was usable, growing vegetables for his extended family and the farmer’s market on what little flat high ground he had, and haying as many acres as the water table allowed. He’d raised some livestock when the markets were good, but was out of it now, unable to “get big”, he had to “get out”. And did I mention the pleasant smells from the wood burning stove as well as the coffee?
To protect the guilty, these characters are a composite of several real people, and the conversation was typical. On one hand we have the urban environmentalist who looks at pollution and global warming from an urban perspective where wood stoves and wind turbines aren’t practical, and there’s a whole plethora of stores and workplaces within range of a low end electric car with a half dead battery on a below zero day. And our rural woodstoves? I’ve got one that for a less than $2000 cost produces more renewable electricity than a $100,000 solar array. And for folks “out here” that need more range and affordability than an electric car can provide, a compact car running on renewable fuels can rival a hybrid or electric car in reducing greenhouse gasses. Solar energy is great, but if you have a good rural site, wind provides more reliable power for less investment and is just as green. And while even the most expensive Tesla’s big battery pack would barely last an hour powering a big tractor, electric propulsion has a future in small tractors that are used for mowing, snow moving, etc..
So before we (mis)judge rural folks by urban environmental frameworks, we need to remember that rural folks as keepers of the carbon sink can do more to stop global warming than urban folks ever can with solar power and electric cars. We dems need to champion policies that reward farmers for being good stewards of the carbon sink and be less critical of the big ol’ trucks farmers need to be farmers. We need to respect rural folks for sustainably preserving small towns and their farms and getting the most from the sunk carbon invested in their old machinery and vehicles. That respect will translate into more democratic votes and democratic victories on election day!