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New Rural Climate Initiative Launches with 3 Initial Grants

The Heartland Fund, Rural Democracy Initiative’s nonpartisan 501(c)(3) organization, is launching an ambitious Rural Climate Initiative to mobilize rural-led solutions to climate change. This new initiative will help create lasting jobs and build rural communities strong enough for young people to want to make homes there, shifting the narrative about climate in rural America to one of opportunity. 

Josh Ewing, an accomplished rural conservation leader and visionary strategist, will lead the Rural Climate Initiative (RCI), starting in April. The Rural Climate Initiative builds on Heartland Fund’s successful rural organizing, policy, and communications work. In fact, two of the first three grantees receiving funding from RCI are prior Heartland Fund grant recipients and partners. 


THE CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY

We can’t win on climate change without rural America, and rural America can’t thrive without embracing climate-forward job development strategies.

Rural communities are essential to passing and implementing policies that reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the devastating effects of climate change. According to Project Drawdown, nearly a quarter of all emissions come from food, agriculture and land use, activity which occurs primarily in rural America. At the same time many clean energy projects can and should be located in these areas.  

Fires, floods, droughts, and rising temperatures disproportionately impact rural communities and disrupt daily life, food production, and economic activity on which rural communities depend. These disasters amplify existing vulnerabilities spurred by decades of disinvestment and political neglect, which have in many cases led to one-dimensional economies, crumbling infrastructure, and lack of access to health care, broadband, and other critical services.

Josh Ewing headshot

New federal funding programs and private investment create a huge opportunity for rural communities and small cities to create new programs to reduce carbon emissions, mitigate the effects of climate change, and create good jobs accessible to working families in rural communities. Embracing climate-positive projects will be central to keeping young people in rural communities and ensuring the long-term economic and physical health of rural America.

Climate-forward policies must be designed and implemented to address the specific needs and strengths of rural communities, and it’s critical that rural leaders and practitioners are active participants in developing the strategy for climate-friendly economic development, new energy projects, regenerative agriculture and forestry, energy efficiency, and rural electric cooperatives.

 

RURAL-LED SOLUTIONS FOR RURAL COMMUNITIES

Through investments in rural-based organizations and rural economic development hubs, as well as rural-focused advocacy, RCI will help ensure federal funding spurs economic growth that reflects local priorities, promotes racial and economic equity, and advances clean energy and climate solutions. This month RCI awarded grants to three organizations to expand the impact of their successful programs. 

RCI supports Rural Arizona Engagement (RAZE), a previous Heartland Fund grantee, to build climate organizing and education into its successful civic engagement organizing in rural areas. RAZE is building grassroots leadership toward meaningful engagement in electric coop elections in key counties in 2023.

Clean Up the River Environment (CURE) is organizing electric co-op members in the upper Midwest. Rural Democracy Initiative worked with CURE to create the Rural Policy Action Report, a widely publicized blueprint for rural policy that shaped policy gains in 2021. RCI’s grant supports CURE to extend their work and strengthen their coalition.

Harambee House runs a highly successful environmental jobs training program in Savannah, Georgia. The RCI grant will help the environmental justice and civic engagement organization launch a rural version of the program to the surrounding coastal towns and region and secure certification as a trainer for energy auditing, retrofitting, and weatherization.

RCI grantmaking, along with its powerful communications initiatives, will raise the voices of rural community leaders and success stories and change the rural narrative toward support for clean energy and addressing climate change.
 

People looking over vista
Josh Ewing with Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Zuni Councilman Carleton Bowekaty

ABOUT JOSH EWING

Josh Ewing headshot

Josh Ewing is a nationally recognized and award-winning conservation leader, who has lived in rural Utah for the last ten years. As Executive Director for Friends of Cedar Mesa, he worked closely with Indigenous tribes from Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah to protect Bears Ears National Monument and the culturally rich lands of southeast Utah. During his eight years in the role, he transformed the start-up conservation non-profit with a $20,000 budget into a regional influencer with 12 staff members and an annual budget of approximately $1.5 million. Friends of Cedar Mesa’s conservation work was deeply tied to rural economic development and quality of life. Ewing helped establish policies to support good jobs for working families in sustainable industries by forging strong relationships with outdoor-industry leaders, politicians on both sides of the aisle, government land managers, funders, local ranchers, and a host of stakeholders. 

Ewing’s conservation leadership has been recognized by the Conservation Lands Foundation (Fundraiser of the Year Award), American Alpine Club (Brower Conservation Leadership Award), Alnoba Leadership Foundation (Moral Courage Award), and Banff Mountain Book Competition (finalist for Best Mountaineering Article). 

“As we face the greatest environmental challenge of our time, I’m excited to bring climate solutions and the jobs they provide to parts of America that so often feel forgotten yet hold great promise and possibility,” says Ewing. 

Josh grew up on a cattle ranch in Nebraska and the rural mountains of Honduras. He is an avid rock climber, and has put up dozens of first ascents in the Utah desert, attempting to model low impact climbing and encouraging climbers to engage in conservation and advocacy work. 

 

Learn more about the Rural Climate Initiative and contact us if you’d like to get involved!