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Study: Leaving rural Hoosiers out of climate conversations fuels skepticism, resentment

A farmer feeds Angus cattle in an open field on his farm in Oklahoma in 2009.
Several Indiana residents surveyed for the Indiana University report were concerned farmers in their communities would have to stop raising cattle due to the methane they produce.

A survey from Indiana University suggests rural Hoosiers aren’t as skeptical about climate change as people might think.

More than 80 percent of rural Hoosiers surveyed said they think climate change is happening to some degree — only slightly less than Indiana’s urban, suburban and small town residents.

When IU researchers interviewed rural Indiana residents, they found rural folks had a lot of mixed feelings about climate change and climate solutions.

Rural Hoosiers interviewed for the report said they’re concerned about issues surrounding climate change — like health problems related to pollution, preserving natural areas and their family’s future. But they’re also worried about how climate solutions could affect their lives and communities — which can sometimes fuel skepticism in climate change itself.

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Coal plants and mines have been shutting down — which means fewer jobs and tax revenue for local economies. To reduce methane, cattle farmers might have to rethink how they feed their cows — or raise fewer cows all together. Trucks are a big part of rural culture — but one respondent said they doubt they’ll ever be able to afford an electric one.

Molly Burhans is a rising senior at IU and co-authored the study.

“Accepting the reality of climate change and what it would take to address climate change really invalidates a lot of aspects of rural life," she said.

Matt Houser works for The Nature Conservancy and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and also co-authored the report. He said rural people have largely been left out of conversations on climate solutions — which can breed resentment.

"They feel frustrated, because the finger's pointing at them for not making the change. And in many cases, they're ultimately unable to make the change," Houser said.

Houser said that can cause rural residents to attack the idea of climate change and environmental progress.

“Whenever we're trying to make change in communities, we need to find ways to align with those and enable people to live out their values while also taking action on climate change," he said.

If the Biden administration wants to curb greenhouse gas emissions, it will have to include rural people in these conversations on climate.

Contact reporter Rebecca at or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Rebecca Thiele covers statewide environment and energy issues.