Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Welcome to the Rural Futures Lab

Welcome to the Rural Futures Lab!  Through the Lab we aim to encourage a future-oriented conversation about where rural America is heading and what we have to do to make life better for the 50 million people who live and work there. 

Rural America is home to highly productive agriculture, to abundant conventional and renewable energy resources and to an extraordinary array of natural amenities.  If these can be managed sustainably in ways that offer economic opportunities and improved quality of life for rural people while safeguarding the integrity of these resources for future generations, then rural America will be the foundation for ongoing national prosperity and global leadership. 

This vision for rural America is based on historical trends as well as future predictions from many sources.  On my desk is a report from the National Intelligence Council published nearly three years ago.  The report, Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World¸ represents an effort by the intelligence community to identify the key drivers and developments likely to shape world events a decade or more into the future.  It is not a forecast but a thoughtful means of starting a conversation about how the choices we make now might play out down the line.  

One section of the report, Scarcity in the Midst of Plenty, is particularly relevant to the work of the Rural Futures Lab.   The authors see the international system being challenged by growing resource constraints as the global population expands by another billion. The situation will be further stressed by growing urbanization, greater per capita consumption as developing countries emulate Western lifestyles, and climate change. 

Of course, it doesn’t take too much imagination to conjure up a Doomsday scenario.  Nations may well continue to adopt a “growth-first” mentality leading to widespread environmental neglect and degradation, coal may still be the dominant energy source, the control of oil reserves may still be central to geo-political power, and solutions, either technological or political, may not have been found to blunt the effects of climate change.  But that need not be the path we accept for the United States.  In fact, these global stresses could provide real opportunities for rural America.

Whether these opportunities can be grasped – and who grasps them and how – are the overarching themes for the Rural Futures Lab.  For rural America to fully participate in the food, energy, and resource transformations on the horizon will require substantial investment in rebuilding the physical, educational, and civic capacity of rural communities and regions – and the will to imagine and work toward a better future. 

We invite you to explore this website, contribute your thoughts and ideas, and to be part of what we hope will be a fast growing network of champions of a new rural narrative.

Brian Dabson is the director of the Rural Futures Lab.  Contact him at brian@rupri.org