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First virtual discussion focused on polarization between urban, rural communities.

PMG SCREENSHOT - The Lake Oswego Sustainability Network launched an online forum series Feb. 11.The divide between urban and rural Oregonians stems far beyond party lines and has stunted growth and solutions to finding commonality between people with differing points of view. That's why Rhys Roth, co-founder of Climate Solutions and executive director at the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure — a nonprofit organization focused on promoting a sustainable future through integrated infrastructure solutions — sees the importance of finding common ground solutions and building bridges of understanding.

"This is something that nagged at me for a couple of decades and so I'll be talking to my experience in trying to work across those divides," Roth said.

Roth was the featured speaker during the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network's first online forum "How Can Oregonians Come Together?" Thursday, Feb. 11. The virtual forum conducted via Zoom was the first in a series of online discussions taking place the second Thursday of every month at 6:30 p.m.

"Our intent is to bring you new and interesting information, voices and concepts that you might not have heard about before," said Lisa Adatto, LOSN member.

Participants were placed in breakout rooms to discuss questions including why Oregonians are polarized, what's happening between rural and urban communities, and ways sustainability and clean energy could bring people together.

A common theme among forum participants was a lack of constructive communication between rural and urban communities.

"I think we kind of developed our silos and are looking at ways to reinforce the way we think about things rather than think where our commonalities are," said Stephanie Wagner, adding that oftentimes people feel the need to change people to make them think the way they do.

Participants suggested avoiding certain rhetoric and allowing voices from rural communities to rise and say what they need. Others said a fundamental difference between rural and urban is that rural folks want more community-driven approaches, whereas people living in urban environments tend to be OK with statewide or government-driven approaches. So, to bring people together, it was suggested to have leaders from different communities who don't agree come together and discuss firsthand experiences to find compromise. Another challenge that was posed dealt with economics.

"How do you compensate people who are going to be disproportionately affected?" said Ken Dragoon, executive director of Renewable Hydrogen Alliance and speaker at next month's forum. "That deserves a lot of attention."

Dragoon added that wind and solar are bringing money into some rural areas and he thinks where money is invested, it will garner interest and sympathy, though care has to be taken to ensure funds that come into counties are spread out and not settled on a single landowner or two.

Roth said when his involvement in clean energy took off years ago, he said he started to pitch the idea that clean energy could be a high-tech opportunity.

"We've got the capability to change the national economy," Roth said.

Back then, Roth said the mentality focused on business versus environment. Now it's transitioned more toward rural versus urban.

Roth said he's also worked to promote rural economic opportunities around clean energy and organized the Harvesting Clean Energy annual conference that brought politicians, financiers and farmers together to learn about the possibilities. He said it didn't require people to take an oath and state they believe in climate change, rather it was to agree that rural economic development through clean energy was positive. Now he's working on a program to bring legislators together through shared visits to successful clean energy projects.

Ted Sturdevant, who works with Roth at the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure, said people need to have a vision of a future that is inclusive, sustainable, fair, thriving and healthy.

"Any vision of the future that doesn't include all the people that you don't like and that I don't like, it's not a real vision of the future because they're going to be there," said Sturdevant, adding that society can arrive at that by meeting people where they are, rather than demanding they come to where you are.

Adatto asked Roth to give an example of an interesting innovative infrastructure.

Roth said in Denmark, there's a city where eight companies formed an infrastructure that focused on industrial symbiosis, using the waste from one company as raw material for another.

Dorothy Atwood, LOSN member, asked for advice on what Lake Oswego could do.

Roth said in regards to polarization, creating conversations with rural communities to bridge that gap would be a good place to start.

"Find some way to come into contact with such a group on the other side of the mountains," Sturdevant said. "The idea of people getting together in intentional conversation to see if greater mutual understanding could happen, I hope to see that in the landscape."

In next month's forum March 11, Dragoon will discuss hydrogen as a conveyor of zero-carbon energy.

For more information about the forums, visit LOSN's website. To view last night's forum, visit LOSN's YouTube channel.

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