Congrats to our Bold Founder Jane Kleeb for being named a recipient of the 2023 Climate Breakthrough Award, the largest global climate funding award for individuals.
With this award, Jane is creating a new project called Energy Builders that will focus on a new economic model around clean energy in rural communities. For too long climate action has been focused on the coasts or as a talking point in the halls of Congress. However, the majority of land needed to build America’s next 100 years of energy freedom with clean energy is in our rural towns. Rural people have been seen as part of the problem rather than part of the solution by too many, for too long.
Jane will pilot the American Energy Dividend that ensures folks who live in the rural towns that clean energy is being built in are part of the wealth generation and decision making. For those who have followed Jane’s work on pipelines, you know her passion for land justice and ending eminent domain for private gain. Jane’s work with the Energy Builders project will ensure rural communities are making the decisions on siting, decommissioning and wealth creation while pushing back on the massive amounts of disinformation fossil fuel corporations have pushed for the last decade. It is going to take an unlikely alliance to build America’s next 100 years of energy that gives America energy freedom and leaves a legacy we can all be proud of and that tackles some of the most pressing issues of our generation.
Jane Fleming Kleeb’s climate action journey has demonstrated the power of unexpected alliances of farmers, ranchers, indigenous leaders, and climate campaigners in rural America — communities that can be the powerhouse of America’s clean energy future.
For rural people, Jane [Fleming] Kleeb explains, most everything is tied to the land: livelihoods, family histories, hopes and aspirations. They will fight to protect it — and increasingly, they see wind and solar power as a threat. She wants them to take ownership and thrive on it instead.
“The land in rural communities can harness enough clean energy to power America for the next century and beyond,” she says. But in order for that to happen, rural people need to embrace clean energy development, and that requires organizing to break down opposition, build new alliances, and ensure that projects truly benefit local people. “This is an economic opportunity to transform America’s energy system with people — and land — at the center of change.”
Jane has successfully mobilized unlikely allies before. A progressive organizer in a conservative Florida family, she founded Bold Nebraska in 2010 after marrying a ranch hand, moving to the state, and falling in love with the land. Her goal was to shift the political landscape by connecting with rural residents on typically progressive issues. She hadn’t set out to take on the oil industry, until she learned of an imminent Keystone XL pipeline hearing in Nebraska that had farmers and ranchers worried about potential threats to their land and water.
Jane listened, amplified their voices, and persuaded them to join forces with Native American tribes and environmental activists to block the project. They called themselves the “Cowboy Indian Alliance.” Jane organized high-profile actions, like placing 12 tipis on the National Mall; building a clean energy-powered barn on the proposed pipeline route; and hosting Nebraska’s largest advocacy concert, Harvest the Hope, in a corn field with Willie Nelson and Neil Young.
The fight took more than a decade, but they finally got the government to rescind the project’s permit in 2021. By then, Bold Nebraska had become the Bold Alliance, doing grassroots organizing across rural America to stop risky fossil fuel and industrial food projects, and training others to replicate Jane’s successful strategies.
As a demonstrated organizer among rural communities, where many climate groups still don’t dare go, she wants to use her 2023 Climate Breakthrough Award to build new alliances to catalyze renewable energy development across rural America. She wants to promote an economic model in which every citizen in counties that host large-scale energy projects gets a share of the profits.
“We cannot repeat the mistakes of the fossil fuel corporations, where rural people were often taken advantage of, land was taken by eminent domain, the Sovereign Rights of Tribal Nations were trampled, pollution was left behind, and only a few well-connected people benefited financially,” Jane says. “We want to center the people who are most impacted, putting more control in their hands and ensuring that they are part of the wealth creation.”
The Keystone XL fight “changed my life,” Jane says, “and inspired me to never give up on anyone, anywhere… I am inspired by the small but mighty groups of people who punch above their weight for change. The ones who give a damn about leaving the world a better place.”