JoCo leaders plan summit to address the future: A metro area rocked by climate change

How does climate change affect us?

Signs of climate change are happening across the world, but as global citizens, we have the option to take action against climate change following some of these helpful tips.
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Signs of climate change are happening across the world, but as global citizens, we have the option to take action against climate change following some of these helpful tips.

When a United Nations report detailed the irreversible and long-lasting effects of global warming, Shawnee Councilwoman Lindsey Constance found herself fixating on the future of her 8-year-old daughter, Lucy.

The Weather Channel had ranked Kansas City fifth of 25 U.S. cities most likely to be affected by climate change. Scientists say more days above 90 degrees, extreme drought and heavier rains are in store for the metropolitan area.

“I flipped in my head to 2030,” said Constance, referring to the year her daughter graduates high school. “To me it was terrifying to think about the fact that we might not have much of a hopeful future.”

After an international group of scientists issued the climate report in October, Constance teamed up with the city of Roeland Park and its mayor, Michael Kelly, to rally local leaders around addressing climate change in the Kansas City area.

What started off as a one-time workshop in December for those interested in studying the problem has since transformed into the Metro KC Climate Action Coalition, which received national recognition this month as it prepares to host a Climate Action Summit it hopes will draw up to 1,000 people in September.

The National League of Cities named Roeland Park a 2019 member of the Community Resilience Program and recognized the efforts of the coalition organizers.

The city has earned $10,000 to put toward the coalition, made up of dozens of members from local municipalities, nonprofits and utility companies from both side of the state line.

The group’s mission is not just about finding ways to slow the almost-certain progression of climate change. It’s about preparing for its inevitable effects — including the extreme winters and summers — that Kansas City has already begun to experience.

“The overall idea of the organization that we created last year was to empower those municipal leaders who understand the need for collective action since our climate doesn’t stop at our transitional boundaries,” said Kelly.

While Kelly said he was shocked that 130 people turned out for that first December meeting, he said it was clear that city leaders saw a need to study ways to address climate change together.

“From there, we thought wouldn’t it be great if we modeled these strategies for the region,” Kelly said.

These strategies can include planting trees or promoting urban gardens to mitigate the heat from asphalt and concrete. Municipalities could push for “green” roofs, solar panels, LED lighting and other energy efficient practices. They could help companies transition to sustainable power, like wind energy.

And the strategies include developing local climate action plans and legislative platforms to implore state and federal leaders to address the problem.

“Climate change is indisputably real and one of the most daunting challenges of our day,” U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas’ 3rd District said in a statement. “I’m proud to see Roeland Park, in collaboration with our neighboring communities, at the forefront of the effort to create a climate safe world. I look forward to partnering with them in this endeavor.”

One of their largest projects is the Climate Action Summit, planned for Sept. 14 at Johnson County Community College. There, elected officials, city administrators, academics, parents and students can attend panels about climate action, listen to nationally recognized speakers and participate in policy discussions.

The goal is to host 1,000 people at the event, Constance said.

“I think it’s significant just the fact that you have all of these leaders representing people from different cities, counties, school districts all these different levels of government,” Constance said. “It’s everybody working toward solutions.”

Kelly said these local partnerships are crucial, especially as state and federal politicians show inconsistent support for addressing climate change.

“It’s difficult to find a one-size-fits-all solution at the state level, but that’s why it’s really heartening to see cities across the world take the lead,” Kelly said.

The stakes are high.

“No risk from sea-level rise in this city in the middle of the country,” read the Climate Disruption Index study regarding Kansas City. “What’s in play, though, is heat in the form of urban heat islands and extreme drought. The city will see 20 more days above 90 degrees than its rural counterparts, according to Climate Central, plus more drought in the coming years.”

The study also cited increases in average annual temperatures and an uptick in major heat waves.

“While it’s alarming to see KC ranked fifth,” said Kelly, “I also know that KC is up for the challenge.”