World-famous environmental activists and Kansas City area residents who share that passion came together Saturday to celebrate their cause and galvanize others at the Midwest’s first Concert for the Climate.
Headliners for the event, at Kaw Point Riverfront Park in Kansas City, Kan., were globally renowned water conservationist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and environmental author Bill McKibben.
Kansas City area vendors were also on hand, including Smith Electric and the Metropolitan Energy Center, which are becoming leaders in alternative energy and energy efficiency.
Participants could see solar displays and electric and natural-gas vehicles as well as residential and commercial products that save energy and money. And there was plenty of music and entertainment provided by seven bands.
“The idea is to try and make practical solutions addressing our climate challenges available to the public,” said Barry Dicker, board member of the Heartland Renewable Energy Society, which sponsored the event. “These are practical, tangible things that touch our everyday lives. Collectively, we can have a tremendous impact.”
Dicker acknowledged that climate change can seem like a scary problem over which people have little control. But he said the festival was intended to show that people can take positive action.
Among those enjoying the chance to eyeball the electric cars were Olo Szylleyko, his wife, Mary Ellen Vincent, and their 6-year-old daughter, Eve, of Kansas City. Vincent said she had heard about the event from a friend and welcomed the chance to see vehicles like the Tesla Model X displayed by the MidAmerica Electric Auto Association.
“I like to support environmental causes and all the vendors,” she said. “I like to see more education like this going on in Kansas City.”
In an interview with reporters, McKibben warned that the climate crisis has gone beyond the point where just energy-efficient light bulbs are the answer. He said he’s aware of the climate-change deniers, but it’s not wise for citizens to bury their heads in the sand.
Scientists knew 25 years ago that carbon emissions would warm the climate and everything they predicted has started to come to pass, he said, including Arctic melting, more acidic oceans and last year’s Midwestern heat wave and drought.
“Unless we get going on the answers, this is a situation that science has assured us will get steadily worse,” he said. McKibben was named by Time Magazine as “the planet’s best green journalist.”
Kennedy told reporters he was motivated to come to Kansas City in part because the Midwest lags other parts of the country in effective litigation against polluters and vigilance regarding air, water, wildlife and public lands.
“This event is really important because there is a lot of really strong and well-organized environmental activism in other parts of the country,” including the South, he said. “Probably the least well-organized part of the country in terms of protecting local communities and the health of our children has historically been the Midwest.”
Despite a steady drizzle, about 200 people sat mesmerized during Kennedy’s keynote speech, in which he railed against the devastating environmental pollution from coal and other fossil fuels and said it’s essential for the nation to get behind wind and solar energy. He said China realizes these are the industries of the future and the U.S. should too.
And he said it’s essential to start addressing global warming for the sake of future generations.
“Our children are going to pay for our joy ride,” he warned.