Hundreds convene on JCCC campus for first-ever Metro KC Climate Action Summit

Paul Hawken, author of Drawdown, delivered the keynote address at the summit on Saturday.

Hundreds of local officials and residents came together on the campus of Johnson County Community College on Saturday for the inaugural Metro KC Climate Action Summit, which brought together elected leaders and climate experts to discuss ways the region can take action on climate change.

“We hope that people obviously leave inspired,” said Mike Kelly, Roeland Park mayor and Climate Action KC co-founder, of the event. “We hope they can understand a little bit more about what they can do in their own sphere of influence — whether that is in their home, in their business or in their city — but also that we inform people and engage people in our larger process, which is a climate action plan for all of metropolitan Kansas City.”

Registered attendees had a day packed with breakout sessions, guest speakers and an environmental expo. Experts in a variety of fields shared their views on how and why others in their areas should take action against climate change. For example, Christopher King, a retired brigadier general, discussed how climate change affects the United States’ national defense system.

Organizers brought in Paul Hawken, author of the global warming solutions book Drawdown, to deliver the keynote address. Hawken discussed the beginnings of Drawdown, the science behind it, as well as the solutions themselves. The ideas put forward in the book cover a wide range, from reducing food waste, to protecting tropical rain forests and to educating girls.

“There is no such thing as a small solution, [but] please don’t think you have to rush to the big ones,” Hawken said. “Rush to the one that you care about, that you know about, that you’re curious about, that you love being involved with.”

U.S. Reps. Sharice Davids of Kansas and Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri were among the presenters, and spoke on national perspectives on climate change. Davids discussed regional and national work to address climate change as well as roadblocks to that work, such as proposed budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency. Cleaver said the Trump administration had made moves that “empower big oil,” showing the importance of having local entities look at the issue.

Kechia Smith, programs director at Bridging the Gap, said she attended the summit because Drawdown discusses the work Bridging the Gap does, such as planting trees and restoring prairies. She said the summit created a narrative for the organization and put the environment on the same level as other societal issues.

“All of a sudden Kansas City and the region are being put in a position where we have a lot of the tools, we’re doing a lot of the work already,” Smith said. “[The summit] really starts to add that awareness to the work we’re doing.”

The Metro KC Climate Action Coalition formed in January 2019, and has been working with the Global Covenant of Mayors to take inventory of greenhouse gas emissions in the Kansas City region and ultimately develop a climate action plan.

Kelly said the idea for a summit came from the Southeast Florida Climate Compact, a group that holds an annual climate summit and that the Metro KC Climate Action Coalition tries to model itself after. The Southeast Florida Climate Compact told Kelly the annual summit is a unique way to celebrate successes, discuss emerging trends and plan for the next year, he said.

As the first climate summit in the larger metro area, co-founder and Shawnee Councilwoman Lindsey Constance said she hopes the summit leaves people with a sense of hope. The summit also serves as an example of what collaboration and cooperation can accomplish, she said.

“I’m excited to get over jurisdictional boundaries and political ideology to really solve a problem,” Constance said.

The climate action summit will become an annual event, Kelly said.