Kansas City Area Governments Take on Drawdown

Pachamama Alliance • 19 March 2019

135 elected officials and policy makers in the Kansas City Metro area came together on December 8, 2018, to learn about the possibility of reversing global warming through the Pachamama Alliance Drawdown Initiative, offering a striking example of what is possible when people start spreading the word in their communities.

When Emily Libla first heard that it is possible to reverse global warming, and that Project Drawdown identified 100 Solutions that would begin to reduce the levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere by 2050, she knew that the message was a real game-changer.

“This was exactly what I’d been looking for,” she said. “For me the primary takeaways were 1) there’s a plan, we do know what to do, and 2) the science says we can do it. What else do we need to know? Let’s just go do it! I could instantly see pathways for action.”

Emily connected with the Sustainable Sanctuary Coalition in Kansas City to offer a Reversing Global Warming: Introduction to Drawdown workshop at their monthly meeting in October 2018 because she wanted to spread the message about reversing global warming. She partnered with Helen Nelson, another individual wanting to spread the message. They quickly discovered that many of the 54 people who participated in the workshop did as well. “We’ve been overwhelmed with requests [to host more workshops].” Since then Emily and Helen have partnered to present workshops for college classes and faith-based communities, but the one that stands out the most was a partnership with local elected officials to bring the message to government.

Convening Policy Makers

A woman who attended the event in October wanted her daughter, Shawnee City Council Member Lindsey Constance, to hear the message of reversing global warming. Lindsey was interested in learning more and partnered with Roeland Park Mayor Mike Kelly to create a Drawdown Initiative experience for their colleagues in government.

They expected to convene a group 20 or 25, but as word spread it became clear that many more policy makers in the Kansas City area wanted to be involved. “Quite a few of our elected officials wanted to do something [about global warming] but didn’t know what to do,” Emily said. “All they knew is ‘it’s bad and we should do something.’ Legislators were contacting Lindsey and Mike saying they wanted to come.”

“I was present to the amazing potential of the event to make a difference; to have a group of elected officials come together specifically to talk about this issue and be willing to learn about what they can do. The thing that really worked was the invitation from legislator to legislator to come hear what they can do. It was all about the Solutions. People really do want to do something, they just need some guidance,” Emily said.

Emily and Helen led participants through not only the possibility of reversing global warming, but through finding concrete ways to get involved. Through group work, they had everyone identify success stories, and had officials speak to local examples of Drawdown Solutions in action to share what was already happening locally that could be expanded.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James spoke, as did Kansas State Senator Tom Hawk. A few other local leaders touched on home energy efficiency programs, local regenerative farming initiatives, bike infrastructure, public transportation and other solutions. Oliver Kroner, the Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Cincinnati and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a member of the Project Drawdown Advisory Board, participated remotely to share other examples of government initiatives making a difference in the realm of global warming. And then everyone identified steps they would take to learn more and get into action implementing solutions they learned about throughout the workshop.

Seeing elected officials come together in this way has brought hope to me, as well as other local advocates.  Unfortunately, there is sometimes an adversarial relationship between advocates and legislators, but shifting the relationships between city officials, legislators, and local advocates to have them come together in this way is a manifestation of what this work is all about. It’s an embodiment of coming together in community to make a better world. I could see a pathway for something I’d been struggling with: ‘How do I talk about this issue in a way that inspires collective action?’ That’s what it’s all about. How do we connect in a way that’s meaningful and inspiring? [Drawdown] totally shifted the energy of those conversations. – Emily Libla

Creating a Model for Others to Follow

Now Kansas City wants to be a model for other cities.

“There is huge momentum right now among local officials and non-profit groups,” Emily said. The newly formed Climate Council of Greater Kansas City is bringing together non-profit groups to consolidate information and events so that people know everything that is happening in the area around global warming. “Seeing the elected officials get excited about this has stirred so much more action by advocates and local leaders. We’re excited that our legislators say they’re going to make it happen right here in Kansas City. We’re excited about what that’s going to mean and how it can be a model for other cities.”

Lindsey and Mike are continuing their leadership on this issue within government, and envision that Kansas City can become one of the greenest metropolitan areas in the country in the next 2-5 years. They have convened committees looking at policy approaches, a regional action plan, educational outreach, and later this year, the first annual Climate Summit in Kansas City.

And it all started with Emily and Helen asking to present one workshop. As invitations cascaded from there, Emily offered advice to people looking to make a difference in their communities.

“In terms of other people thinking about what to do, find that one legislator in your area that really wants to do something and let them do the work of gathering their colleagues. Legislators are people too. They care about their families and their communities. They just often don’t know what to do when it comes to global warming. Come to them with solutions, with information, and without an agenda. Create a space where they are safe to learn, to question, and start collaborating without any pressure. This is a big part of what had our event work so well. They really stepped up into that space and made it meaningful. The messages of Project Drawdown are compelling. We just have to show up and share the possibilities.”

Update: A follow up event in September 2019 drew over 700, and included a keynote address from Project Drawdown founder Paul Hawken. Keep an eye on Kansas City!