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Kansas City Millenials Fight Climate Change With Clotheslines, Hybrid Cars And Activism

Luke X. Martin
KCUR 89.3
Cole Strickland, Emily Hurley and Sierra West are all changing are responding to climate change by adjusting how they live.

The results of global climate change are becoming readily apparent, and it’s affecting the younger generations inheriting a world of extreme weather.

In Kansas City, some young adults aren’t apathetic about this existential threat to the planet. They’re ditching gas-guzzling cars, using clotheslines instead of the dryer, even considering not having children. And they’re getting politically active.

“For me, this has been an issue where everything about my lifestyle as a millennial has changed,” said public transit worker Sierra West, 28, who went car-free and moved from a home to a studio apartment in Kansas City.

She’s also joined the Sunrise Movement, a grassroots effort to make fighting climate change a national priority. The movement plans a climate strike Sept. 20.

Emily Hurley, 33, a public health researcher and assistant professor at Children’s Mercy Hospital, drives a hybrid vehicle and takes shorter showers after visiting drought-stricken South Africa two years ago.

But she realizes individual attempts to reduce carbon consumption are a “drop in the bucket.” So she has also joined the Sunrise Movement and Kansas City Citizens’ Climate Lobby effort, to push Congress for national solutions.

“We want to see the government take action to really help us as a country get off of fossil fuels and get our energy from cleaner sources,” Hurley said.

Cole Strickland, 27, who works in construction and is training to become a certified solar installer, said individual lifestyle changes are difficult; he can’t afford an electric car, and riding his bike to work would take two hours. So he too chose to get involved with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

“I hear about climate change every day, and I feel like it’s on me to do something about it,” he said.

These young adults say they think about the problem constantly, and it is a source of anxiety and frustration. They don’t blame older generations of people who were oblivious but believe there’s no more time for denial or delay.

“We can see that temperatures have been rising and that we’re regularly experiencing heat waves,” West said.

She pointed out, a Weather Channel report rated Kansas City No. 5 out of 25 U.S. cities that would most be affected by heat, droughts and floods.

Hurley said the time to address the problem is rapidly closing, as pointed out in a 2018 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“We have this 12-year window to do something before most of these effects we see are irreversible,” she warned.

Having children

With such a daunting challenge facing humanity, it even makes these young adults wonder about have children.

“I do know people that are choosing not to have kids, and I am one of those people that is holding off,” West said. “We have an uncertain future that we’re dealing with.”

Strickland, who is single, said it would ultimately be a decision for him and his spouse if he gets married. But he has wrestled with the idea of bringing more children into an over-populated world and is open to the idea of adopting a child as an alternative.

Hurley said she hopes to have children someday, but this may be a generation that doesn’t inherit a better world than the one before. 

“That’s why I’m involved right now,” she said, “because I still do want to have kids and I want to give them an earth that can sustain them.”

Political action

Hurley and Strickland urge people to get involved through the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

They particularly urge support for the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. It calls for a carbon fee that would incentivize moving to cleaner energy sources, with a dividend paid back to the public to offset those costs.

West said now is a time for hope, not despair.

“Every crisis can be made into an opportunity,” she said.

She envisions a world where green technology can improve lives and pull people out of poverty but said it will require a mass movement demanding that corporations stop their dependence on fossil fuels.

“We are uniting young people in a movement that says we cannot face the climate crisis alone,” she said. “We have to face it together.”

Sierra West, Cole Strickland and Emily Hurley spoke with KCUR 89.3 on a recent edition of Up To Date. You can listen to the episode here.

Lynn Horsley is a freelance journalist and was a veteran reporter for The Kansas City Star. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley.