Mapping the Connections

Environment, Equity, Economics, and Solutions for Kansas WEALTH (Water, Energy, Air, Land, Transportation, Health)

The Kansas-based Climate and Energy Project challenged a fieldwork team of system-thinking practitioners to map the connections between health equity, climate resilience, and Kansas WEALTH (Water, Energy, Air, Land, Transportation, Health) during the 2017 Forum for the Future School of System Change Basecamp Americas. The Kansas WEALTH Wheel is the result of this intensive systems thinking experience. The wheel clearly articulates the interactions between environmental concerns, health equity considerations, economic impacts, and potential solutions as they relate to each sector of Kansas WEALTH. CEP will use the tool for ongoing community engagement through facilitated dialogs with leading environmental and public health advocates, community members, and policymakers with the goal of creating a dynamic knowledge base to guide collective strategy on climate resilience.

The Kansas WEALTH Wheel — mapping the intersections of environmental concerns, health equity impacts, economic considerations, and solutions as they relate to water, energy, air, land, transportation, and health.

Background. The Climate + Energy Project (CEP) is a Kansas-based, non-partisan 501(c)3 working on practical solutions for a clean energy future utilizing a common-ground approach that presents balanced facts and convenes diverse voices into dialogues around productive, pragmatic solutions. CEP was instrumental in building support for clean energy by focusing on the economic benefits of wind. Kansas is now the 5th highest wind producing state, with over 5,000 MW wind capacity.

Still, after 10 years of successful advocacy for clean energy in a red state, Kansas has a long way to go. The state ranks 48th in the nation for energy efficiency programs. Electricity rates are the highest in the region. Kansas has great solar potential, but punitive rate designs destabilize and stymie growth of the solar industry. National funders often overlook Kansas, resulting in environmental organizations that are over-extended and isolated, generally working on the defensive.

Challenge: Recognizing that greater connections would strengthen advocacy, CEP formed the Kansas WEALTH Partnership with funding from the Kansas Health Foundation Health Equity Partnership Initiative. The partnership engages leading environmental advocacy organizations to align efforts that elevate climate resilience and health equity in Kansas as they relate to water, energy, air, land, transportation, and health. This adaptive work takes place in a state where elected officials rarely acknowledge the human influence on climate change.

CEP challenged the Basecamp Fieldwork team to demonstrate that community resilience is a shared value and that prioritizing WEALTH resources will secure the future of our state. Mapping these issues would serve as foundational data for CEP’s Climate and Health Declaration to be circulated in 2019. If done successfully, the product could serve as a model for other midwestern states to advance climate resilience strategies.

Process. Through a six-month intensive, the Forum for the Future School of System Change challenged 24 participants from different sectors, including business, NGOs, government, and philanthropy, to learn together about diagnosing systems, making strategy, and collaborating to bring innovative actions to the fore. In addition to in-person and online learning, fieldwork teams tackled complex issues from a systems approach. CEP’s Assistant Director, Rachel Myslivy, joined the SoSC as a participant (thanks to a Garfield Foundation scholarship), and CEP was chosen to serve as a fieldwork host. CEP’s WEALTH fieldwork team included Myslivy, Jessica Ginger — The Sustainability Consortium, Denise Abdul-Rahman — NAACP Indiana Environmental & Climate Justice Chair, Elizabeth Rich — Forum for the Future, and Jaimes Valdez — Spark Northwest, working in collaboration with Stephanie Bickford-Smith on the final product design.

The WEALTH fieldwork team, clockwise from left: Rachel Myslivy, Jessica Ginger, Denise Abdul-Rahman, Elizabeth Rich, and Jaimes Valdez.

After exploring several options for mapping the complex interactions between environmental concerns, health equity considerations, economic impacts, and potential solutions as they relate to each sector of Kansas WEALTH, the team settled on a nested systems diagram. Each member researched and mapped out one segment of the wheel, and the team collaboratively reviewed content. While the data compiled in the wheel is research-based, the team determined that input from content experts in Kansas would be necessary to refine the content.

Potential. The resulting system map will serve as a discussion point for facilitated dialogs with leading environmental and public health advocates, community members, and policymakers. These interactions will help refine the content while building excitement around the issues. Ultimately, the WEALTH Wheel will provide a dynamic knowledge base for collective strategy and advocacy.

The Kansas WEALTH Wheel — mapping the intersections of environmental concerns, health equity impacts, economic considerations, and solutions as they relate to water, energy, air, land, transportation, and health.

The excitement is real. Early conversations with CEP’s board and a few key partners have produced more ideas for engagement and potential impacts. The clear articulation of the intersections between topics that otherwise seem disparate highlights:

  • possible points of collaboration across topics,
  • utility in state and local planning initiatives,
  • opportunities for inclusion of previously overlooked areas,
  • clear connections between climate change and health impacts, and
  • policies and practices that prioritize resilience.

…and that’s just the beginning! In coming months, CEP will facilitate conversations with leading advocacy organizations to continue to build out and vet the content, identify opportunities for engagement, and chart the course toward a resilient Kansas.

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