Jan 12, 2020 1:02 PM

Lincoln educators receive glimpse into poverty’s effects

Posted Jan 12, 2020 1:02 PM
<b>Teachers from Lincoln USD 298 participate in a poverty simulation. </b>Photo courtesy SHESC
Teachers from Lincoln USD 298 participate in a poverty simulation. Photo courtesy SHESC

LINCOLN -- Educators with Lincoln USD 298 experienced a hint of life in poverty on Jan. 3.

John Girodat and Noalee McDonald-Augustine, Smoky Hill Education Service Center consultants – along with the assistance of about 15 community volunteers – guided the poverty simulation for more than 50 participants.

“You’re playing a role, but it’s not really a game,” Girodat said. “This simulation will offer a glimpse of what it is like to live in poverty.”

The curriculum from Community Action Partnership in Missouri has participants take on roles within families either under or near to the poverty line. With each 15 minutes simulating one week of real time, participants are tasked with feeding everyone in the family, getting to work or school, paying utilities and other bills, meeting everyone’s health needs, avoiding pressure to participate in illegal activities, and providing adequate housing for everyone in the family.

For some, it proved extremely difficult, even with community volunteers simulating social services and faith-based initiatives. Only five families out of more than 20 managed to pay for food during the first week and some were forced to jail because of bad luck, rather than any action of their own.

With the poorest families having to scramble just to put food on the table, many resources went almost completely unused. For example, both the Community Healthcare and the Community Action Agency stations only received one visitor the entire month. Meanwhile, predatory institutions such as “Quik Cash” – offering payday loans – had huge lines, just because the families with the largest need had to have access to funds right away.

Still, there were a few bright spots. Several participants playing the role of youth benefitted from succeeding at school. Also, four families began the simulation in a homeless shelter, but half of them secured independent housing by the end of the “month.” McDonald-Augustine said recognizing these successes is also important within the simulation.

“There is hope,” she said. “As difficult as these situations are, poverty doesn’t have to be a life sentence. With community support and safety nets, change is possible.”

During debriefing following the simulation, Girodat asked participants to describe their feelings with a single word. Typical descriptions included: overwhelmed, anxious, hopeless and desperate – among others. Even those who met all their family goals recognized that they were “blessed” and “fortunate.”

With this feedback, Girodat noted that a common experience of those living under or near the poverty line is that planning for the future can be nearly impossible.

“Living in poverty, you’re living in that moment and the moment before,” he said.

Girodat encouraged the educators to go beyond hand-wringing for those living in poverty and to actually place themselves in others’ shoes and implement practical solutions.

“It’s not about feeling bad for people in this situation,” Girodat said. “They don’t need your sympathy. Empathy is what we need.”

The Community Action Partnership Poverty Simulation is a new service under development at SHESC. For more details about the simulation and how to bring it to a school district or non-profit organization, contact John Girodat at [email protected] or Noalee McDonald-Augustine at [email protected].

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Jan 12, 2020 1:02 PM
Why Kansas CO2 emissions are at lowest level in 40 years
A wind turbine rises over Kansas. Brian Grimmett / Kansas News Service

By BRIAN GRIMMETT, Kansas News Service

WICHITA, Kansas — As global carbon dioxide emissions break records, Kansas is headed in the opposite direction — reducing emissions for 10 straight years.

Kansas’ decline is largely due to the rapid adoption of wind energy and a slow move away from coal powered electricity. That is to say: Kansas produces less carbon dioxide, or CO2, the powerful greenhouse gas that’s released into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels and is a major driver of climate change.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, Kansas emitted 58.2 million metric tons of CO2 in 2017. That’s good enough to make Kansas only the 31st largest emitter in the U.S.

While it’s below the national average, on a global scale: “Kansas, if it were its own country, would be one of the top 60 CO2 emitters,” said Joe Daniel, an energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

So, when Kansas sees a reduction in emissions like it has in the past decade, it matters, he said.

The decline began in 2007, when total CO2 emissions in Kansas peaked at nearly 80 million metric tons.

Where CO2 comes from

So how did the state reduce its annual CO2 emissions by as much as the entire country of Bolivia so quickly? Three graphics explain it all.

First, it’s helpful to know the source of Kansas’ CO2 emissions. In 2017, about half of total CO2 emissions came from burning fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, to create electricity. The rest was mostly from burning gasoline and diesel in our cars and trucks.

The recent reductions aren’t transportation-related, because, despite more efficient and cleaner burning engines, additional people and cars have offset the difference. In fact, total transportation emissions in Kansas have barely changed in the past 40 years.

That leaves electric power generation.

The decline of coal

As the graph shows, energy-related CO2 emissions began to plummet in the mid-2000s. Specifically, it’s emissions from coal-fired power plants.

While some of the reductions are likely due to plant upgrades and federal environmental regulations that forced coal plants to clean up what was coming out of their smoke stacks, it’s mostly because plants burned less coal.

Coal plants in Kansas only produced about 20,000 gigawatt hours of electricity in 2018, compared to an average of about 35,000 gigawatt hours during the 2000s.

Daniel said the decline is largely due to economics. With the fast growth of cheap wind-generated electricity in Kansas, it’s become less profitable to run coal plants.

“I don’t think a month has gone by where I haven’t read a study about the poor economics of either coal plants, or coal mines, or the companies that invest in those properties,” Daniel said.

The rise of wind

About 36% of all electricity produced in Kansas is from wind, the highest percentage of any U.S. state.

Twenty years ago, there was no such thing.

Part of the rapid growth of the industry is obvious: You wouldn’t put a wind turbine in a place with no wind, and there’s a lot of wind in Kansas.

Plus, federal and state tax incentives encouraged developers to jump into the market.

And it’s increasingly cheaper to build a wind farm.

Just this year, Kansas saw four new wind farms come online, adding enough capacity to power 190,000 homes for a year.

“Will we see four wind projects come online every year for the next five years? No,” said Kimberly Gencur-Svaty, director of public policy at the Kansas Power Alliance. “But I do think we’ll probably continue at a pace of where we’ve averaged the last 20 years, which is a project or two.”

How low can it go?

Ashok Gupta with the Natural Resources Defence Council said the move to renewable energy and subsequent decrease in CO2 emissions will be vital to reducing the impacts of climate change.

But, he wondered if it will be fast enough, especially in states that have a lot of wind.”

“We should be going by 2030 to pretty much carbon-free electricity,” he said.

While some states like Colorado have begun to adopt 100% renewable energy goals, Kansas has not. Even if Kansas were to get to 100% renewable energy, there’s still the nearly 20 million metric tons of transportation emissions to worry about.

Achieving a clean electrical grid will also be key to reducing those emissions, Gupta said, even if it also means another, different shift in the way things are currently done.

“We have to start making sure that our transportation and our buildings are moving to all electric,” he said. “That’s the strategy for the next 10 years.”

Editor's note: This story was corrected  on Dec. 30 to show the coal plants produced gigawatt hours of electricity, not megawatt, and that there are 20 million metric tons of transportation emissions, not 20 metric tons.

Brian Grimmett reports on the environment, energy and natural resources for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett or email him at [email protected] The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.