Riding the Earth Train to Washington

Minnesotans Depart for Forward on Climate Rally, 2012

This morning, 70 Minnesotans discovered that changing one word can change the world. As they gathered at the St. Paul Amtrak station, a flash mob blossomed singing, “Ride on the earth train,” a heartfelt adaptation of Cat Steven’s “Peace Train.”

The dream of an earth train was born on November 30th as Susan and Jim Lenfestey left Bill McKibben’s Do the Math Tour feeling inspired and ready for action. Bill had suggested attendees join him for a rally in Washington, DC in February to encourage President Obama to take meaningful action toward a clean, sustainable energy future. Susan joked, “Well, we know we can’t fly. Let’s take the train!”

Her offhanded joke was really a deeper reflection of a commitment to a clean energy future. Planes are one of the biggest contributors of carbon, and if we are to significantly lower the carbon in our atmosphere, limiting our air travel is an excellent place to start. The train ride to DC will be long, but it will be a chance to enjoy the landscape, engage with other passengers, and minimize carbon emissions on a long journey. (Read more about Amtrak’s commitment to environmental sustainability here).

“This is a hopeful campaign, not a doomsday campaign,” said Susan. The group of 70 Minnesotans comes from all walks of life; the full range of the human family is on board from one-year-olds to toddlers to retired adults. They’re also joined by storyteller Kevin Kling, National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich, musicians Prudence Johnson and Simone Perrin, Kate Jacobson of Mn350.org, Margaret Levin of the Sierra Club, and State Representative Frank Hornstein. They are all united by a hope and a sense of urgency as said by Jim Lenfestey, “We’re all on the earth train, aren’t we? It’s the responsibility of all of us to keep it on the rails.”

Riding the earth train is about bringing forth that message and encouraging President Obama to make clean energy and a sustainable future his top priority. That means canceling the Keystone XL Pipeline. If the pipeline is constructed, it will increase dependence on oil and postpone the implementation of sustainable energy sources. In order to realize this goal, these Minnesotans know they have to bring forth the political will and demonstrate widespread support. Senator Franken, for example, supported the President rejecting the Keystone pipeline last year, and we need him to stand strong again. Riding the train, joining in community together, instead of flying is one of many ways they demonstrate that support.

This morning, as the flash mob reached a crescendo, a young girl stepped up and said, “I’m riding the earth train because the adults aren’t listening.” A poignant message capturing the urgency of the issue and while Jim Lenfestey is happy to hear such conviction, he believes the responsibility cannot be placed solely on the next generation. “All of us contributed unwittingly to this problem and we need to take our responsibility seriously.”

That’s the beautiful part of the Earth Train message, all generations have a responsibility to address the growing threat of climate change, with urgency and hope. We are all on the Earth Train, and we’ve all played a role in the problem and instead of being burdened by guilt or fear of failure, the passengers on the Earth Train are energized and ready to ensure a clean energy future for all aboard the Earth Train.

By Claire Curren, MN350 Movement Stories Writer