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Scrapbook: Riding the Earth Train to Washington

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February 15, 2013

Riding the Earth Train to Washington


By Claire Currens,

On February 15, more than 70 Minnesotans discovered that changing one word can help 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 Stevens' "Peace Train."

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Progressive Project

The dream of an earth train was born last November 30 as Susan and Jim Lenfestey left Bill McKibben's Do the Math tour feeling inspired and ready for action. Bill had suggested that attendees join him for a rally in Washington, D.C., in February (the Forward on Climate rally), to encourage President Obama to take meaningful action towards 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 pollution, 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 D.C. 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). Below, Minneapolis organizer Julia Nerbonne at the Earth Train sendoff.


"This is a hopeful campaign, not a doomsday campaign," said Susan Lenfestey. The group of 72 Minnesotans comes from all walks of life; the full range of the human family is on board, from one-year-olds to toddlers to retirees. Below, Minneapolis resident Terry Hokenson and Minnesota State Representative Frank Hornstein.


Others climbing aboard the train included storyteller Kevin Kling, National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich, musicians Prudence Johnson and Simone Perrin, Kate Jacobson of, and Margaret Levin of the Sierra Club (below, speaking, to the right of the banner). They are all united by a hope and a shared sense of urgency. "We're all on the earth train, aren't we?" said author and activist Jim Lenfestey. "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 tar sands 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 Al Franken, for example, supported the president's rejection of 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.


As the flash mob reached a crescendo, a young woman named Allie Byrd (above, with braid) stepped up and said, "I'm riding the earth train because the adults aren't paying attendion." A poignant message, capturing the urgency of the issue. And while Jim Lenfestey (below) 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," he says.


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 climate crisis, however inadvertently. 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.



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