In remarkable parallel to the climate crisis, there is no single solution to reviving our economy – it will take a combination of innovative thinking and bold actions to face both challenges. The American Recovery and Investment Act (of which Jesse provides a great summary of energy-related features) illustrates that.
I want to take a moment to talk about one feature in the stimulus bill that occupied one sentence in his summary: high-speed passenger rail.
The American Recovery and Investment Act included a total of $9.3 billion for passenger rail: $8 billion for construction of high speed passenger rail and intercity passenger rail service and $1.3 billion for Amtrak (the National Railroad Passenger Corporation) rail investments. As I was talking about this today, the number of atrocious puns that came up was amazing:
- "High speed passenger rail can get the economy back on track"
- "Everyone’s getting on board with passenger rail"
- "Trains can be a model for environomics"
- "The little stimulus package that could"
environomics refers to developing a sustainable global economy
I could continue with the jokes, but you get the picture. However, I think it is worth noting that not only is there substantial support for high speed passenger rail in Congress (the original amount was $3 billion in the House and $2.25 billion in the Senate – apparently somebody in the conference committee likes us), but there is broad support among the public. Out here in the Midwest, we have been working to gain support and funding for a high speed passenger rail network, with its hub in Chicago. This system would provide high speed service to St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Madison, the Twin Cities and Omaha. For a little context, the trip from Omaha to Detroit is approximately a quarter of the width of the continental 48 states.
What is even more impressive to me is how rail can really be a model for how to actually engage diverse players in building a sustainable economy. Here in Iowa, we are building a coalition of labor, business and youth organizations (in addition to the traditional environmental groups) to work together on getting high speed passenger rail approved this year. And we’re not just talking liberal groups either. For example Jan Michaelson, a local conservative talk show host, had nothing but good things to say about rail when Andrew Snow from Iowa Global Warming joined his show this week. Talk about finally moving past partisanship – rail is one of the clearest vehicles to make this a reality (no apologies for the pun).
There are plenty of issues that can build a diverse base of support, but the thing is, high speed rail visibly makes lots of people’s lives easier. Upgrading building efficiency largely goes unnoticed except for electricity bills; people don’t see the wind energy powering their homes. But talk about saving yourself the hassle of driving several hours, not having to drive through traffic, and oh, did I mention that rail is about 3 times as efficient as driving and 6 times as efficient as flying. Oh, and hundreds to thousands of jobs will be created through construction and operation.
Rail has broad support, has a significant improvement in the ease of travel and will save countless vehicle miles traveled (well, you probably could count them, but it would keep you very busy). We can use rail as a way to build successful and diverse coalitions which we can then continue to work with to advance the less visible, less sexy aspects of sustainability. These relationships will be crucial to mobilizing society-wide action.
Originally posted on It’s Getting Hot In Here