This week I did something that may sound a little crazy. I took the Amtrak train from Washington, DC to Milwaukee, WI. I had to make the trip for a work meeting, and I wanted to see if I could do my part to lower my carbon footprint by not flying. The train was about 0.04 tons of carbon pollution, while a plane would have had nearly three times the emissions of the train. Also, once we transition to renewable energy, trains will be an even better option since they can be powered by the wind and the sun.
The train was overnight, so I didn’t miss any time with my son by taking the train. Overall, the sleeper car was comfortable, the dinner service was excellent and included table cloths and proper cutlery, and the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains were stunning. I think taking Amtrak is now officially my favorite way to travel.
It did however, cost more than flying– it was $230 roundtrip, not including the bed, but the bed was another $300. It also took a long time, so many people asked me why I love it and why I did it.
Like most things I do, I did it for my son. Climate change is a threat to his future. So, I did it because I want to leave him a legacy of a livable planet. I did it because I think that stepping up to the limate challenge is the right and responsible thing to do. I felt good about doing it, especially when just as I was headed onto my train I read that the place I was going, Wisconsin, was at the top of the list of places that experienced extreme heat this year.
I also did it because I wanted to see what the much-maligned American rail system was like for long distance travel. As I suspected, there were fewer locals on the train than is normal in Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and in fact many of the passengers were from Europe. The train was also a bit slower and glitchy than many trains I’ve taken in other parts of the world. But I know that there is enough American ingeniuty to make the trains even better, if only the policies were right. I learned about a few of the existing bad policies on my trip. It turns out that large cargo trains carrying coal and gas own the tracks, and have the right of way, so passenger trains have to yield to them. There is no strongly enforced law requiring that passenger trains be allowed to stick to their schedules.
It’s an interesting analogy to the politics around climate change that prevent us from protecting the planet for our kids. American ingeniuty exists to solve the problem, but we’re allowing Big Coal to rig the system and hold back progress.
The fossil-fuel funded policies need to end. Whether the policy makes the train run slower, the wind turbine harder to connect to the electrical grid, or prevents you from hanging your laundry outside– it’s got to stop.
We can’t ignore all the crazy weather out there, or that half of the polar ice cap has disappeared in our lifetime. We need to fight back. We need to choose the clean path, so that our kids have a safe future. Whatever the policy is that prevents you from being as green as you want to be, you can fight it.
Does your daycare not allow cloth diapers due to a city law?
Does your home owners association not allow you to line dry?
Does your child’ s school lack recycling facilities?
Does the bus stop running on weekends when your family most needs it to get around?
Send a letter. Find allies. Vote. Fight back.
Building a healthy future for our kids isn’t a pipedream. It’s our job.
About Keya Chatterjee
Keya Chatterjee is a Climate Change and Environment expert, and Director for International Climate Policy at World Wildlife Fund. Her work focuses on the environmental crisis facing the planet, and what policies and measures should be taken to ameliorate the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Keya’s commentary on climate change policy and sustainability issues has been quoted in dozens of media outlets including USA Today, CNN, and NBC Nightly News. Keya resides in Washington, DC with her husband Andrew and her son Siddharth. She enjoys practicing yoga, biking, and spending time with her friends and family. She is working on a book about how to have a baby without raising your carbon footprint to be published in 2013 by Ig Publishing. Keep up with Keya's writing on the nexus of climate change activism and motherhood at www.keyachatterjee.com.