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Yesterday was the 120th birthday of the Sierra Club, founded on May 28, 1892 by John Muir with a goal to "do something for wilderness and make the mountains glad." The Club originally focused on protecting and enjoying the Sierra Nevada range of California, but has grown throughout the years to become the best known environmental group on the planet.

Muir dreamed of wilderness untrammeled by human footprint. Today, the Wilderness Act protects not only Muir's beloved Yosemite but spectacular, lonely, wild lands throughout America. But, just as the Sierra Club has evolved beyond a focus on the Sierra Nevada range, environmentalists' visions have evolved.

We are in the Anthropocene Age - the Age of Man, an era marked by humans' influence on the planet. We can't protect the entire planet from the human race. Instead, we interact with it, for good (sustainably) or worse (skyrocketing carbon emissions). Visionary environmentalists focus on how we interact with the physical world. Do we tread lightly? Do we trample over what was precious? Or do we blaze smart new trails?

One of the smartest new trails in California isn't a footpath, but a train: electric high speed rail that can take Californians from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than half the time is takes to drive. Governor Jerry Brown sees it as his legacy, just as his father built the California higher education system. Voters approved it as Proposition 1a, but second thoughts are being fostered by NIMBY/Blue Dog Democrats such as Alan Loewenthal and tea partiers (with, one suspects, ventriloquism support from fossil fuel interests). The bullet train's environmental benefits are legion, from cars removed from the road to development of smarter local transit options.

Yes, the train will be expensive. Yes, building it will increase carbon emissions for its first 30 years, whines the Wall Street Journal. Yet high speed rail is becoming a litmus test for environmentalists contemplating the Anthropocene.

A couple of examples highlight the difference between easy environmentalism - preservation of pretty places - and environmentalism in the Anthropocene. Darrell Issa (CA-52) has introduced H.R. 41, to protect the Beauty Mountain area, but he'd never be confused with an environmentalist. And near me, a local RINO-turned-independent candidate for Congress, Linda Parks (I-CA-26), developed an environmental reputation because she worked on open space preservation. Yet she considers high speed rail to be a "costly boondoggle."

Open spaces matter a lot. The human spirit needs the idea of a place to roam far from roads and civilization. However, the human spirit also needs civilization. Preserving open spaces while ignoring environmental impacts of the built world is not the hallmark of a true environmentalist. The Sierra Club supported Proposition 1a. Clear-eyed environmentalists in the age of the Anthropocene will eagerly set forth on the trail of California's high speed rail vision.

Originally posted to Climate Hawks on Tue May 29, 2012 at 09:31 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for the diary. (8+ / 0-)

    "Such is the irresistible nature of truth that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing." - Thomas Paine

    by blueoregon on Tue May 29, 2012 at 09:53:32 AM PDT

  •  Open space preservation is a laudable goal... (6+ / 0-)

    But (mis)using "open space" as an excuse to oppose a potential climate crisis solution is downright disgusting. If Linda Parks were truly an environmentalist, she'd understand that.

  •  HSR will make the state so much more accessible (19+ / 0-)

    The HSR route connects several California universities, making it easier for people to seek experts at those schools and for students to travel home without having a car.

    It creates a transportation infrastructure that will be hugely beneficial to the San Joaquin Valley, which today is almost completely cut off from SF and LA if you don't drive.

    Even places like Yosemite will be more accessible via HSR; Amtrak already has bus service connecting to its trains.

    I would love to be able to make southern California a day trip, especially if I could stay online while traveling. It would make so many outings and visits possible.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Tue May 29, 2012 at 10:28:48 AM PDT

  •  I run a large grassroots environmental campaign (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bisbonian

    in California.  And I think the High Speed Rail is a boondoggle.  It is being constructed in places that are currently not inhabited but are slated for "new growth."  But connecting people between current populations centers will not really improve.

    This plan, coupled with the plan to reroute the Sacramento River to Kern County will enrich pseudo environmentalists, like billionaire Beverly Hills Farmer Stewart Resnick, as they move to resell their cheap farming water to this new development in the desert.

    Scratch beneath the surface.  What should be a first rate public works project, high speed rail, is being altered to benefit the 1%.

    "Since when did obeying corporate power become patriotic." Going the Distance

    by Going the Distance on Tue May 29, 2012 at 10:33:28 AM PDT

    •  Boondoggle, guilt by association (9+ / 0-)

      "Boondoggle" is the term always used by those concerned about their personal pocketbook. It's just name-calling. I'd bet that every improvement in public infrastructure since the invention of the term "boondoggle" was labeled with that epithet.

      Re-routing the Sacramento River has no connection I know of with the HSR project. Tying the two together seems like an effort at guilt by association.

      You fret that it will be built in currently uninhabited places. I'm sure that its planners would have preferred running through the hearts of all the cities on its route, but that's an impracticality. Consider the uproar about routing it through some of the cities of the SF Peninsula.

      You said "But connecting people between current populations [sic] centers will not really improve." What aspects of improvement do you have in mind? Of course people can currently travel between cities. They are not barred from going between SF and LA. But current travel is mainly by auto and air. Providing fast trains offers an environmentally sound alternative. Studies show that the introduction of reasonably fast trains reduces highway and air travel, exemplified by Amtrak's Acela trains in the NE Corridor.

      Improvement will consist of:
           * Faster travel for most users
           * Safer, stress-free travel
           * Ability to work or play while traveling
           * Reduction in highway fatalities
           * Reduction in air and ground pollution
           * Reduction in fossil fuel use
           * Opening of travel possibility for those who can't use the existing travel modes due to health or hassle-related reasons
           * Greater user economy
           * Improvement in local and state economies due to increased inter-city mobility
           * Other reasons I haven't thought of
      .
      .
      .


      For the first time in human history, we possess both the means for destroying all life on Earth or realizing a paradise on the planet--Michio Kaku.

      by psyched on Tue May 29, 2012 at 01:30:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Boondoggle is not an epithet (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        psyched, raines

        for public works projects that will not deliver what is needed -- and as the person who is running the campaign to stop the canal, let me assure you there is a link.

        Run the two projects together side-by-side on a map, and look at the generals plans for Fresno and Kern County which list the Delta as their water source -- and which will fill with new houses connected to high speed rail.  This project is not supporting the type of infill development that California needs.

        In addition, there are problems connecting existing cities -- but there are opportunities for using funds to extend links between existing service, Sacramento, Silicon Valley, San Joaquin County, the Bay Area etc.

        Don't get me wrong -- I believe in high speed rail fully as the future.  I just don't think this project has been designed for best use.  Look on-line at writing on this subject by Gary Patton -- former ED with Planning and Conservation League, and former Santa Cruz County Supervisor.  He explains it much better than I do.

        "Since when did obeying corporate power become patriotic." Going the Distance

        by Going the Distance on Tue May 29, 2012 at 01:50:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I have ridden Amtrak frequently (8+ / 0-)

      between northern and southern California, using the San Joaquin service.

      It is an interesting trip, quite affordable and kind of fun. I suggest you try it some day.

      One of the biggest limitations with the current trip is that there is no passenger rail between Bakersfield and LA. This is because the only rail running there now, through Tehachapi, is currently run to capacity running freight trains.

      I have met many people on route. I remember in particular an older woman from Fresno who was taking advantage of a free trip to Disneyland. It was too far for her to drive safely, and there aren't affordable plane flights between Fresno and LA (she would have had to connect through Phoenix). But the train - which goes right to Anaheim - worked, after a fashion.

      I remember the woman who lived in Fresno with her husband and who commuted via rail to her job in San Francisco.

      Altogether, I felt my impact of taking the train instead of driving or flying was substantially less. And as a bonus, the train often runs right to my destination, meaning that I can walk from the train station instead of needing to rent a car or hire a shuttle. You can't usually do that from an airport.

      I don't know what you mean by "currently uninhabited." HSR goes through Fresno, Stockton, Bakersfield, Merced, Palmdale, and other cities which are quite thoroughly inhabited and dreadfully served only by Hwy 99. The alternative to the HSR project is to widen Hwy 99 and run more cars on it.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Tue May 29, 2012 at 03:38:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  good points! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BYw, elfling

        my 88 year old mom takes the train from the L.A. area to see a friend in San Diego for a weekend. It's too far for me to drop her off, too short to fly, and frankly I feel a lot safer with her on the train than either her driving (shudder) or flying.

        The world is on pace for 11 degrees F warming. Nothing else in politics matters. @RL_Miller

        by RLMiller on Tue May 29, 2012 at 05:13:34 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  When you start thinking of all the people who (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RLMiller

          shouldn't drive, and who get new mobility out of a strong passenger rail system, it's really quite exciting about how many possibilities it opens up, especially when it's possible to do a round trip in a day.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Tue May 29, 2012 at 10:08:03 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  we rode Amtrak ....ONCE (0+ / 0-)

        Maybe it was an aberration...but once was enough.   From Bay Area to Simi Valley and back.   I forget how many hours late it was on our return trip...but it was more than 2.   Then when we pulled into Emeryville in the dark of night...NOONE announced where we were.  If my partner hadn't been able to recognize it somehow in the dark...we'd still be on that train from hell.

        When I sent a letter of complaint...saying we would never ride it again....they sent us complimentary tickets!  

        oy veh

        "I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong." Richard Feynman

        by leema on Wed May 30, 2012 at 08:09:20 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  If you took the Coast Starlight (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          rovertheoctopus, leema

          along the coast, that train is pretty problematic for scheduling and delays, because Union Pacific owns the track and their priority is freight, not passengers.

          It's one of the reasons we need HSR, because currently there is not enough track capacity between LA and SF to handle all the demand.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Wed May 30, 2012 at 09:05:55 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  "Costly Boondoggle" means, in real english, (9+ / 0-)

    could cost me money, one less caramel frappucino, one less Belvedere Cosmo, etc. In essence, it is about greed, the indirect impact on each of our abilities to amass and consume ever so much more stuff.

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Tue May 29, 2012 at 10:38:05 AM PDT

    •  The real price of fossil fuels (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NoMoreLies, foresterbob, bmcphail

      They are not going to show up on the price board of a gas station, or on the balance sheet of ExxonMobil, or in silly protesting campaigns at an EPA hearing. In the short term, avoiding alternatives like HSR will shift the price curve of fossil fuels outward, but that makes the inevitable disaster much more dramatic when it hits. Of course, that price will be found in the pH of the ocean, the communities that are ruined by rising sea levels, the repeated bouts of drought and heavy rainfall, and the tributaries poisoned by endless extractions of the last of the easily accessed natural resources. If 2/3 of oil consumption is in transportation (especial offenders being singularly-occupied vehicles and commercial airliners), one can clearly see a key part of the problem lies in how we get around. Bringing our communities closer together through mass transit and increased building density is crucial. Further, for intercity connections, rail will increasingly need to be revered.

      There is no free lunch. Money is pretty arbitrary when it comes to putting a "value" or "cost" on something. That's simply been the way we've been pricing our lifestyles for the past few hundred years. One time ago, industry grew at fantastic rates, thanks in large part to perceived bounties of resources. Now we no better, and yet the paradigm hasn't shifted too significantly. We've only shifted our heavy industry to other frontiers of the world, yet we still get to our service-sector jobs and meetings on high dosages of petroleum.

      "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." ~Edward Abbey ////\\\\ "To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships." ~W.E.B. DuBois

      by rovertheoctopus on Tue May 29, 2012 at 01:34:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It is time for HSR in Calif (11+ / 0-)

    Well, it is years too late, really, but alas...

    How fitting that other states' teabag guvs' rejection of Federal HSR funds allowed broke ass California to be a leader in this job creating endeavor.

    We are the leader in most such progressive actions historically. Once this project is carrying passengers, other states will be envious and regret not getting on board (pun intended) sooner.

    Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

    by LaughingPlanet on Tue May 29, 2012 at 12:04:20 PM PDT

    •  So, pay for it yourself (0+ / 0-)

      Why the heck am I, in Illinois, paying for you guys to have a nice trip from San Fran to LA?

      I don't mind my taxes going for interstate projects, but I really don't see why this needs one dollar of federal funds - especially considering the high cost to the environment in the first 30 years.

      One could imagine a scenario where electricity generation becomes clean and cheap enough, and electric cars become popular enough that in 5 to 10 years, this will not be an environmentally sound project at all!

      Luckily, you Californians are so broke the project will never even begin.

      •  welcome to dkos (9+ / 0-)

        Your comment in reply to me is another winner, like this one.

        You should pay for it because you live in the United States, and taxes are allocated nationally. How does that sound?

        Not enough? It is in our national interest to invest in transportation, especially in the state with an economy that ranks top 10 globally.

        Maybe someday your remarks will generate more recommends than replies. Until then, we will be amused and bemused by your attempted participation.

        Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

        by LaughingPlanet on Tue May 29, 2012 at 12:51:18 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Federal stimulus $ was available to many states (13+ / 0-)

        including an IL-WI line, but 1 by 1 the projects were killed by conservative governors. Cal's is the only 1 left.

        The train will not only reduce greenhouse gases but also, we hope, help to reform California's legendary car-dependent, sprawling culture.

        The world is on pace for 11 degrees F warming. Nothing else in politics matters. @RL_Miller

        by RLMiller on Tue May 29, 2012 at 12:52:27 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  If this was a big, quick reduction of GHG (0+ / 0-)

          I would be much more accepting of using federal funds.

          But, a 30 yr payback on GHG is unacceptable as a reason for "investing" in a project to me.. especially for a state that cannot manage its budget.  Even rail officials admit they cannot predict if it will be profitable.  Who, then, is on the hook for operating costs?

          It seems to me those funds would be much better spent on intra-city electric transportation systems that could show an immediate environmental impact.

        •  Yes, sadly Florida was one of those states (8+ / 0-)

          The HSR project had been previously approved by the Republican legislature in Florida and supported by the previous Republican Governor, Charlie Crist.  

          Then Rick Scott got elected and one of his first acts as governor was to turn down the federal funds for the project.  A private consortium was going to back the project so that ZERO state monies would be encumbered during construction and after completion.  Scott unilaterally turned the money down despite pleas from bipartisan elected officials to go forward with the project.  Money had already been spent on design and right of way, and it was literally shovel ready.  The end result, no HSR for Florida and a loss of between 22,000 and 28,000 jobs.

          "Growing up is for those who don't have the guts not to. Grow wise, grow loving, grow compassionate, but why grow up?" - Fiddlegirl

          by gulfgal98 on Tue May 29, 2012 at 01:52:47 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  and.. the IL-WI line was unecessary (0+ / 0-)

          There already is sufficient service from Chicago to Milwaukee.

          Adding rail from Milwaukee to Madison is just plain silly.  It takes less time to drive it unless you live next to the train station.

          •  Extremely short sighted comment (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            TheOrchid, RLMiller

            It assumes that things will stay the same.

            When gasoline is $10/gallon, and sooner or later it will be, will your comparison still be true?

            We are the principled ones, remember? We don't get to use the black hats' tricks even when it would benefit us. Political Compass: -6.88, -6.41

            by bmcphail on Wed May 30, 2012 at 08:07:41 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  When electric cars can make that run for (0+ / 0-)

              40 cents worth of electricity, will HSR look like a boondoggle in restrospect?

              •  When gas is $10/gallon, (0+ / 0-)

                the electricity won't be 40 cents....

                alternatively, for the sake of the argument, if a car could make that run for 0.40, an electrified train will certainly be able to beat that amount on a per-person basis.

                We are the principled ones, remember? We don't get to use the black hats' tricks even when it would benefit us. Political Compass: -6.88, -6.41

                by bmcphail on Sun Jun 03, 2012 at 01:43:45 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  I'm a Sierra Club member in Florida (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLMiller, JayDean, TheOrchid

    where, alas, the high-speed train was killed by the new Republican governor, Rick Scott, shortly after he was elected in 2010.

    I've got a headful of ideas that are driving me insane. -- Bob Dylan, "Maggie's Farm"

    by Larry Thorson on Tue May 29, 2012 at 03:04:55 PM PDT

  •  No cake for YOU (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLMiller

    PIE!  Cherry or Blueberry.  ;-)

    xo
    cookie j of the fighting AD35th...ah, wait..no...it's the 37th now

    I'm not going anywhere. I'm standing up, which is how one speaks in opposition in a civilized world. - Ainsley Hayes

    by jillian on Tue May 29, 2012 at 10:42:51 PM PDT

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