CHRISMER: Time for entirely new transportation solutions

April 22, 2013

Engineers love challenges and want to dream big.  But I snapped upon recently hearing an oil company CEO say that engineers should be called upon to design structures to protect us from rising tides, “if in fact this climate change nonsense turns out to be true”.  This cynical challenge does not inspire, because it is clear our society requires an entirely new set of solutions to avoid the disaster his company brings.  Although neither of the two current major political parties will provide the needed leadership to steer us away from corporatism and ecological suicide, it is the central goal of the Greens to do so.  For this reason I have agreed to serve in the Green Shadow Cabinet for Transportation.

I have been hoping for a return to the can-do spirit this country had in my youth, the kind that launched space exploration and the moon landing.  Only today the inspiring engineering challenges take the form of developing alternative forms of renewable energy, Sustainable Engineering and high speed rail.  The latter is my specialty.  During a recent trip to Oklahoma to take part in the resistance to the Keystone pipeline, I viewed the right of way along which the pipe is being laid for hundreds of miles, and compared the relatively small number of workers involved in its construction with the much larger number needed for high speed rail track construction.  People instead of diluted bitumen would be carried, and the related jobs needed to maintain the track and trains would continue well into the future.  Pipelines and railways are both modes of transportation, but in this case one would be used to hasten our path to climate catastrophe and the other can direct us away from it.  The choice is ours.

As the two-party system continues to demonstrate that it will not bring meaningful change, the Green Shadow Cabinet - founded by the Green Party’s Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala - shows that another government is possible, that there is an alternative to this moribund political establishment.  They and their ambitious goals remind me of my first Earth Day in 1970 which was also infused with the sense that anything was possible, and that we are only limited by our imaginations.  Earth Days since seem to have gotten smaller.  This Earth Day we unveil the Green Shadow Cabinet, operating in all areas of government, and inspire a rising tide of hope.

~  Steve Chrismer received his PhD in civil engineering from University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1994, has worked for over 30 years in the freight and high speed passenger railroad industry, and is a registered professional engineer. He is the Secretary of Transportation in the Green Shadow Cabinet.