Kennedy Jr. urges environmental protection

Rani Gupta

Government must protect the environment for the sake of economic prosperity and American values, environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told 200 people Friday in Coon Forum.

Kennedy, whose speech was sponsored by the College Democrats, said corporate polluters affect more than just wildlife.

“It’s not just the environment that is being destroyed,” he said. “It’s the community and the American way of life.”

Kennedy said environmental preservation is needed “not for the fishes and the birds, but because these things enrich us, for our own good.”

Kennedy serves as chief prosecuting attorney for Riverkeeper, a group that protects the Hudson River in New York. A group of citizens formed Riverkeeper from the “bounties” they received from suing polluters, he said, and Riverkeeper now owns boats that patrol the Hudson River.

Kennedy complained about the federal government’s lack of environmental legislation and criticized the common excuse that “now is the time to choose between economic prosperity on one hand and environmental protection on the other.”

“Our children are going to pay for our joy ride,” he said. “Environmental destruction is deficit spending.”

But environmental protection, Kennedy said, is essential for economic health in the long-term.

Protecting the environment is the same as an “investment in infrastructure,” Kennedy said.

“It’s something we have to do if we want to ensure the economic vitality of future generations.”

Democracy, Kennedy added, is the only way to protect the environment because “nature doesn’t vote.”

“In other countries, there is a connection between the level of tyranny and the level of economic degradation,” he said.

Kennedy said he feared the impact of the “reckless, foolhardy Congress and the new president” on the fight for environmental protection, and that he was “dismayed” that the budgets for the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency were cut by about $500 million.

He also disagreed with policies designed to hold states responsible for environmental protection.

“This devolution will not be community control,” Kennedy said. “It will be corporate control.”

He then related examples of corporations forcing communities to bend environmental rules by threatening to move jobs elsewhere.

Kennedy also said environmental protection does not interfere with the free market and argued that the government allows big corporations cheap access to natural resources and “because they get the resources for free, they use them wastefully.”

“You show me pollution, and I’ll show you a subsidy,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy complained about large corporations’ influence over legislators.

“I can tell you that they’re a bunch of crybabies,” he said. “You can hear them whining when you pull the federal nipple out of their mouths.”

According to Kennedy, these corporations pass the costs on to consumers instead of incorporating these costs in their products. The burden lands especially hard on the poorest communities, he said.

Kennedy concluded by saying environmental protection was necessary to ensure the welfare of future generations.

“If we don’t return to our children what was given to us, they will have the right to ask us some very difficult questions,” Kennedy said.

Music and Weinberg sophomore Seth Peabody said he liked the “practical” nature of Kennedy’s ideas.

“He’s not talking about reworking the system but cleaning things up,” Peabody said. “I admire that more than someone who wrote a book about creating a new system.”

College Democrats president Courtney Brunsfeld, a Weinberg sophomore, said the group sponsored Kennedy’s speech because he is “an influential player in the (environmental) realm and he has a lot of clout because he is a Kennedy.”

Brunsfeld said Kennedy’s speech was “kind of depressing” because he pointed out the serious condition of the environment, but said she also found it “extremely interesting and hopeful, because there was the idea that if people band together, they can change it.”