Robert F. Kennedy

November 12, 2010 Features

As part of the 125th Anniversary celebration of the founding of Rollins College, on Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m., Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. spoke at the Alfond Sports Center about the importance of energy independence and sustainable enterprise. This event, sponsored by the Winter Park Institute and titled “Green Gold Rush: A Vision for Energy Independence, Jobs, and National Wealth,” attracted students, parents, faculty, and alumni.

Kennedy has been fighting for environmental justice for decades through his work as senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper, and president of Waterkeeper Alliance. He has written books and has published articles in a variety of well-renowned magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Rolling Stone.

After announcing that he was “really happy to be here at Rollins,” Kennedy dove right into the broader issues of environmental policy. He stated that as a country we need to recognize “that nature is the infrastructure of our community.”

He compared the crisis facing the world over switching to non-carbon energy sources to the debate over the end of the slave trade in the United Kingdom. A few hundred years ago, Parliament debated how to end slavery, with the fear that if abolished overnight, the economy would collapse. Eventually, the slave trade was abolished (literally overnight), and rather than collapse, Britain’s economy soared to new heights when the Industrial Revolution took its place.

Kennedy went on to discuss the United States’ astronomical oil addiction. The U.S. sends close to $1 billion a day to countries we do not like for oil. Trillions in subsidies go to the oil industry each year.

All of the money that is being poured into oil and coal is only digging the United States into a deeper hole. Every freshwater fish in the United States contains high levels of mercury that make them too dangerous to eat. Corporations are cutting down and blowing the tops off of the Appalachian Mountains in order to strip the coal from the inside. Kennedy described the current situation as “living in a science fiction nightmare.”

Kennedy then described the benefits of using non-carbon based energy. Many countries across the world including Iceland, Sweden, Brazil and Costa Rica de-carbonized in recent years and are almost all 100 percent energy efficient. They have saved millions of dollars and are some of the few countries that are flourishing in the global recession. A 75-by-75-mile grid on solar panels in the desert in the West will sustain 100 percent of America’s power needs. There is already enough wind power in three states to power all of North America three times over. The issue with these sources of energy is that there is no grid system to distribute this energy across the country. Kennedy proposes that the government needs to create this grid system because once it is in place, the United States will have unlimited energy. “We will have an inArastructure that will give free energy forever,” he said.

Kennedy ended his presentation with a warning against the multinational corporations that are benefiting from the oil industry. He stated that in a “true free market, you cannot make yourself rich without making others rich as well.” These oil companies do not make the people of the U.S. richer but rather make them poorer. He ended with a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville, saying, “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

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