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RFK Jr. Brings Environmental Message to Campus

RFK Jr. brings environmental message to campus

BY MIKE UNGER
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Photo by Jeff Watts

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. brought his message of environmental conservation and protection to AU Wednesday night, his visit marking a fitting highlight to the first ever environmental summit sponsored by the Kennedy Political Union, named in honor of his famous family.

An avid fisherman, hiker, and outdoorsman, Kennedy is president of the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance, and vice chairman of Riverkeeper, whose mission is to protect the environmental, recreational, and commercial integrity of his beloved Hudson River and its tributaries.

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> AU Kennedy Political Union

“We’re not protecting the environment for the sake of the fish and the birds, we’re doing it for ourselves, because we realize that nature is the infrastructure of our community,” he said during his address. “When we diminish nature, we diminish ourselves.”

Delivering a speech to a large crowd in Bender Arena that included his mother, Kennedy blasted the Bush administration and the consolidation of the mainstream media for the role each entity has played in the polluting of America.

“The principal role of the environmentalist is to inject [our] concerns into the political dialogue,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 23 years, and I’ve been nonpartisan in my approach to the issues. But you can’t talk honestly about the environment in this context without talking about this president. They’ve put polluters in charge of virtually all the agencies that are supposed to be protecting the environment.”

Kennedy’s visit was just one of several environmental programs staged throughout campus last week by KPU and a host of cosponsors. Other events included a screening of the film An Inconvenient Truth, a symposium on the effects of mountaintop mining, and even a parody performance on climate change.

“This is the first time we’ve done something like this to my knowledge,” said junior Taylor Robinson, director of KPU. “The environment is really hot right now, no pun intended. It seems to me that AU has a lot of interest in it. The [AU] administration is working hard to make sure that the wind energy referendum that the students passed happens. Eco-Sense is incredibly active and has a huge membership.”

Perhaps no American is better suited to deliver a keynote address on the environment than Kennedy. He is the author of several books on the subject, including Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy.

“The agencies that are supposed to be protecting us from pollution are being run by corporate bottom feeders,” he said. “These individuals have not entered government to serve the public interest, but rather to subvert the law.”

Kennedy specifically pointed to the oil and coal industries as two of the worst offenders. He said they’ve contributed more than $100 million to the Bush campaign, donations he believes have led to the relaxing of enforcement of antipollution laws and regulations. The result, he said, has been worse air and water quality for all Americans.

How did this happen? According to Kennedy, the consolidation of the media, now owned by just a few multinational conglomerates beholden to Wall Street and their shareholders but not to the public good, has sparked an increase in sensational, tabloid-style news coverage while serious investigative pieces on issues like the environment have waned. Kennedy traces this shift to President Reagan’s abolition of the Fairness Doctrine in 1988.

“Less than 4 percent of the network news coverage is devoted to the environment,” he said. “Today Americans know more about Tom Cruise than they do about global warming. We’re the most entertained and least informed people on Earth.”

Kennedy cited the presence of mercury in fish as one of the most serious environmental problems now facing this country.

“My mercury levels from eating fish are two and a half times as high as are considered safe,” he said. “I was told that a woman with my levels of mercury would have children with brain damage. Not ‘might,’ ‘would.’”

Toward the end of his speech, Kennedy drew several interesting connections between religious history, spirituality, and the environment.

“I don’t want my kids to grow up where there are no fishermen on the Hudson, where there are no family farmers, where we’ve lost track of the seasons and the tides that connect us to the 10,000 generations that came before there were laptops. That connects us to God. We know the Creator by immersing ourselves in creation.

“If we don’t return to our children something that is roughly the equivalent of what we inherited, they’ll have the right to ask us some very difficult questions.”

Article sent to us by Sarah Olesiuk-mailto:sho4@cornell.edu of Appalachian Voices

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