Robert F. Kennedy Outlines a Green Course for Survival

November 10, 2010

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Photo by David Noe. View additional photos from this event, from Kennedy's visit to the Mowbray Sustainability House or from the reception.

“We are living in a science fiction nightmare,” environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. declared to the amassed Rollins Community. On Thursday, November 4, in celebration of Rollins’ 125th Anniversary, the Winter Park Institute presented a captivating event featuring its Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., whose lecture was titled Green Gold Rush: A Vision for Energy Independence, Jobs, and National Wealth. For over an hour, Kennedy spoke to a capacity audience in the Warden Arena on the dangers inherent in America’s addiction to fossil fuels and outlined his vision for energy independence. Numerous cheers, hoots and spontaneous standing ovations interrupted Kennedy’s speech.

 “Whenever you see large-scale destruction of the environment, you will also see the subversion of democracy,” Kennedy said while addressing the topic of corrupt government officials and a general lack of legislative transparency. Confessing that he sympathizes with the anger of the Tea Party, Kennedy explained that their anger is misdirected at the wrong culprit and warned of corporate and Wall Street propaganda. 

“Big government is a threat to democracy, but the biggest threat comes from big corporations,” said Kennedy. “We must not ignore the big polluters who want to treat the resources of the planet as an endless cash flow, because it is our children that will pay. We are loading the cost of our generation’s prosperity on the backs of our children.” Kennedy noted that as an environmental attorney he “brought dozens of dozens of lawsuits against the coal industry for over 20 years and won.”

Kennedy made it clear that the greatest challenge the American people face is weaning ourselves off fossil fuels so that we use energy in ways that don’t compromise the aspirations of future generations. To accomplish this monumental task, Kennedy described the many obstacles that first must be overcome. He pointed out that the United States lacks an intelligent grid system, and this prevents the electrons generated by clean energy from getting to the marketplace. The U.S. also has been unable put a price on carbon due to large government subsidies granted to the fossil fuel industry. It is these subsidies that corrupt the marketplace, according to Kennedy. 

“We as a people need to understand there is a difference between free market capitalism and corporate crony capitalism that is prevalent in this country.  We need a market that awards good behavior and punishes the bad, and not one that is governed by incumbents whose only motivation is to reward their wealthy friends.  We must harness the rules of the market to form a social purpose.  Otherwise, we have a plutocracy which is exactly what our ancestors fled from.” 

 Kennedy also warned against blind faith in the capitalist economy. “The free market is a great thing, but it is merely a tool. You don’t worship a hammer, so you shouldn’t worship the market.” Kennedy continued with a detailed vision for a green economy in which a national marketplace turns every American into an energy entrepreneur and every home into a clean energy power plant. 

“Today we have the ability to give Americans free, clean energy forever. Doing so will result in the largest permanent tax break in history because energy is the biggest tax we as a nation pay.”

For an estimated $3 trillion, Kennedy expects that the U.S. can completely eliminate its reliance on carbon-based fuels. This energy independence initiative can be completely funded from savings generated by not consuming fossil fuel. Clean energy experts agree that enough solar fields can be built in the Southwest to power the entire grid. Simultaneously, the force of the wind in the Midwest is consistent enough to power the nation’s grid as well. Kennedy commented that these clean initiatives strike a balance because, “the wind in the Midwest blows at night, and of course you know, the sun shines during the day.”

Following the address, Crummer Graduate School of Business Associate Professor of Management Science Keith Whittingham commented on Kennedy’s expertise and broad vantage point on environmental policy. “He, like author and NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman and others, believe that we have a limited-time opportunity, by supporting clean energy innovation through legislation and investment, to change the trajectory of our nation,” said Whittingham.

“The Chinese understand that developing clean energy infrastructure is the arms race of the 21st Century,” Kennedy said during his speech.  “They’re going to win because the narcissistic hacks on Capitol Hill are subverting democracy and dividing the people of this country.” 

Kennedy urged students to rise above the media’s spin and to take action. In an exclusive interview with the environmental activist and advocate following the presentation, he repeated the importance of how the environment is intertwined with our economy. “All the ingredients to the revitalization of our nation deal with the decarbonizing of our society. It will improve our national security, create jobs and repair the international prestige of America.” When asked what is the most important step young people can take to make a positive change for the environment, Kennedy replied, “It is vital that students get involved politically. It’s more important to change your politician than your light bulb. Your future depends solely on your level of involvement.”

Kennedy’s words clearly moved many in the audience, and it was apparent that the evening would foster the Winter Park Institute’s mission of inspiring enlightened and on-going conversation, thus enhancing the development of a liberally educated citizenry. 

Completing Winter Park Institute’s season is a series of related presentations by journalist, correspondent, and expert on China, Orville Schell.  Schell’s two events are entitled Climate Change and the Melting Glaciers of the Himalayas and What’s Happening in China and Why It Matters and will take place on Thursday, November 11 at 7 p.m. and Friday, November 12 at 9 a.m. in the Bush Auditorium.  For more information on the Winter Park Institute and its final events of the semester, please visit

By Justin Braun (MBA Class of 2011)

Office of Public Relations & Community Affairs
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