Kennedy emphasized the duty of citizens to keep themselves informed on issues.
Although environmentally conscious people are often labeled as “tree-huggers” and “radicals,” there is nothing extreme about their mission, a notable environmentalist said Thursday.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., environmentalist, attorney and author, was the keynote speaker of Walden University’s Third Annual Conference on Social Change held at Northrop Auditorium.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Sustainability and Social Change.” Organizers said more than 2,000 people attended.
“There’s nothing radical about protecting the air and water for our children,” Kennedy said. “Our children are going to pay for our joyride.”
Kennedy stood firm on the role of nature in communities and how the environment acts as a unifying infrastructure, one he compared to telecommunications and road systems.
Sustainability is a commitment to community, said Kennedy, who signed copies of his book, “Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy,” after his lecture.
The Bush administration has torn the ‘conserve’ out of the word conservative, Kennedy said.
Kennedy localized vast pollution concerns when he talked about mercury levels in Minnesota fish. Many fishermen read warning advisories but fail to see the connection between pollution and President Bush, he said.
The president should do more to hold large corporations responsible for their waste emissions, he said, and part of that means not letting anyone buy their way out of the cleanup process.
Bush is too comfortable with corporate influence dictating environmental policy, he said.
Looking at the rest of the country, Kennedy talked about rivers and streams in the Appalachian Mountains that have been buried by the coal mining industry. Kennedy, who has a home near the Adirondack Mountains, said approximately one-fifth of the lakes in that region have been sterilized due to acid rain.
Kennedy, who has sons with asthma, said poor air quality should be a front-page headline every day.
Although Kennedy vocally criticized the Bush administration, he emphasized the need for Americans to come together to solve environmental problems. Generally, people have the same values, he said. Kennedy even applauded the environmental work of one particular Republican: his cousin, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.
One person who appreciated Kennedy’s approach was Marian Angelica, director of Walden University’s Center for Social Change.
“He emphasizes the fact that (environmentalism) is not a partisan issue, it’s a human issue,” Angelica said.
Donna Cipolla was one of more than 1,000 doctoral students from Walden University from around the world attending the two-day conference.
Opportunities to meet prominent national figures such as Kennedy are ones that must be taken advantage of, said Cipolla, a clinical psychology student from Richmond, Va. Cipolla said she knew students coming to the event from as far as Jamaica and Italy.
Kennedy emphasized the duty of citizens to inform themselves, a part of which means paying attention to the media. And that goes beyond the attention-grabbing headlines, Kennedy said.
“Americans know more about Tom Cruise than global warming,” he said, eliciting audience laughter. “We’re the most entertained and least informed people on the planet.”
On a more serious note, Kennedy warned that the public’s lack of knowledge leads to considerable consequences.
“You cannot have a democracy for very long if you don’t have an informed public,” he said.
Nate Bird, a computer science graduate student, did not attend Kennedy’s lecture but said keeping an eye on the environment is a shared responsibility among the Legislature and the president.
“It’s George Bush’s job to do the enforcement bit, but it’s not his job to make the rules,” Bird said.
Kennedy’s lecture inspired at least one person. Michael Rhubee, a doctoral student at Walden University and Minneapolis resident, said he wants to get more involved in his community. He even mused about Kennedy and the upcoming presidential election.
“I wish there were more candidates like Kennedy,” he said.