I listened to Robert F Kennedy Jr. speak at The Town Hall the other night. He was there as a representative of National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). President of NRDC, Frances Beinecke introduced him. I was immediately impressed with the way Mr. Kennedy took the microphone, walked to the edge of the stage, front and center and began to speak. No notes, no teleprompter. Just spoke seemingly off the cuff for an hour and a half. He was articulate, interesting, funny and passionate. In essence, I suppose you can sum that up by saying, he's a Kennedy.
He talked about a number of subjects, but they all fell under the same umbrella - the health and well being of our planet. He addressed how the economy and the environment don't have to compete. That an investment in our environment is not a diminishment of our wealth. How there are ways to use and extract energy so that we don't harm the planet. Mr. Kennedy suggested that a new national energy grid would be the real economic stimulus package. We created one for the internet under the Telecommunications Act, now we need one so farmers can put windmills on their property in North Dakota and carry that energy around the nation. He spoke about the generally negligent press and how it has let down our democracy (that statement, by the way, got a hardy round of applause). There are, apparently just a small group who dictate what Americans hear in the news. Mr. Kennedy went on to tell us about how we can thank former President Reagan's abolishment of the Fairness Doctrine for that. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said if we don't have an informed democracy, we won't have a democracy for long. He talked about the war and how right now we're funding both sides due to our dependency on oil. He said the rivers and lakes should be the people's but industrialization has polluted our waters so we can't consume fish without taking in mercury. Mr. Kennedy spoke of the barren moonscapes that were once part of the appalachian mountains. That the coal business is essentially liquidating states for cash and leaving ghost towns, he said.
Several times during his talk, images from the documentary Manufactured Landscapes kept coming to mind. The film by Jennifer Baichwal follows the artist Edward Burtynsky as he photographs some of humanities worse violations to nature. The cinematography and collaborator (Peter Mettler) along with Mr. Burtynsky's photographs of these super industrial site are both beautiful and profoundly disturbing. The images range from China's Three Gorges dam to Utah coal mines.
Mr. Kennedy wasn't exaggerating when he called them those coal sites moonscapes. Ms. Baichwal's film and Mr. Burtynsky's photographs are proof of that. It's happening all over the world. So where is the hope if we're just going to fall in a gutted forest pit of used tires and mercury rich waterways? Well, Mr. Kennedy says that he, along with other well known environmentalists are working with the Obama administration to save our planet and there is progress being made. The bummer is that there's also a war and a health care reform plan in the works. Times are busy and the to-do list is long.
I do wish there was an easy answer to wrap up this blog, but the only thing I can think of is something my Grandfather said to me once and that is, If you don't like it, write your congressman. You shouldn't just sit there. This is America. A democracy. The people's country.