Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

William Abranowicz / © Art+Comme

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a man who needs no introduction. A staunch defender of the environment, he serves as senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper, president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, co-hosts Air America Radio’s Ring of Fire and has been named one of TIME magazine’s ‘Heroes for the Planet.’ LN snagged an exclusive interview last week, prior to his engagement at the Maryville University St. Louis Speaker Series.

LN: What environmental problem isn’t getting enough attention?

RFK: The biggest national issue is how we use energy. Probably the biggest drag on American prosperity and our economy, as well as our international prestige and national security, is our deadly addiction to oil and carbon. We’re borrowing $1 billion a day, largely from nations that don’t share our values, in order to afford $1 billion of oil per day. This is mostly from nations that are outright hostile to us. We have damaged our moral authority and international leadership, plus through our oil addiction, we are funding both sides of the war against terror. We have plenty of renewable sources of energy in our country that are cheaper and more efficient. The principal barriers to harnessing those are congressional leadership. Massive contributions by the carbon industry have turned political leaders of both parties into indentured servants and warped our national energy policy, as well as our foreign policy.

LN: What would you like to see in terms of environmental legislation in the next few years?

RFK: Most important, we need to create a rational free market system that serves the interests of the American people and utilize the most efficient energy. We need to harness free market capitalism to serve Americans’ interests and free ourselves from the tyranny of the oil production to restore our prosperity and moral authority.

LN: Do you think it’s likely that will happen during this presidency?

RFK: It’s happening now. And it’s being driven largely by market forces because even with all the subsidies to the incumbents, we can deliver renewable energy at parity with coal and oil and nuke. What we need is a grid system that functions in the marketplace, where cleaner forms of energy can compete head to head on a level playing field. If we do that, we’ll watch a cascade of adaptation of new forms of wind and solar and geothermal and electric cars driven not by government mandates, but by market forces.

LN: Do you think the BP oil spill had an impact on how people view our dependence on oil?

RFK: I think the Gulf oil spill and tragedies like the nuclear catastrophe in Japan make the public more aware of the vast hidden cost of oil coal and nuke. What appears to be cheap energy is actually immensely expensive to our nation and its values. We have much less expensive alternatives, which, as we develop them, create jobs in our country, lower costs of electricity, make us more competitive and put us back in the driver’s seat in the international economy.

LN: What do you think of the backlash against the legislation regarding energy-efficient light bulbs? 

RFK: There are now a thousand companies making LED light bulbs and the costs of those light bulbs upfront is dropping precipitously year by year. The ultimate adaptation is not going to be driven by government mandates, but by market forces. The cost of LED lights is already far cheaper over time. People can do as they choose. Edison light bulbs are the last vacuum tubes that are left in your home. The technology is 135 years old. The last vacuum TV company closed down three years ago. People are welcome to stockpile vacuum tube TVs with the belief they’re going to come back. There’s the same chance of vacuum TVs making a return debut as there are Edison light bulbs.

LN: I have to ask—I understand that you’re a master falconer? How did you get into that?

RFK: I started raising homing pigeons when I was 7. When I was 9, I read a book about Camelot by T.H. White called The Once and Future King. White had a chapter about falconry, and I realized when I read it that I wanted to be a falconer. I had my first hawk when I was 9 and have always had a bird since then.   LN