Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has been hailed a hero for the planet by Time
magazine and an agent of change by Rolling Stone
magazine. Wednesday night this champion of the environment brought his green dream to the University of Western Ontario. Concerned about the future? Worried about energy? Fret no more for Kennedy has "a very optimistic vision."
The son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy is a hands-on green activist. As a partner in VantagePoint Ventures Partners
, he is involved in about two dozen 'clean tech' companies. These are high tech businesses taking a walk on the green side.
Appearing just 48 hours after Ann Coulter spoke
at the London university, Kennedy found it impossible to skirt all mention of his right-wing nemesis. "Ann Coulter represents the darkest side of the American character," Kennedy told his audience. One of the easiest things to do is to appeal to the darkest side of our character . . . our bigotry and hatred . . . and self interest and racism and tribalism . . . to appeal to selfishness."
As for Sarah Palin, Kennedy took pleasure in noting that Palin recently confessed
that as a young girl her family used to cross into Canada seeking medical treatment in Whitehorse, capital of the Canadian Yukon Territory. Kennedy was clear; Canadians have a world class medical system of which they can be justly proud.
When it comes to Palin's infamous remark about "death panels", Kennedy said the United States already has "death panels." CEOs of some of the largest health care corporations take home hundreds of millions in salaries and bonuses earned partially by denying people health care when they need it most.
Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin and others of their ilk would, if they had their way, create a world of corporate feudalism. He did not believe the founders of the United States, fighters for freedom, would be supporters of their extreme conservative ideology and their drive for "unrestrained corporate power." These corporations treat the planet as "if it were a business in liquidation, converting our natural resource into cash as quickly as possible."
Hero of the right, President Ronald Reagan, is no hero to Kennedy. "He had the gift of making people feel comfortable with their own prejudices."
Many of the problems of today, Kennedy traced back to actions taken by Reagan. Kennedy believes the American people are fed a media diet of right-wing propaganda, and it "all started in 1988 when Ronald Reagan abolished the Fairness Doctrine. The Fairness Doctrine said that the airwaves belong to the public. They were public-trust assets, like air and water, and broadcasters could be licensed to use them" but they must use them in the public interest and to advance democracy.
If the Fairness Doctrine was still in place, "You could not have a Fox News," he said, nor a Rush Limbaugh, for that matter. But the doctrine is gone and Fox and Limbaugh are here. Quoting Pew Research, Kennedy said, 30 percent of Americans now get their news from talk radio, which is 90 percent dominated by the right. Another large number of Americans say their primary news source is Fox News, which Kennedy clearly believed would be better named Faux News.
Kennedy said as a result of that doctrine being abolished, six giant multinational corporations control all 14,000 radio stations in the States, almost all 6,000 TV stations, 80 percent of the newspapers, all billboards, and most of the Internet information services. News departments are corporate profit centers with their only obligations being to the shareholders and not to the public.
According to Kennedy, Americans are not given an accurate picture of the energy situation from much of the corporation controlled media. They won't learn that there are three big roadblocks to green energy. First, oil and coal enjoy immense subsidies which hide the true costs.
Second, the United States energy grid is inadequate. It is not up to the task of transmitting electricity long distances. Wind energy generated in North Dakota, stays in North Dakota. It cannot be transmitted to markets in the east, thus benefiting both the prairie farmer and the city slicker. The trillions spent fighting the war in Iraq would have replaced the antiquated present power grid, Kennedy said.
Lastly, there are bureaucratic obstacles at every turn blocking progress and innovation in the energy arena. Kennedy said, "My home is actually a power plant. It gets its heat and energy from geothermal and from solar, I generate more energy than I use." But feeding excess energy into the power grid is impossible in many areas and "no state will buy all of it."
The American market is rigged to reward the "fuels from hell." The United States rewards the filthiest, most destructive, most poisonous fuels, rather than the cheap, clean, green, safe, wholesome fuels from heaven, according to Kennedy.
"We need to change this," he says, "by rewarding efficiency and good behaviour." As an example, Kennedy pointed to BrightSource Energy
which has signed contracts to provide California with 2.7 gigawatts of power annually from solar energy farms using computer controlled mirrors located in the American western desert. From the outset, construction costs are far less than for coal or nuclear plants and once built it only gets better. The energy is almost free forever. Build a coal plant on the other hand and the costs are just beginning: mining, transportation, harmful emissions — all continuing expenses.
Kennedy held out hope for clean power, a smart grid and millions of jobs. In the future, "We'll have an energy system that drops the cost (of energy) to almost zero." A further bonus, it will be quickly paid for with the savings resulting from not sending billions of oil dollars abroad.