Robert F Kennedy Jr at the Toronto Green Living Show

It was no coincidence that, only moments before “Bobby Jr” took to the stage, REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” was playing through the speakers in the Main Stage auditorium. But whatever tone this song was expected to set, it was quickly reversed by Kennedy….

His speech didn’t focus on global catastrophes caused by our deteriorating climate, and he didn’t use fear of the future to scare the crowd into action. Instead, he began with a simple sentiment: “nature is the infrastructure of our communities,” and continued, over the next hour and ten minutes, to paint a picture of a future that wasn’t so grim, and that certainly wasn’t destined for environmental catastrophe.

When slavery was still a reality in many parts of the United States and Britain, people were hesitant to support the abolishment of slavery because they were afraid that it would result in economic turmoil, and that having to pay workers to perform their jobs would take money away from the landowners. As everyone knows, this wasn’t the case, and the end of slavery created a boom in the economy, and was a significant factor in the launch of the industrial revolution. Kennedy says that we are in a very similar position as a society right now, in that many people are afraid to adopt new environmental technologies for fear that coal and fossil fuel vehicles are one of the crutches of our culture. But by limiting our dependence on foreign oil, and creating an entirely new sector of environmental energy facilities, we will create more jobs than ever, and in fact make our nation far more prosperous. Decarbonized nations such as Iceland and Switzerland have already accomplished these goals and, although their relative sizes are significantly smaller, it is not out of the question for North American to follow the same path they have.

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Kennedy also spoke of the importance of a free press in a functioning democracy, and that it is missing from the United States right now. The increasing amounts of mercury in fish, and the decreasing quality of air is something that should be covered on the nightly news, and simply isn’t anymore. Much of this is due to studies being repressed by government officials (“that son of a bitch, George Bush,” in his words), but also by large corporations who would be hurt financially if they needed to act as environmentally conscious corporate citizens. It is this “revolving door of plunder” that we get stuck in while corporations run our democracy. These are the corporations sponsoring drag lines in the Appalachians in West Virginia, deforesting and ‘mountain-top mining’ with the dynamite equivalent of a Hiroshima bomb being exploded every week. The same corporations that have taken an area of forest the size of Delaware and flattened it, since Bush has come into office. Kennedy made it very clear that cashing in our natural resources for a quick economic boost will be nothing more than a short-lived joyride, with no long-term stability, and that we have to wake everyone up to the realization that good environmental policy is identical to good economic policy.

At many points during his inspiring and motivating speech, Kennedy was silenced by the applause from the crowd and before he could leave the stage, he was treated to a standing ovation from the entire auditorium – including the leaders of the Canadian Liberal and NDP party, Stephane Dion and Jack Layton, respectively. Kennedy’s speech was not only thought provoking, but an eye-opening experience to many issues at hand that are being overlooked. I certainly can’t do his speech justice in this brief review, but I can urge anyone that has the opportunity to see him, to do so without question. It was the highlight of the Toronto Green Living Show, and was an inspirational experience for all of us at Greener Ideal.

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To read all about Robert F. Kennedy Jr’s environmental actions, pick up a copy of his book, Crimes Against Nature.

Photo credit: David Gilvesy

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