When Robert F. Kennedy Jr. took to the podium on Friday the 13th at the annual Gore Roundtable, Summer Market attendees were lucky indeed to soak up his artful and practiced rhetoric: Nature is good and we should protect it, was the crux of his message. "We should recognize that nature enriches us," he said. "When we destroy nature, we diminish ourselves."
To make his point, Kennedy, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, talked poetically and as quickly as a rushing Class IV river about his favored environmental group River Keepers, his memories of Washington, D.C., and the White House as a young boy before and during the Kennedy presidency, free market capitalism, and nature's role in religion, art and literature.
River Keepers watching over our waterways
There are 121 licensed River Keepers associate groups from Washington to Mexico to Maine to Florida, making it the fastest-growing environmental group in the country, he said. More than 300 applications for additional groups are pending, he added. Members are fisherman and others who look after waterways and ensure that companies aren't illegally dumping toxic waste. According to Kennedy, their job is not just protecting rivers, but also about helping the public, industries and local governments realize that no choice has to be made between economic prosperity and environmental protection. One hundred percent of the time, Kennedy asserted, good environmental policy is good economic policy and one does not have to choose between the two.
"In the past, the Hudson River caught on fire," he said. "It turned colors and was dead water. Now, it is a major water system. It has strong spawning stock and is the last refuge for many animals."
Now, he asked rhetorically, if all it takes to turn the Hudson River from a wasted waterway into a splendorous stream is a group of fisherman trolling for polluters, then why aren't we living in the Garden of Eden? Because, Kennedy said, for the past eight or nine years, the government has been passing anti-environment policies. "All pollution is a hidden subsidy," he said. "I am the strongest advocate for free-market capitalism. It would help eliminate pollution.
"Young policy-makers don't have memories of what it was like when you couldn't see down the block in Washington for the smog," he said.
Taking action to protect the environment
Kennedy's solution for changing the way government deals with environmental protection is simple. "Locally-based democracy is the only way environmental protection is possible," he said. "Environmental injury has matured into economic catastrophe."
Plus, he added, "Our children are going to pay for our joyride."
Despite this dismal declaration, Kennedy looked on the bright side briefly before admonishing his listeners to take action as soon as possible.
"Don't be ashamed about not having the history that Europe does," he said. "As Americans, you have a direct connection with wilderness, which is the undiluted work of the creator and it will shape who you are as a people. Religions, art, literatureâ€¦all of them are taken from nature and wilderness. All prophets come out of the wilderness. Our language is made up of words that come from nature. We can best sense the divine when we go out into the wilderness. People need to go out and renew themselves. When we destroy these things, it's like tearing the last pages out of the last bible."
Admonishment: Get involved for the next generation
Responding to a query regarding what he thought the outdoor industry could or should do, Kennedy stated firmly that the industry needs to become involved nationally and locally at the government level. "Be involved in the political process," he said. "Political endorsement from business people, sending a message to the politicians is the most important thing. Business (leaders) have more credibility in the political process (than environmental groups).
And, again, he thumped on his theme of thinking of our children: "We have an obligation to the next generation," he said. "We have a trustee relationship to the next generation. We can live on the interest, but we can't go into the capital. That belongs to our children.
"We didn't inherit the planet from our ancestors," he added. "We borrowed it from our children."
SNEWSÂ® View: No argument from the SNEWSÂ® team with Mr. Kennedy when he stated, "Environmental advocacy is about recognizing that nature is the infrastructure of our communities and our lives." As an industry, we have proven that very point by making a strong stand regarding our trade show's location and Utah, and our opposition to any politically-motivated decisions that leave our public lands open for extractive pillaging. We have proven that political leaders really do listen when the voices are from those that can and will affect their voting constituency's pocketbooks.
However, at the same time, we offer this word of caution to the industry: Political activism for the benefit of our environment and for the protection of public lands and recreational resources that ultimately determine the health of our businesses is a far cry from an OIA endorsement of politicians as we have heard some industry leaders begin to demand. Our industry association must not become a platform for endorsement of candidates or of various candidate positions. We, as an industry, and OIA as an association, must remain above partisan politics and instead remain that unified voice for protecting environmental and recreational resources and our business interests that any political party can and will listen to. That said, we need many more industry business leaders and retailers willing and able to stand up and be counted when lands and recreation are threatened at the local and national level. And, we need all of the industry to join in as members of the OIA. If you are not a member, why not?