The Lord of the Rivers
Pushing the Limits Interview with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has never been one to rest on the laurels of the past successes of his distinguished family. He has become one of the world’s preeminent environmental crusaders, starting with the United States. While he has something valuable to say on everything from the current Bush administration (in his book, Crimes Against Nature), to his patron saint (St. Francis of Assisi, on whom he has written a children’s book), it is on the issue of water where he has perhaps delivered his most profound impact. He is the chief prosecuting attorney for an organization called Riverkeeper, and the president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, which has led to the reation of well over 100 Waterkeeper organizations around the world. Kennedy’s leadership in Riverkeeper’s attempt to return the fouled Hudson River to its original state led Time magazine to single him out as one of their “Heroes for the Planet.”
If you were President for the next 100 days, with full cooperation from Congress and the Senate, what would be your top three priorities?
I would tax carbon production and other bad behaviour because I believe strongly in free market capitalism and, right now, we are taxing productivity instead. We’re taxing innovation and we’re taxing good things. We want to reward the good and punish the bad. Our tax system should be doing that first of all.
I would put an immediate stop to mountain-top mining.
I would declare an Apollo-style project to free us of our dependence on fossil fuel, which would mobilize the American public and our technologic, scientific and military resources toward that end.
What is the role of government in creating a sustainable society and a sustainable economy?
One of government’s primary responsibilities is to protect the commons—the air we breathe, the water, the public lands—on behalf of all the people of the community, rich or poor, humble or noble. The best measure of how a democracy functions is how it distributes the goods of the land. Do we allow those assets to be monopolized and stolen by a few powerful individuals or corporations or do we maintain them in the hands of the public at large?
We need democracy for capitalism to function. We need a campaign finance system that keeps corporate money out of politics. Corporations should not be running our political system. Corporations are good things. They drive our economy. They encourage people to assemble wealth and to risk it and they create jobs. But corporations don’t want free markets; they don’t want democracy. They want profits, and the best way for them to get profits is to use the campaign finance system—which is just a system of legalized bribery—in order to capture and get their hooks into public officials, then use those public officials to dismantle the market place and give them monopoly control and to privatize the commons.
What are the greatest threats to fresh water?
The growth of factory farms is a huge threat to clean water because factory farming relies on disposing of its waste in ways that damage water. The business plan of that industry is based upon gross amounts of pollution being carried away for free from those facilities. And usually our waterways play an important role in this.
The pavement of our landscapes is also a giant threat to clean water. The worst thing you can do to a waterway is pave the watershed from which it drains. Sewage and storm water are also big threats. We can solve all of these problems. We have the technologies and the scientific capacity to do it. The only thing we lack is political will.
How do you feel about bulk water exports?
I am opposed to them. I think Canada would make a huge mistake by allowing bulk water exports to the United States and elsewhere.
Some people say Canada should privatize and sell our fresh water before the Americans come in and simply take it.