RFK Jr. Talks Environment, Economy at the Law School
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. visited the Law School to deliver a passionate speech about the need to protect the environment, tailored specially to a University of Chicago audience familiar with cost-benefit analysis.
In a May 10 talk sponsored by the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic, Kennedy made clear that he believes free-market capitalism and the environment can go hand-in-hand. He said true free-market capitalism, in which oil and coal companies are denied government subsidies, would result in cleaner, more cost-effective energy that would benefit the economy and the earth.
“A true free market promotes efficiency. And efficiency is the elimination of waste. And pollution is waste,” Kennedy said.
For example, he said, geothermal energy is less expensive than coal but that isn’t clear in the marketplace because of the subsidies the coal industry receives from the government.
Alternative energies such as wind and solar will emerge as more efficient, cost-effective options, he said, but the country needs a national grid to transport them.
Kennedy decried the coal industry in particular for mountaintop mining in the Appalachian Mountains, a practice that he said has flattened the mountain range in some places. This depletion of natural resources “is an attack on America’s economy and an attack on America’s wealth,” he said.
“Environmental injury is deficit spending. It’s a way of loading the costs of our generation’s prosperity onto the backs of our children.”
Kennedy also pointed out the many “hidden” costs of pollution, notably in human health care. He mentioned women with high levels of mercury in their wombs, which is dangerous to unborn babies, and people missing work because of asthma attacks as just two examples.
“We could pay for Obamacare 6 or 7 times over, just by eliminating these pollutants,” he said.
Dean Michael Schill introduced Kennedy to a capacity crowd as “one of the nation’s most committed and successful defenders of the environment.” Kennedy is Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper, a watchdog organization that protects the Hudson River in New York, and President of Waterkeeper Alliance, a global movement of clean-water advocates. At Pace University School of Law in White Plains, N.Y., he is a Clinical Professor and Supervising Attorney of the Environmental Litigation Clinic. He also co-hosts Ring of Fire on Air America Radio. He is the author of The New York Times bestseller Crimes Against Nature, among other books.
Michael Turkel, ’14, was especially excited to see Kennedy close-up. Turkel will return to his hometown of New York this summer to work for Kennedy’s Riverkeeper. He was one of about 20 people who stayed after the speech to speak with Kennedy.
“I really liked the way he catered it to the University of Chicago audience by couching it in economic terms and cost-benefit analysis…driving home the point that so many costs are left out of the equation, ignored. It’s a language most people here can speak in,” Turkel said.
Mark Templeton, director of the Abrams Clinic, which launched in January, said Kennedy provided a boost to the Law School’s environmental law program with his visit and speech. Right now, seven students are enrolled in the Clinic; the number will rise in the fall.
“The advantage of seeing someone like Kennedy in person is you can really feel the passion, and you gain additional insights by speaking with him after the event,” Templeton said. “You can’t get that just by reading an article.”