Photo by Alex Zamora
Photo by Alex Zamora

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. could have been a politician.

His father, Robert F. Kennedy was a senator and a Democratic presidential candidate. John F. Kennedy, his uncle, served as the 35th President of the United States. And another one of his uncles, Ted Kennedy, is currently a senator from Massachusetts.

Instead of a becoming politician, Kennedy chose to devote his life to environmental activism.

Kennedy was the keynote speaker at this year’s UCSC Intellectual Forum, where he spoke in front of a large crowd of Santa Cruz community members and UCSC alumni on Friday April 24 at the Cocoanut Grove ballroom. He came to discuss environmental issues but also digressed into political issues, such as torture.

“We are not protecting the environment so much for the sake of the fishes and the birds. We are protecting it because we recognize that nature is the infrastructure of our community,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in his introduction to his keynote address.

The environmental lawyer from New York City and author of four New York Times best sellers told the audience that something must be done to protect the environment, emphasizing a new electric grid as one of many solutions to environmental degradation.

“We have the energy…the challenge is how do we harness that energy,” said Kennedy. “We do not have an electric grid in this country that can carry these new sources of energy…its just simply not big enough.”

A new energy grid would allow for energy to be transferred over large distances and would theoretically permit electric cars, when parked in someone’s garage, to be used as energy storage for utility companies.

Kennedy also discussed the issue of the mountaintop mining taking place in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. Mountain top mining is a form of strip mining in which miners use a large amount of explosives to blow off the top soil of mountain in order get quick access to the minerals hidden within the mountain.

“They are liquidating the state for cash,” Kennedy said. “Using giant machinery and 2,500 tons of ammonia nitrate that they detonate everyday in West Virginia, that is the equivalent to a Hiroshima once a week. They will, within six years, flatten an area the size of Delaware.”

Kennedy ended his speech with why he opposes the use of “torture” to gain intelligence. According to Kennedy, the United States has been under much greater threat in the past then it currently is in the context of the “War on Terror,” which has used harsh interrogation techniques such as to waterboarding and forced nudity with prisoners at Abu Gharib. Growing up during the Cold War, Kennedy explained, the United States did not torture, even under the threat of nuclear annihilation.

The audience for the most part reacted positively to Mr. Kennedy’s speech.

“I really appreciate how Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was asking us to think about our values,” said David Shaw, a lecturer at Kresge College and UCSC alumnus. “I greatly believe in the point of departure and what he came back to in the end which was that the wilderness and the wild is where the creator speaks most clearly to humans and by immersing ourselves in untouched nature, we can connect into what it is to be a human.”