NORWALK, Conn. – Robert F. Kennedy Jr. compared the problems posed by global warming to the abolition of slavery 200 years ago in a speech Thursday evening at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk.
People in Britain wanted to abolish the slave trade but were worried the economy would crater because it represented 25 percent of the Gross National Product for the British Empire, said Kennedy, son of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. But when slavery ended, the British economy was transformed by the Industrial Revolution. "The abolition of slavery had exposed all of these hidden inefficiencies that were associated with human bondage."
Kennedy made an impassioned plea on behalf of green energy sources to an invitation-only audience of aquarium donors as he opened its Global Insights series. Future speeches, including ones from zookeeper Jack Hanna and ocean defender Jean-Michel Cousteau, will be open to the public.
On the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Kennedy spoke for more than an hour before about 70 people in the Cascade Cafe, providing statistics to support his narrative, without notes. A true free market economy would show that burning coal is prohibitively expensive, he said. The costs associated with its production would not be borne by taxpayers, he said, describing a West Virginia highway with 22 inches of asphalt on it to support heavy coal trucks.
"Environmental injury is deficit spending," he said.
He listed countries that he said have switched to environmentally friendly sources of energy and experienced profound economic growth, including Greenland, Sweden, Brazil and Costa Rica.
Making change is doable, he said. People laughed at President Franklin Roosevelt when he promised an enormous increase in the production of battleships and other wartime vessels after Pearl Harbor, but it happened. The country's energy grid needs to be upgraded, Kennedy said. We can produce energy from wind farms in North Dakota but can't get it out of the state. He compared the need to upgrade the energy grid to the creation of the national highway system in the 1950s by President Dwight Eisenhower.
While that comment drew at least one nod from an audience member, another man stood up to protest Kennedy's comments about the political contributions by the Koch brothers and the corruption of democracy. "That is too bloody much," Robert Morris said.
Kennedy went on to recite an Eisenhower quote, warning against the dangers of the military-industrial complex.
While 30 to 40 people stood to applaud Kennedy's speech, Morris said the talk had been "malarkey."
Evan Levinson of Westport had another view. "It was a little too long," she said. "A little too much detail for me and for everyone else, but he was very knowledgeable, sharing very important, disturbing information."