Helen of Marlowe's Blog

“Our Marketplace is Rigged by Polluters”

Posted in "North Carolina", Ecology, Government, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on November 10, 2011

We went to see Robert F. Kennedy Jr. last week.

The Yadkin Riverkeeper sponsored Mr. Kennedy’s visit to WFU, and he was the best, most enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and entertaining speaker I’ve heard in a long time.

I had pen but not paper, so I took notes in the tiny white spaces around a tri-fold Honda ad.

Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and activist, called for a major government investment in a smart grid to deliver wind-turbine and solar energy to homes nationwide and free the U.S. economy from its dependence on Middle East oil. The United States is rich with clean energy resources, from geothermal heat in the Midwest to wind farms in Montana, Texas and North Dakota to solar energy in the Southwest, he said.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Wait Chapel, WFU

Kennedy advocated a transition from a carbon-based economy to one powered by solar and wind, saying clean energy is key to our economic and national security. He spoke of the wind farms in the Great Plains and Midwest states, and solar power fields in the sunny Southwest, such as the Nevada desert, saying they could provide all the electricity needed for every building and vehicle in the U.S., and said there is enough wind in just North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas to meet all of the country’s electricity needs. In a true free market, solar would out-compete coal, oil, and nuclear, but our marketplace is rigged by polluters. When coal claims to produce electricity at 11 cents per kilowatt hour, it’s not counting the $345 billion/year tax subsidies and it’s not counting the tremendous environmental pollution that taxpayers pay to clean up. It’s always been illegal to pollute, he said, citing the 1888 Rivers and Harbors Act. In the 17th c people were executed for polluting the commons.

Kennedy was erudite, but his message was sobering.  We can’t count on our representatives in Raleigh, or in Washington.  Currently, he said, “we have a marketplace with rules written by polluters.” He cited several specific examples, including political interference in 2007 by J. Stephen Griles, then deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior and a former lobbyist for the National Mining Association, who managed to change the definition of the word “fill” instead of preventing the coal companies from contaminating rivers with their mountain-top removal fill.

Kennedy talked about electric cars, which he said cost about 6 cents mile and are becoming more affordable, and he spoke with some optimism of Vantage Point Switch bulbs.  These were not new ideas (I already have some of the expensive Philips LED bulbs in lamps), but his enthusiasm made it all seem new, and he added fine details that were new to me.  He talked about Liquid Robotics – robots that move across the ocean at about 1 1/2 knots, powered by underwater wings. Looking something like window blinds, the wings tilt up when the craft is lifted by a wave, rising through the water and pulling it forward. On a down wave, the wings sink and tilt downward, pulling the craft forward.

Leaving the auditorium, I had the fleeting thought that it would be good for Kennedy to follow the footsteps of his uncles into public office, into the White House, but on second thought, he is probably doing more good where he is,  defending the environment against industrial polluters.

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4 Responses

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  1. Jim Wheeler said, on November 11, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Kennedy’s point about the affordability of clean energy is a good one. Unfortunately it will take a well-educated electorate to produce lawmakers to enact the kind of regulatory structure to enable such a thing, and the recession is a huge problem for that as well. Most people, I think, prefer invisible costs to the visible. (If you are routinely surprised when you open your credit card statement, you may be one of them!)

    Nevertheless, there is progress. I noted in a recent post that there is now so much wind-generated electricity in the Pacific Northwest that it becomes excessive during storms. If you missed that, here’s a link to “Swift Engineering”:

    http://jwheeler59.wordpress.com/2011/11/05/swift-engineering/

    • helenofmarlowe said, on November 13, 2011 at 3:41 pm

      Jim, thanks for the link. I had missed that. I don’t remember Tom Swift but lots of interesting things there.

  2. sekanblogger said, on November 12, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Abbie Hoffman’s brother believes that Abbie did not commit suicide by overdose. He says that Abbie was killed because of his new-found environmental activism. I dunno….nice theory.

    I saw Bobby (senior) in 1968 at a campaign stop. Damn, I’m getting old.

    The wind farms here in Kansas are absolutely awe-inspiring!
    Go Junior!

    • helenofmarlowe said, on November 13, 2011 at 4:23 pm

      I hadn’t heard that before about Abbie Hoffman. I’m still not entirely convinced that Paul Wellstone’s crash was an accident.


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