Robert F. Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. likes to say he’s been an environmentalist all his life. As a young boy, he kept pet snakes and raccoons, bred homing pigeons and pheasants in his backyard and learned to train hawks. He even considered becoming a veterinarian. Today Kennedy is widely recognized as the country’s most prominent environmental attorney, working tirelessly to safeguard the environment and public health. He is the founder and director of Pace University’s Environmental Litigation Clinic in White Plains, New York; president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, an international coalition of 99 grassroots groups; and senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. The peripatetic Kennedy also crisscrosses North America several times a year, stirring audiences of college students, community groups and elected officials.

His op-ed columns appear regularly in The New York Times and other major newspapers. In 2004, he wrote Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy. The bestselling book fulfilled a lifelong dream: At the age of 10 Kennedy had told his father, then a United States Senator from New York, that he wanted to write a book about pollution. March 2005 brought another literary milestone: his first children’s book, St. Francis of Assisi. He is also co-author of The Riverkeepers.

Kennedy’s indefatigable drive is sustained by his personal connection to the outdoors –he’s a master falconer, an accomplished kayaker, skier, sailor, and fisherman–and by fatherhood. His four sons and two daughters range in age from three to 20, which gives him the long view. Despoiling our air, land, and water may make corporations richer in the short term because they don’t address the costs of pollution, he says, but it steals from the next generation. “Our children are going to pay for our joyride. And they are going to pay for it with denuded landscapes and poor health and huge cleanup costs that they are never going to be able to afford.”

Kennedy sees the lack of environmental protection under the Bush administration as emblematic of a much larger problem, “a kind of corporate crony capitalism that is antithetical to all the values that we cherish.”
“Really all environmental injury is an assault on democracy,” he says, “because the most important measure of how a democracy is functioning is how it distributes the goods of the land – the commons.”
Excerpted with permission from “A Kennedy in Action” by Elliott Negin, published in OnEarth magazine. www.nrdc.org/onearth