By Amanda Nesheiwat
The Bergen Community College Institute for Public Policy held an event recently called “Focus on the Environment: Case Studies From Around the Nation Informing the N.J Discussion,” featuring a keynote address by Robert Kennedy Jr. The opening remarks at the Paramus campus to a large audience of students and community members from the Bergen County, N.J area were made by Captain Bill Sheehan, the Hackensack Riverkeeper, who spoke of the need for public policy on environmental protection to be better formed and enforced. “We don’t need internet and electric lights, but we do need clean water and clean air,” said Sheehan. He strongly argued that the environment is “not separate from the economy” and to give an example, he noted that places like Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama have the worst environmental policies and also the worst economies.
Before the keynotes speech, there was a panel discussion by a number of environmental educators and experts, including Professor Rachel Wieland of Bergen Community College; and Darren Molnar-Port, who is a Green Building Administrator; Kim Gaddy, Chair of the Newark Environmental Commission, as well as representatives from Montclair State and Rutgers University The panelists each had something to bring to the table but all agreed that change must start at the local level.
Gaddy, who heads the Newark Environmental Commission, introduced herself and the town where she works by saying, “Newark, NJ, home to the largest incinerator in the North East.” She went on to say that, “1 in 4 people in Newark have asthma as opposed to the 1 in 10 in the rest of New Jersey.” Gray Russell, Environmental Affairs Coordinator for the Township of Montclair, noted that New Jersey has the most superfund sites in America. The panelists kept a livelyl discussion going by taking questions from the audience.
After the panelists’ discussion, there was a short break, during which I got to sneak into the room where Robert Kennedy Jr. was awaiting his introduction. He actually said he was nervous and I thanked him for coming to speak and for being a great activist. After speaking with me for a short while, he made his way onto the podium and gave a strong presentation.
Kennedy began by saying “We need to start by protecting the environmental infrastructure” and “good environmental policy is identical to good economical policy.” He criticized unsustainable companies in America, saying that they are “converting the environment into cash” and that “our children are paying for this.” He added, “it’s like we are living in a Science Fiction nightmare” and that “Biostitutes” are to blame. The audience broke out in a fit of laughter. “Biostitutes is what I call them,” he emphasized. For example, he pointed out the dirty and unsustainable ways of the coal mining industry.“ My father said they are not only destroying the earth, but they are also impoverishing the communities,” he said of the late Senator Bobby Kennedy.
“It’s not just about environmental policy, it’s about safeguarding our democracy,” he added, noting that wind energy can power North America, creating more jobs than in coal plants, while also securing family farms. He spoke of how New Jersey is making great leaps in wind and solar energy, being the number one solar state in America and the sixth largest solar market in the world. “Free-market Capitalism is the most important thing we can do for the environment,” he said, arguing for more investment in clean energy, before he left the podium. When he concluded, I thought: What a great speech!
For more Information:
Here is a link to see me interviewed after Robert Kennedy Jr’s address: