America is in a transformative era, one in which carbon-based energies are in a competitive clash with solar, wind and geothermal energies, environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told several hundred people who packed Mayser Gymnasium on the Franklin Marshall College campus Thursday.
"There is a battle now between the old energy and the new energy economy," Kennedy said during Thursday's Common Hour discussion, attended by an estimated 1,000 students, faculty and professional staff, and members of the Lancaster community. Held on Thursdays throughout the academic year, Common Hour brings the F&M community together for culturally and intellectually enriching events.
Kennedy's environmental advocacy extends to business, where he is partner and senior adviser in an investment firm, Vantage Point Capital Partners, which invests in green energy projects. He said he believes new energies will one day surpass carbon-based energies -- coal, oil and gas.
"I believe free-market capitalism is the answer to most of our environmental problems," he said.
Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and author, has led a number of successful legal actions defending and protecting the environment. Time magazine recognized him in 2010 for his work with Riverkeeper, the New York clean-water advocate that led a successful fight to restore to health the Hudson River.
Protecting the environment isn't just about saving wildlife and conserving natural resources, said Kennedy, a professor of environmental law at Pace University School of Law and co-director of the school's Environmental Litigation Clinic. "Ultimately, we're protecting the environment for ourselves," he said.
Kennedy dismissed commercial arguments that America must choose between protecting the environment through stricter regulations and fueling the economy by providing energy-extracting jobs.
"That's a false choice," said the author of "Crimes Against Nature," a 2004 New York Times bestseller, and 1997's "The Riverkeeper." "Good environmental policy is identical to good economic policy" because it creates new economic opportunities for protecting the environment.
Abhijai Mathur, a first-year student on the pre-healing arts track, said he was impressed with Kennedy's argument about moving the energy economy away from fossil fuels.
"He made it really seem that decarbonizing the energy economy and creating a grid system for the new energy isn't so daunting," Mathur said. "I think he highlighted a lot of issues you don't think about every day."
Dustin Smith, a first-year student who is considering a major in physics and chemistry with an eye toward a career in engineering, said he was impressed by Kennedy's description of the new energy sources such as wind and solar.
"I thought it was amazing how much cheaper it is to build those technologies he's talking about and how much cheaper they are to run," Smith said.
Concern about protecting the environment was uppermost on senior Stephanie Boothe's mind as she listened to Kennedy describe the amount of pollution that carbon-based fuels produce.
"I'm definitely for our generation having a more sustainable environment," said Boothe, a religious studies major. "If we don't take care of it now, we won't have it later."
Kennedy's appearance was the highlight in this year's Sustainability Week at F&M, the theme of which is water conservation. The campus has placed an emphasis on becoming more sustainable. Among efforts unveiled at the beginning of the semester were water bottle filling stations, trash compactors and single-stream trash recycling.
Before Kennedy spoke, Sarah Dawson, director of the Wohlsen Center for the Sustainable Environment, reported continued success at offsetting disposable water bottles since water bottle filling stations were installed in August. "The count for the last 24 hours came to 2,322 offset bottles, bringing the grand total to 90,626 since the machines have been installed," Dawson said.
Sustainability Week concludes tomorrow evening with a trash-inspired fashion show in Steinman College Center.