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Robert F Kennedy Jr. – “Our Environmental Destiny”

This is the second part of a summary of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s recent speech about “Our Environmental Destiny” at the Koessler Athletic Center at Canisius College right here in Buffalo. I felt that this message is one that should not be missed by those that could not make it to the event… nuclear energy is certainly a hot topic these days, and not many people are well versed when it comes to the pros and cons of the controversial energy. How are we positioned as a nation to harness safe alternative energies? Are we being responsible – when do we cut our losses and move in new directions? Are we being prudent as well as productive? How will Buffalo fit into the world of harnessing renewable energies? We have sun, water, wind… all of the natural resources needed to position us as a key driving force in an ever-changing energy environment. 

The following summary is the latest in the William H. Fitzpatrick Lecture Series – a Buffalo series that hosts national speakers versed in politics, government, academia and media. It is free, and open to the public. To view part one of this series please click here. Mr. Kennedy continues:

  
The most catastrophically expensive form of boiling a pot of water that has ever been devised
 
I’m all for nuclear if they can make it safe and if they can make it economical and right now it is neither. It is the most catastrophically expensive form of boiling a pot of water that has ever been devised. It can’t compete in a free market. I believe in free market capitalism. The lowest cost producers ought to be able to dominate the marketplace. And right now that is not nuke. There is no way that nuke can compete in the marketplace if it had to internalize its costs. The only way it survives is through huge vast federal subsidies that amount to at least half a trillion dollars a year. One of those subsidies, of course, is that you and I, the federal taxpayer, have to dispose of their waste – we have to store this highly toxic radioactive substance for 30,000 years, which is five times the length of recorded human history. There is no way that it can make economic sense. 
 
This is not a bunch of hippies in tie dye t-shirts that are saying that nuclear power is unsafe
 
If you ask somebody from the nuclear industry, “Are you safe? Is it a safe industry?”, they’ll say to you, “Oh yeah. It’s very safe. We haven’t had a major accident since Three Mile Island. The way we do it in this country, Chernobyl could never happen.” Well, my answer to that is, if it’s safe, why can’t you get insurance like everybody else? Why can you not pay for your own insurance? Why did you have to go to Washington and get the Price-Anderson Act passed, which shifts the risks of your activities to the American public. So those of you with homes, go look at your home-owner’s policy tonight, and you will find a provision in it that is in every home-owner’s policy in America that says that this policy does not insure you against a radiation leak from a civilian nuclear power plant – so you are bearing the risk of that nuclear power plant having an accident. What other industry has that? This is not a bunch of hippies in tie dye t-shirts that are saying that nuclear power is unsafe, it’s guys in suits from the biggest insurance companies in America. We live in a capitalistic system. The final arbiter of risk in our system is the insurance industry. And the insurance industry is saying, “This activity, nuclear power, is too dangerous for us to insure”. When they can get their insurance then I think all of us will say “OK, its safe”.
 
Wind
 
We have the best wind resources of any nation in the world. The windiest place on our earth is North Dakota. We have enough harness-able wind in North Dakota, Montana and Texas to provide 100% of the energy needs in our country.  
 
We have huge abundances of energy in this country of wind, of tidal, of solar, of geothermal
 
I can’t really speak about the safety issues on ethanol. I think corn based ethanol is a bad idea, and have doubts about the economics of that activity. The national policy to encourage corn based ethanol is a failed policy, a bad policy for our country. A lot of the industry is bankrupt. The big failure to me is that, you are basically turning food into fuel. We have food shortages all over the world. So it’s driving up the cost of food for everybody and I don’t think that that is a good national policy. There are lots of places we can get energy, we have huge abundances of energy in this country of wind, of tidal, of solar, of geothermal. We should be investing. We can get more kilowatts per dollar investing in those arenas than we can from cellulostic ethanol. I think that there are other fuels available to fuel our automobile fleet.
 
We should be going to electric in our automobile fleet in our passenger cars. You can drive a passenger car for 6 cents a mile, on corn based ethanol it’s going to cost you 45 cents a mile. So just financially the marketplace should be driving us to rational behavior which is efficiency, and electricity is the way to power an automobile. The problem with internal combustion engines is that they are inherently inefficient because you are pushing around a 500 pound power plant everywhere you go – so if you go to buy a 10 pound bag of groceries you are going to have to bring a 500 pound power plant with you. And that means you have to put that in your car and makes your car heavier and you have to reinforce all of the steel in your car which makes it even heavier. Ultimately even if you are getting your power for your electric car from the filthiest coal burning power plant in the country you are still producing less carbon than you are by driving an internal combustion engine.
 
We have more natural gas in our country than they have gasoline in Saudi Arabia
 
Now you cannot power trucks and airplanes with batteries – for heavy trucks, buses and farm machinery we need to produce liquid fuel in this country or natural gas. We have a huge abundance of natural gas in this country, 120 years worth of natural gas deposits on earth, more natural gas in our country than they have gasoline in Saudi Arabia. We have an opportunity to use that as a liquid fuel source for heavy trucks, heavy duty transportation and also aviation fuel. There is bio-diesel as well that we can use which we have in abundance and that we can produce at cost. There are over 100 companies now that are producing bio-diesel in this country. My belief is that turning food into fuel is not a good idea – that we have other alternatives that are economical and that make a lot more sense. It is very carbon intensive. That corn is produced with hydrocarbon-based fertilizers which are being brought over from Saudi Arabia. It really doesn’t solve your problem.
 
(The next and final post will talk about how electric vehicles are the solution, and maybe not how you may think. Also Mr. Kennedy’s thoughts about Buffalo.)
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