With fire and charisma much like his father's, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. urged Americans to fight for their nation's rugged beauty.
Kennedy, speaking at the Summer Market Retailers Show at the Salt Palace, stressed the need to save the nation's remaining wilderness areas, saying Americans will give up their heritage and strongest bond unless they preserve them."If we stop experiencing wilderness, we're going to lose touch with who we are," he said. "We're going to lose touch with our roots. We're going to lose touch with what it means to be an American. . . . That's why my father dragged us out to these wilderness areas, to put us back in touch with that."
Kennedy talked about his excursions with his father, such as hiking the Rockies and rafting trips down the Hudson River. In some spots, the river was too polluted to drink the water, swim or eat the fish.
"I felt like something had been stolen from me."
Kennedy, now a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, would rather fight for the American wilderness than run for public office.
And he proved it Thursday. He spoke nonstop for about 45 minutes touching on a slew of environmental topics.
Industry isn't the enemy of environment protection. In fact, industry can and should protect America's natural resources as much as possible, he said. Strong environmental policies prevent over consumtion of natural resources - leaving some for future generations.
"We could convert our resources to cash as quickly as possible and have a few years of pollution-based prosperity - generating an instantaneous cash flow and illusion of a prosperous economy," Kennedy said. "But our children are going to pay for our joy ride. And they'll pay for it with denuded landscapes and huge cleanup costs."
Kennedy also represents the Hudson Riverkeeper Inc., a group that fishes on the Hudson River. If pollution ruined the river, the fish would die and the fishermen would lose their livelihood. Many industries rely on the environment.
"The thing I found gets me into a lot of the offices (on Capitol Hill) is when I say, `I represent commercial fishermen. I represent people whose livelihood is at stake,' " Kennedy said.
Like the fishing industry, outdoor equipment makers and retailers could become a huge force in environmental protection if they organized. The more wildlife acres the federal government designates, the more popular outdoor recreation would become. The industry would sell more backpacks, sleeping bags and other equipment.
"You ought to have someone on Capitol Hill making those calculations, who's figuring out those statistics, who's figuring out how to make the argument," Kennedy said. "(Someone) to sell the case for wilderness and outdoor areas. . . . I have enough politicians in my family to know that this stuff works."