Robert Kennedy Jr. takes aim at coal in Calgary speech

CALGARY, ALBERTA - Long-standing subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and a culture of crony capitalism are all that stand in the way of a North American shift to alternative energy sources, environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said during an animated speech in Calgary.

“Are we smart enough, are we energetic enough and are we moral enough to devise a way to produce energy that is not going to compromise the aspirations of our children?” Kennedy said, speaking to a crowd of about 300.

“The problem is easily solvable if we just don’t get seduced by the old formulas and by the incumbents who know that they’re going to lose when we transfer to much more efficient forms of energy,” he said at the Gaining Ground Sustainable Urban Leadership Summit, hosted by a Victoria-based think-tank.

Kennedy — the namesake of the former New York senator and the nephew of former United States president John F. Kennedy — is a lawyer and chairman of the Waterkeeper Alliance.

Each year in Banff, Kennedy hosts a celebrity-fuelled benefit gala for the environmental organization, which protects water bodies in Canada and the U.S.

His speech saw him take aim at coal, with mention of Alberta’s oilsands thrown in. Coal is the worst source of energy he said at one point, “except for the oilsands.”

He said most Americans don’t realize how committed the Obama administration is ending the country’s reliance on fossil fuels. The public also doesn’t know the true costs of oil, nuclear or coal because those industries are subsidized by governments in both Canada and the U.S.

For instance, governments pay to pave thicker and more expensive roads for trucks servicing coal operations, he said.

“These are part of the costs of coal that you don’t see on your electricity bill.”

Kennedy said as technology progresses and people move to solar and wind power, the economy will benefit. There’s no need for a trade-off between the environment and wealth. he said.

“You show me a polluter, I’ll show you a subsidy. I’ll show you a fat cat using political clout to escape the discipline of the of the free-market,” he said.

Coal is still a major energy source in both Canada and the U.S. Although Kennedy didn’t speak specifically about Alberta’s coal industry, coal-fired power plants are the province’s largest industrial source of greenhouse gases, and about 60 per cent of Alberta’s electricity comes from coal.

Allen Wright of the Coal Association of Canada renewable forms of energy have a role, but are not as reliable as coal, and carry higher costs. They also receive government subsidies, he added.

Wright did not hear Kennedy’s speech, but said the coal industry is investing in technology such as carbon capture to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“People want electricity. They want it on demand. They want it cheap, and they would like it green as well. And we’re working very hard to find ways to mitigate our footprint,” he said.

Also speaking at the conference was Gary Holden, president and CEO of Enmax. He said business leaders need to think beyond quarterly profits.

“More recently, I have been thinking about what does it look like 100 years from now? What are we doing to heat our buildings when it’s -25 C 100 years from now?” said Holden, who described himself as a friend of Kennedy’s.


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