Earlier this month, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. joined Lexus Hybrid Living to host Waterkeeper Alliance Eco-Salon, one in a series of social events to raise awareness about sustainability. (Put simply, it's kind of like Green Drinks for rich people.) At $500 per ticket, entry wasn't cheap, but funds raised will support Waterkeeper Alliance, the non-profit founded by Kennedy in 1999 to to restore water quality and ecosystems across the world. Luckily, I was treated to a press pass, which included an escort to the party via OZOcar, a luxury car service that uses hybrids.
Dropped off at the private home of William Wachtel and Annie Zabar in Chappaqua, NY, I enjoyed a few eco-friendly cocktails, some gorgeous green furniture, and--oh yeah--had the chance to sit down with RFK Jr. himself and pick his brain about the Big Three fiasco, the electric revolution, and why the very hybrid cars that had whisked us all to the party just aren't going to get the job done. Read on to hear what he had to say, and find out which other celebs showed up and view our Photo Gallery!Green furnishings, green drinks, and celebrities, oh my!
Guests mingled amongst Uhuru's whiskey-barrel chairs and Peter Danko's sophisticated Kumo chairs, made from recycled seat belts, while noshing on hors d'oeurvres green caterer The Cleaver Co. and sipping cocktails mixed with the acai spirit Veev. Meanwhile, pop-sensation James Blunt performed hits like "You're Beautiful" before the crowd, which included actress Gloria Reuben of ER and actor Joe Pantoliano of The Matrix and The Sopranos. Lexus Hybrid Living partner and co-founder and CEO of Q Collection Jesse Johnson was also on hand, along with ubercool fashion designer Lara Miller. Despite the fact that I felt like I was stuck in a Stuff White People Like blog post, I was having a pretty good time.
Kennedy on Obama: Change we can believe in?
Following the main event TreeHugger founder Graham Hill and I joined Mark Spellun of Plenty Magazine to chat with Kennedy. He discussed the importance of connecting the environment to all aspects of our lives, free-market capitalism, creating machine- and building- efficiency standards, and how the new federal administration can create the change we need.
With Obama taking office in January and the economy in shambles, we were all eager to hear what Kennedy had to spout. Topping his list for change he could believe in were efficiency standards for appliances, automobiles, buildings, and new construction, which he called the fastest way to break our current demand for fossil fuels. He noted that the second most important long-term investment as he saw it was to build a national smart-power grid. Why? Efficiency saves money, and in these penny-pinching times, we can't afford to be inefficient.
Hybrid cars be damned!
This is especially true, says Kennedy, when it comes to bailing out the Big Three automakers. "They have been warned for 20 years that they were digging their own graves," said the eco-lawyer, however, there is "no industry that's more important to save than Detroit [because] it's one out of every ten American jobs, and you can't let those jobs go under." But here's where the green opportunity comes in to play: If we bail them out, says Kennedy, there must be regulations outlined by Congress to ensure that the billions in loans are used to support electric car technology "and not hybrid...forget about hybrids, hybrids are a dead end; Detroit would be chasing the Japanese."
Instead, said RFK, the U.S. must stop importing foreign oil. "We're just hemorrhaging wealth," he spouted, adding that what the U.S. really needs to do is keep our money in our money on American soil, and help to create jobs. Electricity, he believes, could be just the secret weapon we need to combat our current dependence on oil. With electric cars, he noted, "you don't have to push around a 500-pound engine, and it costs six cents a mile to drive electric [whereas] it costs 45 cents a mile to drive an internal combustion engine. So even if you're getting the electricity from a filthy, dirty, anthracite, sulfur-laden, coal-burning power plant, you're still producing less carbon than if you drive an internal combustion engine." Sounds great! Just tell us where to get one.
We have the technology
Kennedy emphasized that we already have the current technologies and business models to make the shift to electric. Israel's electric car darling Better Place, for example, which Kennedy referred to as "the smartest guys on the block," have the perfect business model for going electric, he believes. And finally, he added, the power of an efficient smart grid would help reduce emissions and conserve energy, by using peaker plants, for example, which kick into gear only when energy use is in high demand. Smart grid technology could also shut off unused utilities in a million homes for fifteen minutes at peak times and not effect the function of the utility.
While the U.S.'s economic outlook is still pretty grim, I must admit that Kennedy's Pollyanna attitude had me believing it could indeed be an opportunity rather than a hindrance for the green movement. Could our failing economy be exactly what we need in order for people to make a significant change in their lifestyles? The jury's still out on that one. But as RFK Jr. said, "You can't change the world by persuading people to do good things for the sake of humanity...You have to connect the environment to all the other issues in their lives." With so many Americans concerned about the poor job market and their bank accounts, maybe this fiasco will act as catalyst between the environment, the individual, and true green opportunity. Kennedy sure hopes so, and so do I.
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A Reader Responds to Project Better Place Getting Wired
Project Better Place To Expand to Australia.