The Kennedys have always been a family of surprising
sensitivity. It was John Kennedy who stood on the steps of the
Michigan Union and announced the Peace Corps. His brother Bobby
gave as keen a speech when he said the national spirit is not to be
found in the Gross National Product. In their footsteps, Robert F.
Kennedy Jr. has dedicated his life to the environment, and his new
book “Crimes Against Nature” comes at a defining moment
in the planet’s history.
Kennedy’s tone is urgent because he believes he is
exposing the misdeeds of the worst environmental administration
ever. The Bush administration’s environmental reversals come
as the “triumphant outcome” of a three-decade campaign
by pollution-based profiteers to repeal the victories of Earth Day
1970. According to the book this history developed under the
influence of green-sounding industry front groups like Wise Use,
which whispered into Reagan’s ear a straightforward message:
“Our goal is to destroy, to eradicate the environmental
The Bush administration’s history in the White House is
obscured by doublespeak, but the effects are clear. “Healthy
Forests” has meant destructive logging of old-growth forests,
“Clear Skies” has meant repealing key provisions of the
Clean Air Act, “reforming” regulations has meant
weakening them, and “thinning” has meant clear-cutting.
Contrary to even the most conservative values, this administration
has sacrificed public interest to corporate cronyism. Kennedy
writes, “You show me a polluter and I’ll show you a
The author’s defense of environmentalism comes from a
perspective that should sit well with Americans: “Free-market
capitalism is the best thing that could happen to our environment,
our economy, our country.” Kennedy writes that the
environment is suffering, not because of capitalism, but because of
an oligarchy of fat cats who use political clout to escape the
discipline of the free market. Put simply, “corporate
capitalists don’t want free markets, they want dependable
profits, and their surest route is to crush the competition by
controlling the government.”
Even when he delves into the thick history of environmental
policies, Kennedy’s writing is lucid and purposeful. He draws
not only on a rich knowledge through his work with the National
Resources Defense Council, Hudson Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper
Alliance, but also on the personal experiences that have instilled
in him a love for nature. He writes of taking his boys hiking,
fishing, and canoeing in the Adirondack Mountains, and of enjoying
birding as a young boy, watching the peregrine falcons nest on the
old post office building on Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue.
“They were the fastest birds in the world. As a young
falconer, I loved to watch their vertical stoops to pick pigeons
from the air in front of the White House.” Now, the
peregrines have been poisoned out of existence by DDT, and a
quarter of the lakes in the Adirondacks are sterile from acid rain.
Three of his boys have bad asthma and struggle to breathe on
bad-air days. Kennedy tells his audience what he has lost, knowing
that readers can find a parallel in their own lives, and hoping
that they might fight to save what is left.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.