Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s reputation as a resolute defender of the environment stems from a litany of successful legal actions. Kennedy was named one of Time magazine's "Heroes for the Planet" for his success helping Riverkeeper lead the fight to restore the Hudson River.
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This is an excerpt from Dick Russell's and my new book, Horsemen of the Apocalypse, an eye opening exposé of the people and corporations most responsible for today's climate crisis and their roles in President Trump's new administration.
Not long ago, the legendary economist Amory Lovins showed me two photos, taken 10 years apart, of the New York City Easter Parade. A 1903 shot looking north from midtown showed Fifth Avenue crowded with a hundred horse and buggies and a solitary automobile. The second, taken in 1913 from a similar vantage on the same street, depicted a traffic jam of automobiles and a single lonely horse and buggy.
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Corruption Abounds as Bahamian Parliament Threatens to Jail Lawyer and Judge in Environmental Scandal
Undercover police raided an environmental activist's home. Cabinet ministers hacked and then released to the media emails and sensitive financial information from an environmental group. When the Supreme Court ruled that the cabinet ministers had violated the environmentalists' right to privacy, the ministers tried to jail the environmental group's lawyer and the judge who decided the case.
In 1966, my father held Senate hearings to investigate violent attacks by growers against pickers in the produce fields surrounding Delano, California. A young United Farmworkers organizer, Cesar Chavez, was orchestrating peaceful protests by Filipino and Chicano farmworkers against meager pay and brutal working conditions. My father only reluctantly attended the hearings. While he was sympathetic with the farmworkers' plight, he already had a full plate of issues ranging from the Vietnam War, rioting cities to starvation in the Delta and education on Indian reservations. He didn't think he had bandwidth for another cause.
"Why do I need to fly all the way to California," he complained to his aid, Peter Edelman, on the airplane out. But then something made him mad; A Kern county sheriff explained to the committee that he had imprisoned the peaceful protestors "for their own protection" to safeguard them from violent growers and their hired thugs.
The prospect of law enforcement officials deploying the states police power on behalf of lawbreaking corporations against law abiding citizens whose only crime was their poverty and powerlessness made him steam. My father despised bullies and believed in rule of law. He gaveled the morning session to a close. "May I suggest that during the luncheon period of time that the sheriff and the district attorney read the Constitution of the United States?" That afternoon, he joined the farmworkers on their picket line. Chavez became his closest political and moral ally.
On Sunday, the U.S. Army Corps issued a declaration to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that might have been penned by the Kern county sheriff. The Corps Colonel John Henderson told Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II that the agency was evicting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protesters from their camp for their own protection.
The tribes and their supporters will be moved to a "free speech" zone a great distance from the pipeline. Henderson's threats would be troubling if addressed to any group of American citizens, but coming from the U.S. Army Corps to the Sioux Nation, it is positively chilling. One wonders whether Colonel Henderson is even peripherally aware of the Corp's central role in the Indian genocide, the most shameful stain on America's national experience, our high ideals and character.
Standing with my son Conor Kennedy and the water protectors.
Anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes has observed that Genocide is a continuum that runs for years, decades or centuries. It begins with marginalization and dehumanization of an identifiable minority, the theft of their lands and property, their slaughter and decimation, and the gradual squeezing of remnant populations. The central organizing principle of the continuum is a narrative that turns "others into non-persons or monsters," that normalizes atrocities and rationalizes the "every day practice of violence."
Colonel Henderson's letter manages to be both, patronizing and menacing. In that sense, it captures perfectly the tone and content of a hundred letters received by Indians from U.S. Corp colonels and generals over four centuries, all of them repeating genocide's persistent refrain: "For your own good, move off the land, or else."
Similar letters to the Sioux preceded the evictions that reliably followed their various treaties with the American government in 1825, 1837, 1851 and 1868. Those missives were the milestones that officially declared, justified or ratified the long parade of treaty violations by the U.S. government, enforced by the Army Corps, each of them shrinking the Sioux's rightful treaty lands.
It's worth remembering that the lands and waterways now coveted by Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, are the same lands our government and the U.S. Army Corps deeded the Sioux in the treaties of 1825 and 1851. Those treaties and the Fort Laramie treaty of 1868 each promised the tribe that these deeded lands would remain the Sioux's "so long as the grass is green, the eagles fly and the rivers flow," or phrases of similar construction.
Eight years after we signed that last treaty, the Sioux received their most devastating removal letter from the Army Corps; Trespassing prospectors had discovered gold in the Black Hills, the sacred lands and critical hunting grounds where the Sioux wintered away from the frigid, barren plains that are uninhabitable during the cold months. Obviously white people would now need them back! In direct violation of the treaty, Colonel George Custer rode into the Black Hills to evict the justifiably angry Sioux to make way for the illegal mines. When the Sioux rose up to enforce the treaty, resisting Custer's military attack, Colonel Henderson's predecessors slaughtered their women and children at Wounded Knee.
Now, once again, illegal white mineral interests need the Sioux's land, and, once again, the Army Corps is insisting the Sioux move.
Colonel Henderson's threats are meant to protect DAPL's promoters, Energy Transfer Partners, an outlaw oil company. Construction of the 1,200 mile Dakota Access Pipeline project clearly violates the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires a full environmental impact review for any project that "might have significant environmental impacts" on an area larger than one-half acre. There is no question that the 1,200 mile pipeline meets both criteria.
The pipeline will create more carbon pollution than 27 coal burning power plants, and cross and disrupt 209 waterways, including Lake Oahe, the Sioux's only water source. The Sioux recognize this as the final eviction—without Lake Oahe, their remnant reservation is uninhabitable. The Corp considers a catastrophic water poisoning pipeline failure, so likely, that following protests by Bismarck residents, Henderson agreed to move the pipeline away from its more direct route across the Bismarck water supply and into Indian country.
Henderson's menacing letter on behalf of yet another law-breaking mineral interest has mobilized 300 American tribes who have assembled to protest the illegal construction, the largest gathering of tribes in a century. Indian Country regards DAPL as an existential threat; for the tribes the outlaw enterprise, forced upon them at gunpoint, represents the extension of their 500 year genocide into a new millennium. But Chief Archambault has consistently stated the Indians are not fighting only for Indian rights but for American democracy and for humanity's survival.
Alfred North Whitehead observed that "duty arises from one's capacity to influence events." By this rule, Washington state voters have a profound duty to support Initiative-732, our nation's first carbon tax.
By making Washington the premier American government to place a price on carbon, Evergreen voters will pioneer the trail away from our deadly carbon addiction and its murderous offspring: climate chaos.
September shattered the record for hottest month ever recorded and 2016 will be measured as human history's hottest year as was 2015, and 2014 before that. Humanity is already paying a high price for carbon—melting glaciers and barren, acidic oceans, biblical droughts, famines, floods, fires, plagues and great cities drowned by newly routine superstorms. Raging forest fires in Washington state obliterate property values and spawn epidemics of asthma and premature death. Weather related disasters have cost Americans more than $1 trillion dollars in the last 30 years.
While Americans suffer, big polluters are getting away with murder and getting rich in the process. Despite last year's losses, Shell, BP and Exxon reported a decade of record earnings that exceeded the greatest profits of any industry in human history. Our federal government has failed to address the crisis. A billion dollars in campaign contributions from the carbon tycoons has paralyzed congress. Big oil's indentured servants on Capitol Hill have blocked every effort to mitigate the climate apocalypse. Pricing carbon isn't even on the table.
And so, our nation looks to Washington state for leadership. On Nov. 8, just four days after the Paris climate agreement became international law, Washington state can step boldly into the leadership breach left by federal abdication.
For the 20 percent of undecided voters, here is how I-732 works. The proposed law puts a price on carbon pollution, starting at $15 per metric ton. For reference, a typical car emits about five metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. That price will steadily, and predictably increase over a few decades until it hits $100 per metric ton, adjusted for inflation.
The state will return all these payments to taxpayers in the form of a full percentage point decrease in the sales tax, plus up to $1,500 for a Working Families Tax Credit for low-income families. This makes the referendum "revenue neutral"—the government neither gains nor loses money. The scheme is one of simplest and most effective ways to reduce emissions immediately.
Some environmentalists oppose the Initiative arguing that revenues should go to green energy infrastructure. That, indeed, would be the best outcome. But we shouldn't make perfect the enemy of the good.
And a lot of good will come from this law. State sales taxes will drop. Rather than pay more to burn fossil fuels, polluters will switch to cleaner, more efficient energy and technology yielding cleaner air and water and better health for Washington's citizens.
Dirty fossil fuel polluters will finally pay the true costs that they are now imposing on America's citizens. Globally, taxpayers pay more than $5.3 trillion to subsidize the oil, gas and coal industries. By turning off this pipeline of massive socialist style subsidies, Initiative-732 will level the playing field for clean energy technologies. Wind, solar, electric vehicles and energy efficiency will finally compete head to head against filthy and expensive dinosaur fuels for which the economic rationale has expired. Those new energy sources produce abundant, high-paying sustainable jobs and democratize our energy markets.
By voting yes on I-732, Washingtonians will not just preserve the environment for children. They will pave the way for a national transition to the clean energy future.
I hope Washington voters will step up and show the federal government that the visionary, idealistic, can-do leadership is alive and well in America and it's living in Washington state.
An international team of scientists led by the U.S Geological Survey (USGS) released a comprehensive report last week showing widespread mercury contamination across western North America.
The report, based on decades of mercury data and research, found alarming levels of mercury and methylmercury in the forests, fishes, wildlife, plants and waterways of America's western landscapes. The USGS study provides the first integrated analysis of where mercury occurs in western North America, how it moves through the environment, and the processes that influence its movement and transfer to aquatic and ultimately, the human food chain.
Fish are indicators of methylmercury contamination because they are an important link in the food chain for both wildlife and humans.U.S. Forest Service
Among the many disturbing findings are shocking accumulations of mercury in densely forested areas such as those found along the Pacific mountain ranges of California and Oregon. The scientific team showed that these critical ecosystems collect dangerous mercury loads because they receive high amounts of precipitation. Rainfall washes mercury from the atmosphere onto wet forested regions where it binds to the vegetation and accumulates in the soils and surface waters. From these vectors it can bioaccumulate in fish, including salmon.
Vegetation patterns affect both soil moisture and the amount of sunlight that reaches the soil, two factors associated with mercury release from soils.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The report confirms the findings of a January 2016 study that narrowly investigated mercury levels in rainfall. That study reported that the long-term trend of decreasing mercury levels in precipitation had leveled off and that some sites in the western U.S. were experiencing increases, which the investigators concluded were due to exploding mercury emissions from Asia.
An earlier study in 2002 reported that industrial emissions in Asia are a major source of mercury in rainwater falling along the California coast. The new USGS study describes the precise atmospheric transport mechanisms that carry massive mercury contamination from Asia and deposit the potent neurotoxin in the water, soils and biota across America's West Coast. According to the papers lead author, it is not just the mercury itself, but a cocktail of atmospheric pollutants that contribute to the deposition of mercury in rainfall. Elemental mercury behaves as a gas in the atmosphere and is not washed out in rain until it has been oxidized into a charged ionic form that can be captured by water droplets.
The USGS study sheds light on earlier research with frightening human health implications. A 2008 study reported children living in areas of high precipitation may be more likely to have autism. Those investigators looked at rainfall in California, Washington and Oregon. That team obtained autism prevalence rates for children born in those three states between 1987 and 1999 and calculated average annual precipitation by county from 1987 to 2001. The researchers also computed the autism rates in relation to the average annual precipitation in the counties when the children were younger than 3 years old.
Those scientists found that counties that received relatively large amounts of precipitation had a relatively high rate of autism. More specifically, counties in Oregon and Washington west of the Cascades receive four times as much precipitation as counties east of the Cascades, and had an autism rate that was twice as high. These are the same states that were identified in the USGS's comprehensive report demonstrating the relationship between mercury deposition and precipitation.
The team also looked at each county over time, taking into account the varying annual precipitation levels. The study authors performed this analysis to rule out the effect of other factors, such as differences in the quality of the health care systems from one county to another. The relationship between precipitation and autism held.
Several earlier studies have established a potential connection between mercury from industrial air pollution and autism. In 2006 researchers in Texas reported that on average, for each 1,000 pounds of environmentally released mercury, there was a 43 percent increase in the rate of special education services and a 61 percent increase in the rate of autism. An investigation in the state of California found an association between autism and metal concentrations (mercury, cadmium, nickel, trichloroethylene) and possibly solvents (vinyl chloride).
These studies, however, concentrated on a few individual states. The latest study included women across the whole country. According to the first national study to investigate the possible link, living in an area with high levels of air pollution and mercury increased a woman's chances of having a child with autism.
"Women who were exposed to the highest levels of diesel or mercury in the air were twice as likely to have a child with autism than women who lived in the cleanest parts of the sample," according to the study author Andrea Roberts, a research associate with the Harvard School of Public Health.
Some researchers who first reported the correlation between high precipitation and high rates of autism, hypothesized that the link might be the result of children spending more time indoors where they generated less vitamin D or had increased exposures to household toxins. These reports gave little consideration to increased mercury exposure as a potential causative factor.
Key findings from the report include:
- Methylmercury contamination in fish and birds is common in many areas throughout the West, and climate and land cover are some important factors influencing mercury contamination and availability to animals.
- Fish and birds in many areas were found to have mercury concentrations above levels that have been associated with toxic effects.
- Patterns of methylmercury exposure in fish and wildlife across the West differed from patterns of inorganic mercury on the landscape.
- Some ecosystems and species are more sensitive to mercury contamination, and local environmental conditions are important factors influencing the creation and transfer of methylmercury through the food web.
- Forest soils typically contain more inorganic mercury than soils in semi-arid environments, yet the highest levels of methylmercury in fish and wildlife occurred in semi-arid areas.
- Vegetation patterns strongly influence the amount of mercury emitted to the atmosphere from soils.
- Forested areas retain mercury from the atmosphere, whereas less vegetated areas tend to release mercury to the atmosphere.
- Land disturbances, such as urban development, agriculture, and wildfires, are important factors in releasing inorganic mercury from the landscape, potentially making it available for biological uptake
- Land and water management activities can strongly influence how methylmercury is created and transferred to fish, wildlife, and humans.
A History of Democracy and Free-Flowing Rivers
Chilean environmentalists and global whitewater aficionados are celebrating the happy ending to the tumultuous 20-year battle to save Patagonia's Futaleufu River. On Aug. 30, Endesa Chile, subsidiary of Enersis and part of Italian-controlled energy consortium Enel, formally relinquished all claims to Chile's iconic whitewater mecca, and similar stakes in other Chilean rivers.
Earth River's Cave Camp, Rio Futaleufu, Patagonia, Chile, South America © Carr Clifton www.carrclifton.com
Rafts directly above Mas o Menos Rapid, Rio Futaleufu, Patagonia, Chile, South America © Carr Clifton www.carrclifton.com
Terminator Rapid, Rio Futaleufu, Patagonia, Chile, South America © Carr Clifton www.carrclifton.com
Tree below Throne Room Rapid, Rio Futaleufu, Patagonia, Chile, South America © Carr Clifton www.carrclifton.com
Rafting the Throne Room, Rio Futaleufu, Patagonia, Chile, South America © Carr Clifton www.carrclifton.com
Robert Currie on the Knife Edge, Cave Camp, Rio Futaleufu, Patagonia, Chile, South America © Carr Clifton www.carrclifton.com
Andean Condor, seen from Condor Mountain, Rio Futaleufu, Patagonia, Chile, South America © Carr Clifton www.carrclifton.com
Endesa sought to build two dams on the Futaleufu that would capture its water for energy generation while inundating the river's spectacular landscapes—the 800-megawatt La Cuesta facility nine miles from the village of Puerto Ramirez and the 400-megawatt Los Coihues dam across Inferno Canyon at the gateway to the river's prime whitewater.
The picturesque farming communities above that dam would have drowned beneath 75 feet of water; mountainous rapids below the dam would survive only in the memories of those lucky enough to have experienced the unbridled river. The Spanish company hoped to sell the power from these installations to Argentina, or otherwise up north through Chile using a massive transmission line that was never built.
In a statement to the Chilean government, Endesa tabulated the factors behind its decision as:
- "the high annual cost for the company to maintain water rights without using them"
- the technical and economic difficulties facing the damming project
- and, most notably, the lack of "sufficient support from local communities"
Fierce local opposition caused Endesa, two years ago, to suspend immediate plans to dam the Futaleufu, which has one dam near its headwaters in Argentina but flows free for 65 miles through Chile. Trapped between unyielding popular resistance and the escalating costs of its water rights, Endesa abandoned the project altogether. Endesa said its decision represents a $52-million haircut for its shareholders.
"This is an extraordinary triumph for Patagonia," said Patrick Lynch, staff attorney and international director at Futaleufu Riverkeeper. "The victory belongs to a half dozen activist groups composed of local farmers, river guides, fishermen and outfitters, and to the thousands of river lovers around the world and the international environmental groups who supported the community fighting the dam."
Reflecting on the long battle, Lynch told me, "It was always such an unlikely coalition. And yet this community won a bruising 20 year David and Goliath fist fight. We beat back an all-powerful international utility company that owned this river for more than 20 years. Now we need legal reforms to put an end to a corrupt system that still reward damming rivers for profit."
The Futaleufu played a symbolic role in Chile's struggles to restore her democracy, still reeling from two decades of dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet. "Pinochet's regime was old school European corporatism," the Chilean environmental and human rights activist, Juan Pablo Orrego, explained to me in 1993 soon after Pinochet left power. "He followed Mussolini's scheme to merge state and corporate power and that meant handing Chile's publicly owned natural resources—including our rivers—over to private corporations."
Every tyranny includes efforts by powerful interests to privatize the public commons, but Pinochet's regime turned the ideology of privatization into a religion. In what is now regarded as a cataclysmically failed social experiment in voodoo economics, Pinochet turned Chile over to a group of right wing theoretical economists from the University of Chicago, entrusting them with authoritarian control over virtually every aspect of economic life in Chile.
These acolytes of "free market" guru Milton Friedman, the so called "Chicago Boys," used their unlimited power to impose a barbaric austerity on Chile's poor and middle classes. They slashed taxes on the rich and corporations, discarded vital subsidies for fuel, school milk and other food staples, eviscerated labor unions, cut education and healthcare, and repealed environmental, financial and trade regulations. In an orgy of privatization, they auctioned off Chile's public assets—including her roads, airports, airlines, telephone and electric utilities, her waterways and forests to multinational corporations at fire sale prices. "They literally liquidated our commonwealth for cash," Orrego observed. "They obliterated Chile's public spaces." Pinochet's henchmen gave away every Chilean river to private companies for damming.
These anti-democratic reforms were naturally unpopular with many Chileans, and Pinochet jailed, tortured and killed his program's critics, murdering 3,000 dissenters, imprisoning 20,000 and forcing another 200,000 into exile.
My family has had a long history of friendship with Chile. In the early 1960s, Chile's leftist democratic president, Eduardo Frei Montalva, became the closest Latin American ally of my uncle, President John Kennedy. Frei helped craft the blueprint for JFK's Alliance for Progress. Both men hoped the "Alianza" would break the strangle hold of Latin America's oligarchies who presided over feudal economies characterized by vast gulfs between rich and poor.
The oligarchs protected their wealth and privilege through seamless relationships with the military caudillos who ruled their nations with brutal dictatorship. That ruling coalition fortified itself in symbiotic relationships with all-powerful U.S. multinationals like Anaconda Copper, United Fruit, IT&T and Standard Oil, to whom the local oligarchs ceded their nations' natural resources in exchange for a share of the profits. These colonial style arrangements gave the oligarchs unimaginable wealth and power, kept their people in desperate poverty and gave rise to a new derisive sobriquet for these countries, the "Banana Republic."
Prior to JFK, U.S. foreign policy was to nurture these powerful oligarchies which unctuously served the mercantile interests of American corporations. But these policies, for JFK, represented a stark departure from American values—including our national anti-colonial heritage—and caused appalling injustice and poverty that was easily exploited by communist revolutionaries. Frei and Kennedy designed the alliance as a suite of reforms to rebuild Latin America as a collection of just, democratic, middle class societies. Chile, the continent's beacon of middle class stability, democracy and freedom would be the template.
My father's first public break with President Lyndon Johnson following JFK's assassination was over Johnson's subversion of the alliance. My father believed that the new U.S. president had abandoned the alliance's idealistic goals and returned U.S. policy to its historical role of supporting the oligarchs and fostering corporate colonialism.
In 1964, my father infuriated Johnson by visiting Chile and advising its intellectuals and government officials to nationalize the U.S. oil and mining interests that were robbing the nation's natural wealth. My father engaged in a heated debate with communist students at the University of Concepcion who showered him with spit, eggs and other missiles. He then made a harrowing trip headfirst into the depths of an Atacama copper mine on a tiny sled to meet with beleaguered miners. He returned to the surface to chastise the dismayed mine owner for mistreating his workers.
Just after dawn on the morning of June 29, 1973, I found myself with four others, including New York Times reporter Blake Fleetwood, on a remote Andean ridge near Chile's frontier with Argentina earnestly digging in the deep snow to escape a hail of gunfire from half a dozen carabineros crouched in the valley 100 meters below us. The squadron had pursued us from the nearby military base as we climbed on sealskins for a day of backcountry skiing. Believing we were trying to escape across the border, they soon captured and detained us. The nation was on high alert. Unbeknownst to us, a tank battalion, that morning, had launched a coup against the regime of Chile's socialist president, Salvador Allende.
I had traveled to Chile for the Atlantic Monthly to write about the Nixon administration's efforts to destroy Chile's economy—"Make the economy scream," he had ordered the CIA in 1970—and to overthrow Allende, the duly elected president of Latin America's oldest and most stable democracy. (Our nation would later learn that Nixon had accepted a hefty bribe from IT&T, which feared Allende's plans to naturalize their company).
Colonel Roberto Souper's so called "Tank Coup" quickly failed, but three months later, on Sept. 11, Salvador Allende died in a firefight as General Pinochet's troops invaded the presidential palace. The following year at a Senate Refugee Committee hearing chaired by my uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy, junta representatives warned me never to return to Chile. From the moment Allende died, Teddy had been scrambling to rescue Chilean descendants from Pinochet's murderous wrath. Chile's Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz, former United Nations ambassador, told me that he owes his life to Teddy's timely intervention. Teddy's 1974 bill, the so called "Kennedy Amendment," froze U.S. arm sales to the junta. When Teddy tried to visit Chile in 1986, Pinochet arranged violent riots to muzzle him and drive him from the country.
Working with Chile's democratic resistance, Teddy authored and passed legislation conditioning U.S. aid to Chile on a national referendum in which the Chilean people would be allowed to vote "si" or "no" on Pinochet's continued rule. Chile was desperate for that U.S. aid package; by then, the Chicago Boys' "reforms" had wrecked the Chilean economy and dismantled the finest health and education systems on the continent.
Chile's industrial base was in ruins; unemployment had risen tenfold. Chile was suffering from 375 percent inflation and a runaway national debt. Chile's resounding "No" vote in the plebiscite finally drove Pinochet from power. In 1990, Teddy returned to a hero's welcome in Chile to attend the inauguration of Pinochet's democratically elected successor, President Patricio Aylwin.
Environmentally-themed campaign poster urging a vote against Pinochet in the 1988 plebiscite forced upon the Chile's junta by Senator Ted Kennedy's legislation.
My entire family was beyond proud when in September 2008, Chile's first woman president, Michelle Bachelet came to our home in Hyannis Port to award Teddy Chile's highest civilian honor, the "Order of Merit" for his long support for democracy in Chile. Bachelet and her mother were among the Chileans Pinochet had tortured and jailed. Bachelet's father, an air force officer, was tortured to death in prison.
Even after he relinquished power, Pinochet's legal legacy continued causing mischief against the nation's people and their right to water. Pinochet had embedded the privatization of all Chile's water flows into key parts of the nation's Constitution and Water Code. To make sure that free-flowing rivers can never remain in public hands, the framework provides that ownership of Chile's water rights no longer belong to the public. Instead they belong to the first corporation to claim them. The law was finally revised in 2005 to punish corporate owners with escalating fees for not using the rights, but they can get the fees back once they propose and begin construction of a dam. These fees escalate over time, gradually topping millions of dollars per year for some rivers. The first battleground for challenging Pinochet's corporatist water regime was the fight to save the Biobio from dam builders in 1993.
The Biobio River was Chile's crown jewel. By the late 1980's it had already become Latin America's—and arguably, the World's—premier whitewater destination. Whitewater paddlers considered it the equivalent of the Colorado River, the world's gold standard of whitewater, for its breathtaking rapids and magical scenery. The Biobio plunged through a Grand Canyon scale gorge, but unlike the naked rock that frames the Colorado, the Biobio's lush climate had festooned its canyon walls with hanging gardens and watered them with five massive waterfalls that cascaded from the high plateau—all of this in the shadow of a smoking snow-capped volcano!
In 1993, following the collapse of the Pinochet Regime and the democratic election of Patricio Aylwin, I was among a small contingent of Natural Resources Defense Council attorneys who accompanied Mapuche Indian leaders and Chilean environmental activists on the largest expedition ever to run Chile's Biobio River. Juan Pablo Orrego, one of the founding fathers of the Chile's modern environmental movement, accompanied us as president of the grassroots Grupo de Accion por el Biobio.
Orrego observed to me, at that time, that while democracy had nominally returned to Chile, Pinochet had already given away virtually all the public assets that made democracy meaningful. The return of democracy, Orrego argued, was therefore illusory. Chile, he said, had reverted to a colonial model with its natural resources controlled by foreign corporations. Pinochet had given away Chile's entire commonwealth to private companies.
"We supposedly have democracy, but it is a democracy without teeth. A nation can't have a true democracy without sovereignty over its lands and infrastructures," Orrego told me.
The Biobio, once the diadem of Chile's patrimony, was now the wholly owned asset of private utility—Endesa. With the Chilean government's blessing and World Bank loans, Endesa planned a series of six dams on the river that would bury its stunning landscapes. Working with Orrego, the Mapuche-Pehuenches, NRDC and the Chilean Commission on Human Rights, our coalition launched an international campaign to save the Biobio. We attacked the critical flaws in Endesa's plans, including the fact that the dams were to be built in the middle of an earthquake fault at the base of two volcanoes. In meetings with World Bank officials, we pressured the institution to launch its own internal investigation. In the end, we managed to force Endesa to drop its proposals for all but a single dam—the Pangue. Many people saw this as a victory. I did not. The Pangue and its 1,250-acre reservoir in indigenous territory ruined the Biobio's viewshed and its best whitewater. Ten years later, Endesa succeeded in building one more dam on the Biobio, called Ralco, which displaced 97 Pehuenche families and even flooded a sacred graveyard. I have never been able to bring myself to return to that desecrated paradise.
In 1993, my friend Eric Hertz—a white-water outfitter, river conservationist and founder of Earth River Expeditions—told me he had found a river nearly the Biobio's equal. Hertz had spent a lifetime searching for the perfect river. He had finally discovered it 600 kilometers south of the Biobio, in Chilean Patagonia.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (left) and Dr. Mark Hyman (right) with Eric Hertz and Roberto Currie from Earth River Expeditions, 2003
Situated between snow-capped glaciers and rugged saw-tooth mountains reminiscent of the Tetons, the Fu flows through narrow canyons and verdant valleys, where river runners find an irresistible mix of wilderness and charming pastoral landscapes. Chattering ibis, spoonbills and plovers flock over grazing sheep as Patagonian gauchos, sporting sheepskin chaps trimmed with heavy fur, ride their criollo ponies or drive yoked oxen pulling wooden wagons along the banks. Stunning granite cliffs and outcroppings at the valley fringes frame a fairytale landscape of rustic farms, broken forests, orchards and alpine meadows.
Crossing Class 6 (unrunnable) Zeta Rapid on via tyrolean, 1996. Photo credit: Cade Hertz
The alpine village of Futaleufu has become a fairy tale outfitters haven. Photo credit: Paulo Espindola, Futaleufu
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and oxen hauling gear and girls—6-year-old Kyra Kennedy (far right) and two friends, Kayla and GiGi Falk, 2001.
Intrepid kayakers who had ventured into southern Chile the previous year said that violent rapids made the Futaleufu River unrunnable by raft. But Hertz and his partner at Earth River, the Chilean white-water expert Roberto Currie, made an expeditionary first decent in 1993 and figured out how to safely navigate what today is the most intensive stretch of commercially rafted whitewater rapids in the world. Ever since then, I try to make an annual trip to the Fu with my family and friends each March. Kayakers and rafters and fishermen flocking to the river soon transformed the tiny Alpine village of Futaleufu into a bustling river outfitter's haven.
Several elements combine to make the Fu an incomparable outdoor adventure: the breathtaking scenery, the series of more than 30 tightly packed and formidable Class IV and V rapids, the hospitable climate, the cultural charms of its farm community of vaqueros and homestead pioneers, the incomparable campsites and hiking trails, the absence of biting insects and the shocking teal color of the river's gin clear waters—a feature that nearly always prompts a double-take at first sight; when actress Julia Louis- Dreyfus caught her first glimpse of the Fu's show stopping blue-green luminescent, during a 2003 expedition, she gave an astonished laugh, "Did they dye it," she asked me, "like at Disneyland?"
The Fu is also a world class fishing destination. During my annual pilgrimages to the Fu, I customarily fish from the bow of my raft as I take in the scenery between the rapids. The small bays and pockets of still water along the Fu's banks and below each rapid almost always yield trout or large salmon that dart, voracious and aggressive, from hiding places under the branches of willows and osiers, and from beneath the Fu's granite walls. For mile after river mile on virtually every cast, whether with fly or spinning rods, an angler can watch brown trout follow a lure through the clear cyan water.
The Fu has a pebbled bottom, clean water, rich vegetation and an alkaline pH, conditions that are ideal for trout. Besides brown trout, coho, Atlantic salmon, chinook and other North American imports also frequent the Fu, growing upward of 60 pounds. I've fished in most of the states, including Alaska, and in most of the provinces of Canada, and in Latin America from Costa Rica to Tierra del Fuego. But I've rarely seen a waterway with consistently large salmonoids in such abundance. A local friend, Adrei Gallardo, took a 39.9-pound brown trout from the Fu on a handline—the Latin American record. Gallardo told me that he subsequently refused to relinquish the mount to representatives of Munich's Hunting & Fishing museum, despite a $20,000 offer—the equivalent of a two-year salary.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. with Adrei Gallardo's 39.9-pound brown trout from the Futaleufu caught using a handline—the Latin American record, 1995
Julia Louis-Dreyfus stands among a parade of international celebrities who have visited the Futaleufu over the past two decades to run its rapids and fight the dams—Dan Ackroyd, Donna Dixon, John McEnroe, Patti Smith, Glenn Close, Brad Hall, David Chokachi and Richard Dean Anderson, to name a few. They came to support the valley's voiceless vaqueros, shepherds, fishermen, kayak paddle guides, whitewater companies and landowners. For all of those who participated in this battle, Aug. 30 was a time of celebration.
Baywatch star David Chokachi with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and chinook.
But Lynch cautions against complacency. "We can't celebrate with our paddles in the air just yet," warned Lynch. "In Chile they call the forces that want to privatize those rivers zombies. These are zombie dams. Every time you think you've killed a project, it comes back from the dead.
"The era of big dams in Patagonia is not over yet. Endesa still has rights over the Baker and Pascua Rivers. And other companies still have permits to build dams on other wild and scenic rivers like the Cuervo."
And Lynch still worries about the Fu. General Augusto Pinochet died in 2006 under house arrest, awaiting trial for corruption, torture and murder, but in a very real sense Pinochet continues to rule Chile from the grave. Because of the reactionary water regime devised by the Chicago Boys, the water rights that Endesa relinquished will not long remain in public hands. Under Chile's Water Code, any hydroelectric company that wants to seize the river for damming may step into the vacuum left by Endesa and claim the Fu for itself. Lynch has a wary eye on the Chinese with their bottomless appetite for Latin America's natural resources.
"China is the world's leading dam builder," he said. "They would be the most likely international suitor."
Looking forward, Lynch said, "Our job is to help show international water speculators—called piratas here—that it's a risky business to try to build a dam in Chile. We need to let them know that the people have had enough. If they come here, they are going to have a Donnybrook on their hands."
Lynch understands that river conservation is as difficult as democracy. There are no permanent victories. The only thing we ever really win is the opportunity to keep fighting.
Earlier this month, my 15-year-old son, Aidan, and I joined a group of environmental activists on a six day float down Utah's Green River. In rafts and kayaks, we paddled Desolation and Gray canyons almost to the Colorado River confluence.
The Green River.
It was my second trip down the Green. In April 1966, I ran the prime white water stretches of the Yampa and Green through western Colorado and eastern Utah near Dinosaur National Park with my father and mother, U.S. Interior Secretary Stuart Udall and five of my 11 siblings. My father's friend, mountaineer Jim Whitaker, had organized that trip. Whittaker also accompanied my family on a Colorado River trip in 1964, down the Middle Fork of the Salmon in the summer of 1965 and on a kayak run on the upper Hudson's wild white water during a blizzard in May 1965. My father's purpose for the latter trip was to block an industry proposal to dam the Hudson River Gorge.
On each of those western trips, my father took us to nearby Navajo, Hopi and Ute reservations where we visited schools and health clinics and saw the despair among America's first nations mired in poverty, racism, oppression and hopelessness. My father taught us the history of the early American explorers, John Wesley Powell, John Charles Freemont, and Lewis and Clarke.
Following his brother, John Kennedy's assassination in 1963, he increasingly found spiritual renewal in wilderness which he considered "the undiluted work of the Creator." He saw white water as a way to struggle with nature without subduing it and he hoped that all that climbing, paddling and privation would imbue his children with the kind of beef jerky toughness he associated with the American character.
American democracy, he told us, had its roots in wilderness. He felt that outdoor adventures would connect us with those values and with the generations of Americans who lived before Columbus. He told us that these wilderness rivers and the majestic western landscapes were part of our American heritage and that good Americans of every generation would need to fight to protect them from the greed of reckless developers and the rapacious extractive industrialists who wanted to liquidate our public commons for private profit.
In 1973, five years after my father's death, I ran the 46-mile Cataract Canyon along with my uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy; the legendary white water guide, Dee Holladay; and Sen. Frank Moss. Moss, a close friend of my father, who had arranged for the canyon to be protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Holladay was one of the iconic white water guides and, like his competitor and friend, the recently deceased George Wendt—and so many guides of that generation—he was an ardent river conservationist.
Holladay's granddaughter, Lauren Wood, now heads the Green River Action Project, a Colorado Riverkeeper Affiliate which is also a licensed member of Waterkeeper Alliance—the umbrella group for some 300 river, sound and bay keepers in 34 countries. I am the organization's president. Wood accompanied us down the Green River as a guide along with Colorado Riverkeeper (and white water guide) John Weisheit and Howard Dennis.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Colorado Riverkeeper John Weisheit, Green Riverkeeper Lauren Wood, Howard Dennis and Waterkeeper Alliance trustees Geralyn Dreyfous and Deer Valley CEO Lessing Stern at Sand Wash put in.
Dennis, the chief of the Squash Clan and the Grey Flute Chief of Mishongnovi Village, gave us vivid interpretations of the thousand year old Fremont Petroglyphs we saw at campsites and canyon walls throughout the trip. On each panel, Dennis pointed out the great variety of Hopi religious and mythological figures all mixed up with more banal items that Howard analogized to contemporary newspaper obituaries and local news.
During its more recent history, the canyon was a hiding place and traverse for western outlaws, including Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Joe Walker, Elzy Lay and other members of The Hole in the Wall gang and Cassidy's Wild Bunch. Those bandits commonly traded exhausted horses for fresh mounts at the ranch of Mormon homesteader, Jim McPherson.
McPherson built his log cabins, barns, chicken houses soon after arriving in Gray Canyon in 1889. Those sturdy structures still stand at the Green's confluence with Rock Creek. At Schoolhouse rapids, a few miles downriver from the McPherson spread, a local posse ambushed and killed bank robber, flat nose George Curry in April 1900, leaving bullet holes that are still visible on the canyon walls. McPherson and the other ranchers were sympathetic with the outlaws; the railroads, coal companies and banks they robbed were often the bane to western working people, farmers and ranchers.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. with his son Aidan at McPherson Cabin 1890 Mormon Homesteader and crony of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and his son Aidan with Ute leader Forest Cuch and Coleen Selepstewa at Flat Canyon mile 63.5.
We rapidly confirmed John Wesley Powell's observation that weather in the canyon can be extreme. Violent storms interrupted otherwise hot sunny days on the river dropping sheets of rain so dense we could hardly see the bow of our boat from the stern. I kidded Forest Cuch, a Ute Elder, for digging a ditch to anchor his tent with buried tree branches one cloudy afternoon. He laughed at me a few hours later when my tent blew away like a tumble weed with Aidan and me in it being flayed by our own tent pegs.
Green River warriors.
The Green cuts through the Colorado plateau in a mile deep canyon that is home to mule deer, beaver, otter, mountain goat, big horn, sheep, golden and bald eagle, peregrine falcons, all of which we saw as we floated through towering canyons of layered sedimentary rock.
On the third day, we found a dead falcon, otherwise healthy but recently drowned—probably after binding to a duck. Inquisitive big horn sheep raced down to the river banks in large herds—seemingly to greet us—as we drifted by only a few yards away. We forgot our fishing rod but Aidan and I fashioned a hook from a round metal keychain ring. Using dental floss for a line, a stone for a sinker and cheese for bait, we filled a bucket with enough feral catfish in one afternoon to feed most of the camp.
Dr. Mark Hyman preparing to paddle.
Every evening around the campfire, we heard lectures from reigning experts. Eleven time New York Times bestseller, Dr. Mark Hyman of the Cleveland Clinic, spoke brilliantly on food justice; John Weisheit told stories on the history and geology of the region; Howard Dennis spoke about the Hopi's heartbreaking century long battle against Peabody Coal, which has enriched company shareholders with hundreds of millions of dollars by stealing Hopi resources, sickening the people and poisoning their water; and Green Riverkeeper Lauren Wood and her advocacy partner, Will Munger, taught us about the growing scourge of dirty energy development in Utah.
Dr. Mark Hyman gives lecture on food fascism at Cow Swim Camp.
This Green River paradise is now threatened by a boondoggle meant to benefit a new generation of corporate villains. Utah's carbon titans are slicing up the plateau for tar sands oil and gas fracking. "Utah's wilderness is under siege and up for sale," said Munger, a charming and eloquent environmental leader and activist who accompanied us on the trip.
The Green River basin boasts reserves of oil shale and tar sands (OSTS reserves) that surpass Saudi Arabia's conventional oil deposits. On both banks of the Green River, the oil saturated ores are near enough to the surface to strip mine. In the thrall of these companies, the state of Utah is actively encouraging proliferation tar sands and oil shale development across the state. If the oil tycoons get away with their caper, the footprint will metastasize into Colorado and Wyoming with impacts to land, air, water and climate that could surpass the current tar sands mining operations in Alberta, Canada.
Inside the US Oil Sands tar sands test pit in Utah after shutting down mine operations during a protest.Canyon Country Rising Tide
The most advanced project is the PR Spring Mine, operated by a Canadian firm deceptively, named US Oil Sands (USOS). USOS holds leases to strip mine 32,005 acres on the Green River Basin's Tavaputs Plateau. Despite years of legal challenges and protests, USOS is promising its investors it will be commercially producing oil by 2016. The company is already in the early stages of mining: building roads, bulldozing the land and installing new processing machinery. Munger was arrested on site in June for replanting the strip mine—part of a series of mass protests by Canyon Country Rising Tide and others.
Thirty people walked onto the country's first tar sands mine in Utah and sowed seeds to regrow land destroyed by tar sands.Canyon Country Rising Tide
As usual, the industry will externalize its costs by destroying the global climate and privatizing America's water, air and democracy. USOS's billion dollar swindle is a windfall for the Canadian company and a suicide pact for the planet. Tar sands oil requires enormous energy inputs to extract, refine and transport, all while destroying complex, carbon-sequestering ecosystems. Even as it hastens the overheating of our climate, Green River Basin's oil developer will also destroy a waterway that is vital to the future survival of this thirsty region. The mines are located in the headwaters of the Green and Colorado Rivers, which supply more than 40 million people with drinking and irrigation water.
Tar sands mining requires 1.5-4 barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced. Oil companies mix this water with solvents to separate the bitumen and then discharge a witches' brew of toxic chemicals onto the soils without even a lined pit.
The extracted bitumen must then be further processed and refined. The likely venue for that filthy enterprise is Salt Lake City, where a string of refineries already process bitumen from the Canadian tar sands mines. Salt Lake City currently has the worst seasonal air quality in the world.
OSTS development produces over three times the greenhouse gas emissions of regular oil because it requires vast chemicals and energy inputs to create liquid oil. Reckless industry and political leaders hope to supply this extra energy from fracked gas, coal or nuclear power from the recently proposed Green River Power Plant. Thus, we have all four horsemen of the apocalypse—oil, gas, coal and nuke—converging in a kind of Armageddon offensive on the Colorado Plateau.
These dinosaur industries require vast public subsidies to make a profit. In a classic example of socialism for the wealthy, Big Oil's fawning toadies in the Utah state legislature will dutifully rob public monies intended for environmental protection to fund a massive corporate welfare program for petroleum tycoons. Unctuous "Beehive State" politicians have already shanghaied funds intended for environmental mitigation and diverted them toward building the oil industry's stairway to heaven.
The Utah Community Impact Board was created to help communities remediate the destructive legacies of oil, gas and mining. This money was appropriated so that damaged regions could transition away from fossil fuels and remediate damage from pollution. Instead, shameless Utah politicians are using the funds to further entrench a dying industry by paying for haul roads, power lines and other infrastructure required solely for extreme energy extraction, including, believe it or not, export terminals for tar sands oil in Oakland, California.
Utah has pillaged the fund to pay $86.5 million of public money in order to upgrade Seep Ridge Road, the oil road to the PR Spring tar sands mine, into a paved highway, so that its toxic bitumen can roll into Salt Lake City in style. Now the oil giants are asking the taxpayers to fork over another $150 million of public money to connect that road to 1-70. The carbon titans consider this road their "Stairway to Heaven"—a publicly funded highway that will allow them to liquidate the incomparable Green River watershed for cash.
In contrast, local environmentalists, ranchers, hunters and the elected Grand County Council consider the project to be the region's "Highway to Hell." They have fought it successfully for more than two decades, but during that period, Utah's political leaders have increasingly become sockpuppets to the carbon cronies. Now oil's pet politicians are trying to override local consent in order to subsidize the extraction industry.
Munger told me that the extractive industry has near total control of the Utah legislature due to massive political payoffs and kneejerk support for virtually any dirty energy development among Mormon populations in the rural counties.
"The Mormon Church has a long history of good stewardship and a cooperative humane style of capitalism," laments Munger. "The Mormon holy books are chock filled with nostrums requiring that the faithful act as caretakers for the Earth's future generations."
He explains, however, that in recent years, "industry money propaganda has helped spread the proliferation of Dominion Theology," a perverse strain of Christianity that absolves individuals from caring for the Earth or taking any responsibility for future generations. As the bard taught, "Satan can cite scriptures for his own purposes."
In Utah, big oil and gas crooked politicians are not just stealing our purple mountain majesty, they are corrupting our democracy, our religion and stealing our future!
The entire clan that floating down the Green River.
Two days ago, I put my son Conor on an airplane to Europe. Conor has anaphylactic peanut allergies so, before he left, we purchased a new EpiPen for the trip. We both got sticker shock.
Ten years ago, I was paying a $12 co-pay for each EpiPen I purchased. In 2007, the wholesale price for an EpiPen in the U.S. was around $57 and our insurance company paid everything but the co-pay. This week, I learned that the wholesale price was now $600 for a two pack, which is the smallest quantity available for purchase. We paid the $600. EpiPens have saved Conor's life more than once.
A Senate committee has asked the pharmaceutical company Mylan to appear before Congress to explain the company's 400 percent price hike for this life-saving device. The company's CEO, Heather Bresch, the daughter of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, will be on the hot seat. She is a greedy, malicious scoundrel and it's my hope that the senators who question her will not give her kid glove comity just because she is kin to a colleague.
Mylan raised its prices because it could get away with the scam. Its only U.S. competitor, Sanofi, abandoned the American market in 2015. In Canada, EpiPen's still cost around US$100. In Europe there are four manufacturers and the prices are still lower.
Children in anaphylactic shock often need two doses of epinephrine. Following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's recommendations, my doctor suggested that we always keep two EpiPen's at home, two at school and two in our automobile. Each EpiPen expires after one year, so Mylan's price hike represents an $1,800 annual recurring cost for the families of the 15 million Americans with allergies.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, food allergies are responsible for more than 300,000 ambulatory-care visits a year in children under 18. About 200 children die. Bresch's greed is likely to cost the lives of many more.
"I regularly write notes to the families of children who have died from anaphylaxis after inadvertently eating peanuts," said Dr. James R. Baker, CEO of FARE: Food Allergy Research & Education. "One death is too many."
While making a documentary, Blue Centennial, with filmmaker Robert Nixon, National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry and world-renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle, my son Finn Kennedy, 18, and his uncle Max impulsively dove from a speeding motorboat into a pod of wild bottle nose dolphins carousing in the bow wave.
Three Mammals: Finn Kennedy while swimming with two wild bottle nose dolphins near Buck Island.Bryce Groark, TrueBlueFilms
The dolphins turned and came back to play with them. They spent more than an hour circling and touching Finn as he free dove near Buck Island Reef National Monument in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Skerry and Earl said that, during their decades of studying, photographing and swimming with marine mammals, neither of them had ever observed the kind of intimate, playful and curious behaviors by dolphins that they witnessed that day as the animals interacted with Finn.
Finn's great uncle John F. Kennedy designated Buck Island as the world's first marine park in 1961. JFK ordered a mural of Buck Island painted on the wall of the White House indoor pool where he exercised each day.
"I felt so lucky for that experience," Finn said. "There were six to eight of them. They would follow me down to about 35 feet and brush up against me repeatedly, then accompany me back to the surface swimming tight circles around me till we all breached together.
"They would stop in the water column 10 feet below the surface, stand on their tails to look me directly in the eye, face-to-face. They would imitate whatever posture I adopted under water. If I lay on my side or my back with my head and feet up they would do the same thing, elevating their tail flukes then dropping their tail or pectoral fins as I lowered my feet or hands.
"They were clearly communicating. They were using sign language but it was full of enthusiasm, humor and affection. It was like they were reaching out to distant cousins from across the millennium."