His name precedes him. His message, many say, supersedes his name. "Nature is the way God communicates with people. We, as human beings, have a moral obligation to protect that sacred messenger." Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks in earnest, and with obvious passion. He's serious about protecting the environment, on the podium he's spiritual yet down-to-earth, and he loves the great outdoors. But is he worth the $10,000 to $15,000 price tag?
The son of the slain U.S. Attorney General, "Bobby Junior" is hailed for spearheading the fight to protect New York City's water supply. This courtroom victory led to the creation of the Watershed Agreement, a landmark piece of environmental legislation after which many others around the world have been modeled. A lawyer, Kennedy has taken aim at polluters, prosecuting governments and businesses for mucking up the Hudson River and Long Island Sound. He's gone so far as to sue sewage treatment plants to force compliance with the Clean Water Act, and he's argued cases to expand public access to the shoreline.
"Environmental protection is about creating a community that has the same opportunities for dignity that our parents gave to us." His words -- which seem to flow directly from his soul to his mouth -- tend to focus on the symbiotic relationship between the environment and the community, and often highlight how good environmental policy equals good economic policy. "We protect the environment because it enriches us economically." But more than that, says Kennedy, with a smile that's both sober and joyful, "We are enriched spiritually and culturally." Human beings have other appetites besides money, he adds, "and unless we feed those desires, we'll never grow up." Authoritative yet warm, he consistently reminds audiences that everyone has an obligation to preserve the environment for future generations.
He got the reputation early on as the "nature boy" of the family, spending much of his childhood chasing after his dogs, sometimes tending to homing pigeons, one time rescuing an abandoned sea lion. Today, Kennedy is a licensed master falconer ("I train hawks to hunt"), an avid kayaker and skier, and a regular pro with the white-water paddles. He sums himself up simply in five words: "I'm a professional environmental advocate." And he can't disguise how much that job means to him.
Seeming to thrive on the back-and-forth of question and answer sessions, he welcomes queries about his family. "I do get personal with the audience," says Kennedy, and he does. Though, perhaps surprising to some, the most popular question posed to him during talks is: "What can I do to help preserve the environment?" His response: "Join an environmental group." He says the big issues are happening on Capitol Hill, and people can really effect change by letting their local lawmakers know "they won't support them unless they do such-and-such to protect the environment." This, he says, is more important than recycling.
"You can go out and buy a fuel-efficient car that gets forty-five miles to the gallon, and it won't change a thing." What will make a difference, he notes, "is getting a law passed that says you can't even build an automobile unless it gets forty-five miles per gallon."
Apparently, his message isn't falling on deaf ears. "[Kennedy's] passion for environmental leadership was inspiring and will serve as a model in our continuing environmental efforts," says Marshall Gurwin, technical specialist with the Ford Motor Company, after a recent date with Kennedy. A favorite with the college crowd, Kennedy is adept at customizing his program to suit any audience. Says Brian Baker, associate director of the New Jersey Education Association: "His references to literature, anecdotes about nature and youth, and stories about his own teachers -- these are the things that spoke to our people."
Kennedy's message will speak loud and clear to your people, no matter who they are, and his words will more than fill the empty spot left in the pocketbook.