Robert F. Kennedy Jr @ MaRS

Listening to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a little like watching a talented chef in action.

His encyclopedic knowledge of his country’s myriad environmental ills, its rapacious corporate culture and legendary political pork-barreling, combined with his clear love of the American landscape itself, cooks up an inspiring feast for the cliche-weary listener. No wooden delivery here (in spite of a nagging vocal hoarseness for which he apologized).

Appearing at MaRS as one of the keynotes in a dynamite lineup for Advertising Week 2010, Kennedy unpacked a basket of ingredients that have long mired his homeland in the environmental soup. Not the least of which is the intricate web of direct and indirect US subsidies that prop up industry’s continuing addiction to cheap coal. Factor in the real costs of coal production – denuded landscapes, poisonous health effects and dwindling benefits for local economies – and your cheap fast-food just got a whole lot pricier.

It may be a familiar enviro-storyline but Kennedy’s speech was not a hand-wringing exercise.

Named one of Time.com’s “Heroes for the Planet” for his success in helping the Riverkeeper organization restore New York’s Hudson River, Kennedy’s cri de coeur has long been that good environmental policy is good economic policy.

From vast solar energy farms in the searing California desert to the “Saudi Arabia of Wind” – go, North Dakota! – the US and Canada unquestionably have the natural prowess to dominate the shift to green energy production. We also have the economic horsepower, he argues: the same capital cost to retool energy production from dirty coal to clean-landing solar photons or night-time wind power can handily generate enough free energy that will, in turn, drive an economic resurgence.

That’s certainly the thinking here in Ontario as well, where the new Green Energy and Green Economy Act lays the groundwork for what many believe will be the largest infrastructure renewal in history. (Watch marsdd.com in the weeks ahead for interviews with some of the key European and North American alternative energy players captured at last week’s (soldout) Green Energy Act Finance Forum.)

The time is clearly right for  investment in Ontario’s growing green economy. As Kennedy reminded us so passionately: Nature is the ultimate infrastructure project.

Linda Quattrin

Linda Quattrin was a newspaper reporter and editor before applying her interest in science as communications director at Robarts Research Institute. A member of the Canadian Science Writers Association, she was responsible for media relations and corporate communications at MaRS. See more…