* Transcriptions provided by Climate One at the Commonwealth Club are provided as convenience and reference only. Please listen to the audio before quoting from the transcript to check for accuracy.
Greg Dalton: Thank you for coming. So a lot of the preference for coal goes back to the 1970s when American policies sort of gave deliberate preference to U.S. source of energy. A lot of presidents have promised energy independence, they haven't delivered it yet. What do you think America should do for a comprehensive national energy policy?
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Well you know, for 27 years -- I have been an environmental advocate for 27 years. And for 27 years, I've had the same answer to that question, which is free market capitalism. People say to me, "What's the most important environmental law that we could pass?" I've always said the same thing, it's free market capitalism. Because true free market promotes efficiency, and efficiency means the elimination of waste. And pollution is waste. And a true free market would encourage us to properly value our natural resources, and it is the undervaluation of those resources that causes us to use them wastefully. But in a true free market, you can make yourself rich without making your neighbors rich and without enriching your community. But what polluters do is they make themselves rich by making everybody else poor. They raise standards of living for themselves by lowering quality of life for everybody else, and they do that by escaping the discipline of the free market. You show me a polluter, I'll show you a subsidy. I'll show you a fat cat using political clout to escape the discipline of the free market and force the public to pay as production cost.
And coal claims to be cheap, but actually it's probably the most catastrophically expensive way to boil a pot of water that has ever been devised. If you, you know, I spend a lot of time in West Virginia over the past two and a half decades. I had a six-and-a-half week jury trial in West Virginia about a year and a half ago, and I won the biggest judgment in the history of the state. I was back in the state about three months ago arguing the appeal of that judgment before the West Virginia Supreme Court. And as I was leaving the state, I was driving in a highway that felt like I was driving on a cushion, it was so soft, it was almost like a skateboard park. And that's very unusual in West Virginia because West Virginia is the 49th poorest state. My father used to say, you know "Coal claims to be bringing prosperity to the state, but it's got -- they state with the richest resources in our country, but it has the 49th poorest people." And coal has brought poverty and destruction and disability and dysfunction to the state -- not prosperity. But good roads are hard to find in West Virginia and I asked the driver, "Why does it feel like we're driving on a cushion?' He said "Because there's 22 inches of asphalt on this road." And the reason -- I knew there -- Massachusetts turnpike has four to six inches, the New York state threw 6 to 8 inches.
Every inch of asphalt cost the taxpayer millions of dollars and yet -- and I knew the reason they had 22 inches of asphalt, because the coal trucks weight 90,000 pounds and it'll pulverize less robust roads. So, when coal says that -- the coal industry is not paying for that 22 inches of asphalt. And that road has to be repaired every four years, whereas regular highway has to be repaired every 20 years. And it's not the coal industry that's paying that bill, it's you and I, the taxpayer. So coal says it's cheap, they say we're only 11 cents a kilowatt hour, but they're not telling you you're also paying for those 3,000 miles of coals roads in West Virginia that's coming out of a different pocket. Last year, the National Academy of Sciences said that a 10-year study they completed that showed that every single freshwater fish in America now has dangerous levels of mercury in its flesh. Mercury is coming from coal-burning power plants.
One out of every six American women now have so much mercury in her womb from eating those fish and from other vectors that her children are at a grim risk for a grim inventory of diseases -- autism, blindness, mental retardation, heart, liver and kidney disease. I have so much mercury in my body I got my levels tested recently. I fish a lot, I eat the fish, my levels are 10 times what EPA considers safe. And I was told by Dr. David Carpenter, the national authority on mercury contamination, that a woman with my levels of mercury in her blood would have children with cognitive impairment, with permanent brain injury. Well today according to CDC, there are 647,000 children born in this country every year who have been exposed to dangerous levels of mercury in their mother's wombs. That's a cost on our country that they don't tell you about when they say "Oh, it's only 11 cents a kilowatt hour."
Last week Harvard published a study, a peer reviewed study by Paul Epstein that showed the cost of coal -- the cost of health impacts to our national health system just from ozone and particulates is $375 billion a year, and that's part of the cost of burning coal. Ten million asthma attacks a year, a million lost work days. I live two hours south of the Adirondack Mountains, this is the oldest protected wilderness in the face of the earth. Generations of Americans had the rightful expectation that they would be able to enjoy those landscapes unspoiled. But today, 1/5 of the lake in the Adirondacks is sterilized, dead from acid rain which has also destroyed the forest cover on the high peaks of the Appalachians from Georgia to Northern Quebec. I'm going to a movie screening that starts at 7:30 tonight down the road, so I don't want to say -- and many people who are here are going to that, I'm not going to repeat anything that I say here. And those of you who will see the movie will see what's happened which is that this industry has, over the past ten years, they've cut down the 500 biggest mountains in West Virginia, they flattened an area of Appalachian larger than the state of Delaware.
If you fill 25 feet of Hudson River stream, we would put you in jail. If you blew up a mountain in the Sierras up here or in Utah or Colorado with the Berkshires or in Appalachia, you would go to jail or you'd be put some place for the criminally insane. But in Appalachia, they're able to cut down 500 mountains and its all illegal and they've even been able to bury not 25 feet of streams but 2,500 miles of rivers and streams. And they do it by subverting democracy. This is -- and by hiding what they're doing from the public because what they're doing is illegal. You saw me ask Bill Raney who's head of the coal association, and I asked the same thing in a debate last year with the CEO of Massey Coal. I said to him "You've had, by your own record, 67,000 violations in five years and 10,000 violations of other mining and safety laws. Can you make a profit in your industry without breaking a law?" And he said no. He acknowledges he does operate a criminal enterprise. His business plan is to break the law and then to disable, to subvert democracies of that, the law is not enforced against them.
And that destruction of democracy is another cost of coal that they don't tell you about when they say it's only 11 cents a kilowatt hour. We give to the oil industry $1.3 trillion in subsidies every year. If you don't believe that figure, look at Terry Tamminen's new book, "Lives Per Gallon," which Terry Tamminen just stepped down as head of California EPA. And he is meticulously and scrupulously inventoried the vast raft of subsidies that we give to oil every year. This is the richest industry in the history of the world. We borrow $1 billion a day in our country. People talk about, you know, the trade and balance with China. Well, that's nothing compared to the trade and balance with the oil countries. We borrow a billion dollars a day mainly from nations that don't share our values in order to import a billion dollars of oil a day. Again, largely from nations that don't share our values. And this hemorrhage of $750 billion annually of American wealth has beggared our nation that when I was a little boy, owned half of the wealth on the face of the planet. Our deadly addiction to carbon is the principal drag on American capitalism.
Now in last year in November, where David Putnam gave a speech before Parliament, when Parliament was debating a cap and trade system that's very similar but actually much tougher than the one that we passed in Congress and then it was defeated in the Senate and was the mainstay of President Obama's national energy policy. And to which credit Parliament ultimately passed that bill. But they're -- in our country, half of the people don't believe that global warming exists because of, and I was talking to somebody a few minutes ago. They said, "Why is that?" Well, it's because the propaganda works and Exxon and Koch brothers have spent $200 million, you know, erecting phony think-tanks and filling them with these phony scientists we call "biostitutes" and, you know, employing these sleek PR firms to persuade the American public that global warming doesn't exists and propaganda works. Joseph Goebbels used to say, "Talk about the big lie. If you tell it again and again and again, ultimately people will believe it," and that's what's happening.
But in Great Britain, they haven't experienced that. People generally accept the science. They understand that it's a grim reality that government has to take a strong hand in enforcing, and ultimately Parliament passed the bill. But there's still vested interest in other people in England who said that who, you know, "We have to move incrementally. We have to move slowly because if we move precipitously, it's going to cause great dislocations in the marketplace and our economy. That's going to impede our ability to address this and other issues and it's going to be bad for our country." And what Putnam reminded the Parliament that exactly 200 years before, the same body had debated the abolition of the slave trade. And at that time, everybody in England believed that slavery was an abomination, a moral catastrophe that had to be abolished but people say, "How do we do it? Because slavery represented 25% of the GNP of Great Britain. It was the principal source of energy for the entire British empire and they say, "If we abolish it, the economy is gonna crater."
But after a year of debate, Parliament made the moral choice and abolished slavery literally overnight. And instead of collapsing, the British economy exploded as thousands of entrepreneurs rushed into that space to create new forms of energy mainly mechanical ones and an era that we know now as the Industrial Revolution, which was the greatest epic in wealth creation in the history of mankind. And the abolition of the slave trade had exposed all of these hidden inefficiencies that were associated with free human bondage.
Well today, we don't need to abolish carbon in this country in order to understand that our deadly addiction to it is the principal enemy to America's prosperity, to our leadership, to our national security, to the values that makes us proud to be part of this country, to the historic role that my family always believed in of America as an exemplary nation. We do know this, that every nation that has decarbonized its society has experienced instantaneous wealth.
Iceland in 1970 was the poorest country in Europe. It was 100% dependent on imported coal and oil. The government of Iceland, mainly because they were frightened of global warming which impacts the northern latitudes disproportionably, decided to decarbonize their society. But again, you had vested interest in others who try to hold back and impede that process, but the government moved very deliberately and during that period, Iceland became 100% energy-independent -- 95% of Iceland's electric grid now comes from local geothermal, and Iceland went from during that 15-year period from being the poorest country in Europe to being the fourth richest country by GDP on earth.
Now, unfortunately for Iceland, they spent virtually all of their newfound wealth on bundled derivatives, and they are again the poorest country in Europe. But their economy is rebounding and will rebound because the fundamentals now are strong. Iceland is one of the world's great energy exporters. They can't run lines across the Atlantic. It's too far. They will be able to incidentally very soon because Great Britain is building big -- this grid on the Gordon Brown's plan. These giant wind farms in the North Atlantic and they are close enough to Iceland that they're going to be able to attach a DC grid line and then sell their energy directly Europe and they're going to be very, very wealthy. But right now, Iceland imports bauxite from Jamaica, uses the big surplus of geothermal to smelt the bauxite into aluminum that sells the ingots on the world market and that's their way of exporting energy.
Sweden in 1996 decided to decarbonize their society and shut down their nuclear power plants. They closed their two biggest nuke plants, slapped a $150 a ton tax on carbon and Sweden's economy since 1996 has grown by 45% while its energy use has dropped by 9%.
Brazil, 20 years ago decarbonized transportation grid and as a direct result of that choice, Brazil -- while the entire world economy spiraled and collapsed, Brazil continues to enjoy the longest, most robust economic expansion in the history of Latin America. I was talking to some friends and I -- about the fact that Brazil this year will displace France as the fifth richest country on earth.
Costa Rica at the same time decarbonized their electric grid and as a result of that choice -- and Costa Rica made some other great choices too like not having an army. And as a result of that, Costa Rica which is the smallest country in Central America is by far the wealthiest. Its economy is larger than most of its neighbors combined. You can go on and on with those examples but we in our country have much greater geothermal resources than they have in Iceland.
My home in Mount Kisco, New York is powered by geothermal. Virtually every home outside of the major cities in our country could be. Well, almost nobody uses geothermal because of the illusion that geothermal is more expensive than the incumbents. It isn't. If you added the subsidies, it's far less expensive. But the market that the subsidies have distorted the market and sent the wrong signals to purchasers and consumers so a very few people use geothermal which is far cheaper than oil and coal and, you know, it doesn't get us at wars in the Mid East and doesn't impulse all these other costs in our society.
We're the number in the world for wind, the Great Plains state, the Saudi Arabia of wind. We have enough wind like North Dakota is the windiest place on earth at sea level. We have enough wind that according to a recent report by the Scientific American in Montana, North Dakota and Texas to provide 100% of the energy grid for the U.S. and Canada three times over even if every American owns an electric car. We're number one or two in the world for solar. The Scientific American report showed that we could power the entire existing U.S. energy grid from an area of the desert southwest that's 75 miles by 75 miles, about 19% of the most barren desert land.
We have -- I've been privileged to be an advisor to the current administration, the Obama administration on energy policy. All of the leaders at the administration -- Steven Chu, Ken Salazar, Lisa Jackson and the others want to transition us to a new energy economy. The barriers of these -- and this is the answer to your -- the long answer to your short question. (Laughter) Number one, an unfair advantage that the incumbents have because of the subsidies that are flowing to them, so we're not playing on a level playing field. Obama tried to correct that first by abolishing the subsidies that direct subsidies like the oil depletion allowance which is $35-55 billion a year and the waiver of royalties in the oil industry. And to address the indirect subsidies through the carbon tax and, you know, to the cap and trade system and that failed. But even with the subsidies, because of innovation, the cascading innovation that we're seeing in solar and wind, those renewables are now approaching parity with the incumbents even with a huge advantage, unfair advantage they have on the marketplace.
Number two -- this is the most important. We don't have an energy grid in this country that can carry these new currents of energy. Our energy grid is antiquated. It was under-built, it is already overpowered, and it's misaligned. It doesn't reach the big wind centers in the Midwest, the solar centers in the desert southwest, and it's small. It is dumb. It's a dumb grid and it does not -- it's incapable of doing long whole transmission of energy. Virtually every farmer in the state of North Dakota wants to put wind turbines on their property, and you have huge mountains of private capital. I'm on the board of the biggest green tech venture capital firm in the country which is located right here in San Francisco, Vantage Point, and by far the most profitable here. And in fact, they are among the top performing venture capital firms in any discipline, in any spate. So they want to go into North Dakota and build wind farms. And big players like Siemens and Vestas and General Electric and Warren Buffet and T. Boone Pickens all want to go there. There's huge piles of cash surrounding the state of North Dakota, waiting to flow in and build turbines on every property. Every farm in North Dakota wants to build a turbine. Why? Because a North Dakota wind farm -- I mean, North Dakota cornfield is worth $800. If it's got a wind turbine on it, it's worth 3,000. We have the ability now to, with wind, to create prosperity in declining world economies, to create jobs and to enrich farmers and to allow them to hold on to their farms, which is a really critical part of democracy.
The problem is the North Dakota wind farmer cannot get his product to market -- the electrons to market because the electrons will diffuse in our current lines before they cross the North Dakota border. So they can't reach Cincinnati or Cleveland, Columbus, Saint Louis, New Orleans or New York. And we need to build a grid system in our country and the Obama administration is now doing this piece by piece, a unified national grid that will connect these, you know, the renewable power generation centers to the markets in our country, the same way that Eisenhower built the national highway systems back in the 60s. We need to do that with the grid and we need to build the smart grid. Yesterday, the headlines in many papers across the country were that Obama is going to make this one of his primary objectives between now and the election -- to start implementing the smart grid in our country and that's very, very encouraging.
Now, and the third issued impediment that they face is that we have an arcane, we have a balkanized system where we have 50 public utility commissions in the 50 states. Now, 120 controlled districts each with their own arcane and byzantine set of rules that restrict access to the grid. What we need -- what the Obama administration understands is a unified national grid that acts as a marketplace where everybody, people like me -- you know, I produce far more energy than I use in my home. I ought to be able to sell that surplus under the grid and make market rates for it.
Today, there's very few place where you can do that. Every American ought to be able to do that. We need to create a national market where everybody can participate, one that democratize our energy system in this country rather than one that creates all the guard keys and, you know, the economic system -- the political system reflects the economic system. And if you have an energy sector that's controlled by a couple of people, you ultimately are going to have a politics that is controlled by a couple of large corporations, which is not good for our country. We need to create a marketplace that does what a market is supposed to do, which is to reward efficiency -- to reward good behavior, which is efficiency, and to punish bad behavior, which is inefficiency and waste.
Right now, we have a marketplace that is governed by rules that were written by the incumbents -- coal, oil and nuke -- to reward the dirtiest, filthiest, most poisonous, most destructive, most addictive fuels from hell rather than the cheap, clean, green, wholesome, safe and patriotic fuels from heaven. And we need to change that dynamic around.
Greg Dalton: So what are some -- our guest today at Climate One at the Commonwealth Club is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. I'm Greg Dalton. What are some specific policies that should be implemented that would level that playing field between incumbents and clean technology?
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: Well, you know, it's really about like I said, about creating a market. And when you create that unified market, national market, you turn every American into an energy entrepreneur, every home into a power plant like mine and we can power our country then and based upon American resourcefulness and entrepreneurship and what Franklin Roosevelt is called American industrial genius rather than Saudi Arabia and oil.
But we've done this before. We built -- you know, all the great infrastructure in our country was built by government. That's the role of -- one of the primary roles of government. The canal system, the road system, the highway system, the railroad system, the airline system, the airports were all built by the federal government and then private entrepreneurs come and create wealth. But the infrastructure has to be built by government. You know, in 1979, we built an Arpanet grid in this country, which was a grid for the internet. It connected every American homes so everybody can participate in the internet. A year later -- and I actually watched a documentary last night on TV about this. It was very interesting -- about the growth of the Arpanet. But a year later in 1980, the CEO of IBM said that PCs, personal computers, were a dead-end technology, okay? And a lot of other computer companies made that bet like Dell and MCR and Honeywell and they're out of the computer business because they're just bet wrong. Because they didn't see what the market was going to do to revolutionize computer technology and put it -- and democratize it, put it in the hands of everybody.
Well today, everybody -- because we built that marketplace, everybody has a PC. And what happened to the cost of information? It plummeted to almost zero. In fact, I would say zero. One of the companies -- you know, the vantage point it has is a company called ChaCha. Has anybody heard of it? Raise your hand if you've heard of it.
So it's the young people.
Greg Dalton: Yeah.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: So anyway, ChaCha is a company that you dial on your cell phone. ChaCha, C-H-A-C-H-A. It's 247247. And you can ask any question that you want. And usually within a minute, they'll answer that question. It's free -- and it's free. They make their money by putting little advertisements while you wait, but it's free information forever.
I was in China the other day and I was showing this to some Chinese friends of mine. And I said, "Ask me any question." And they said, "Okay. What was Mao Tse-Tung's favorite lunchtime meal?" So I put it in there and it comes back in 30 seconds -- spicy brown bean soup over fried rice. You can ask anything. "When is he going to stop talking?" When, you know -- (Laughter) you know, what's the meaning of life? Anything you want, it will try to answer. So this is free information forever and it happened because we built that grid. The same thing is going to happen with electrons as soon as we build a national grid for electricity.
In 1996, we built the national grid for telecommunications. Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act. He ordered all the baby bells to unify their lines and to lift all the restrictions. So anybody could get on the line and sell their product. The lowest cost provider prevails in the marketplace. This spawned a telecommunications revolution in our country and all these little gadgets that we have like iPhones and stuff are the offspring of that revolution. What happened to the cost of telecommunications? Well, it plummeted to virtually zero.
Two days ago I saw an advertisement, which in -- and these ads are ubiquitous on TV now -- from a company called Vonage. The promise is unlimited overseas, long distance and local calls for $14. That's practically free. About three months ago, I called Miami -- from Miami to London and the call for five minutes, the call cost me $74. That's the old way of doing things. The new way with the national grid is free telecommunications forever. The same thing is going to happen to electrons as soon as we build this national grid for electricity.
Greg Dalton: How is a broke federal government going to invest this much money to build the national grid?
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: Well, you know, the grid itself is not going to cost that much. The grid itself -- it will probably cost about $250 billion to build a smart grid that reaches most of America and that -- you know, that can do the things that we need to do like it can send signals through the line, allow the utilities to send the signal through the line, to turn off the hot water boilers in a million homes for 15 minutes in order to avoid the peak demand that is the most expensive part of our electrical system.
If you eliminated peak, you save enough natural gas in our country to power the entire U.S. passenger car fleet. So -- and we can do that just by using the grid smartly. A grid sends a signal to turn off all the electric toothbrush rechargers, you know, to turn off your swimming pool re-circulators and all these things. You don't care if somebody turns them off for 15 minutes. And you sign some -- it can go into your car and borrow the stored electricity in your car, in your battery, whether you plug it in a hybrid or plug in a car. And so we need to build a smart grid. That cost very little, about four months of the Iraq war, we have a whole national grid in this country. Then to build a generation for that grid will cost about -- I can tell you this. Let me give you an example that shows you how.
Right now, one of our portfolio companies is called BrightSource. And BrightSource is building the biggest power plant in America, which is in the Mojave Desert, and it's a solar thermal plant. This is not solar voltaic. It's the kind that your grandmother used to build to her roof. These are -- this is a mirror farm in the desert where they put a turbine on top of a tower, a giant scaffold, and they surround it by concentric rings of mirrors that are manipulated by computers to reflect sunlight on to that turbine.
And 20 minutes after the sun comes up in the morning, that turbine's at 750 degrees Fahrenheit, so it's very a efficient way of generating energy. We're building this plant in three years. It will cost 10 -- it takes 10 years to build a coal plant. We can build this in three years. It costs $3 billion a giga-watt to construct. That's the same price it costs to build a coal plant. It's one-fifth the price it cost to build a nuke plant. So -- and once you build our plant, it's free energy forever. Because the photons are heating the earth for free everyday, all we have to do is construct the infrastructure to pick them up and put them in the line.
Once you build that coal plant, now you got to go to the Appalachians, cut down the mountains, ship them across the country on rail yards, warp every rail in this country so we cannot have high-speed rail, burn the coal, poison every fish, kill 60,000 people a year, plus 10 million asthma attacks, you know, acidify the lakes and all the other costs. Once you build an oil plant for the same three billion -- and remember, ours is then free. Once you build that oil plant, now you got to go to Saudi Arabia, punch holes in the ground, bring up the oil, refine it expensively, genuflect to the sheiks who despise democracy and are hated by their own people, get in periodic wars that cost us $3 trillion, escorted it across the Atlantic with a military escort that Exxon doesn't pay for, you and I do. Then you spill it all over the Gulf, spill it all over Valdes, burn the oil and poison everybody in our country. And so the big cost occur (Applause) after you build the plant. Once you build our plant, it's free energy forever.
Okay, let me just finish that.
Greg Dalton: John Ballard the CEO of --
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: Let me finish it.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: "He drives-- he's talking too much."
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: Let me just finish then. To answer your question, do the math. Here's the math. We use 1,000 giga-watts in peak demand in our country. Five hundred of those -- so that's we got to replace. Five hundred of those are carbon-based. So that's why we really have to replace to have free energy. The others are nuke and hydro, et cetera that are essentially free operation at this point. So 500 at two percent growth over the 50-year life of a power plant, you have to double that. But you can cut it back in half by conservation, by building codes and you know, and appliances, what we call negawatts, which are the cheapest form of energy.
So conservatively, we have a trillion -- we have a thousand giga-watts to replace. At $3 billion a giga-watt, which is what wind and solar cost, that is about $3 trillion, which is less than the cost of the Iraq war. So for less than the cost of the Iraq war, we can have free energy forever in this country. And then what happens? That's the biggest tax break that has ever occurred and it's permanent because the biggest cost of the businesses and individuals in this country is our energy cost. And if you can eliminate those, which we can, then you suddenly have an advantage over the rest of the world in everything you produce, plus all the technological advantages that we got from incentivizing entrepreneurship and imagination and invention in order to construct and build this grid.
And, you know, I'll just say this one -- this, you know, final point, which is this. In 1929, in October, just before the stock market crashed, the Dow Jones industrial average was at 385. In 1942, the Dow Jones was at 85. So the big stimulus package that FDR passed that we now call the New Deal had thousands of Americans -- millions of Americans alive, millions of farmers on their farms, millions of Americans in their home, thousands of banks from folding, but it was not robust enough to restore the market economy.
Then in 1940, President Roosevelt gave a famous speech, one of the most important speeches in our history to our country. He went on the radio and he said, "World War II is on the horizon." Remember, Pearl Harbor was still a year away. We were doing lend-lease program with England. And he said, "We're going to build 50,000 aircraft a year." His aides later admitted that he had torn that number out of thin air before he sat down five minutes before. The year before, we had built 2,800 aircraft in our country. He said, "We're going to build 50,000." He said, "We're going to build 25,000 tanks. We're going to build a ship a day, a battleship a month, an aircraft carrier every three months. We're going to do it every month until the war is over and won." People laughed at him. He was ridiculed by editorialists on the left and the right. They said, "No industrial mobilization has occurred of this magnitude in history. He's bitten off more than he can chew."
But Roosevelt went immediately out to Detroit and he told the automakers, "You're not building automobiles any more. You're building aircraft and you're building tanks and half-tracks and amphibious vehicles and bombs and detonators." Within six weeks, they had retooled their plants. Within six months, they were -- they had met his production goals. Within 12 months, they had surpassed them. The following year, we built 96,000 aircrafts in this country. We had full employment. One hundred sixty thousand women went to Detroit and found jobs where they've been blackballed before with Rosie the Riveter. Two hundred thousand blacks went to Detroit and found jobs where they've been blackballed before. We had full employment. Everybody had cash in their pocket and they began investing at the marketplace again. And the market recovered, gave us the middle class, which gave us stability and prosperity for the next 50 years and made our country the envy of the world.
And today, we have a huge advantage over Roosevelt because Roosevelt was building stranded assets, planes and tanks and bombs that were being sent over to be blown up but had had no lasting benefit to the American people. Today, we have the capacity to build infrastructure, pylons that stretch across the country with wires down the existing right of way and railroads to bring North Dakota wind to the markets in New York, et cetera, with DC lines that don't lose the electrons, to employ a thousand Americans erecting wind turbines on every farm in the Midwest and millions more to build photovoltaics to every south-facing roof in America that wants them, a millions more to blow in cellulose insulation to every home in America that wants those. And at the end of that, we have an infrastructure that will give us free energy forever. And then you have the entrepreneurs and the businesses take over and take advantage of this huge advantage that we now have and that what gives us prosperity and job.
We already have in this country -- you know, we crossed a critical milestone this year. We built in this country more wind and solar last year than we did to all the generation capacity, than all the incumbents combined. And that is a critical milestone in the adaptation of disruptive technologies, the year that you build more of one than the others. They say, flat-screen TVs 10 years ago, everybody said, "It will never happen. It cost $10,000 a piece." Five years ago, for the first time, we sold more flat screen TVs than we did vacuum tube. This year, the last vacuum tube manufacturer closed down, right?
That's how fast it can happen. Once you hit that tipping point, which is the year you produced more -- the one form of the energy, nobody notices because the other one is so dominant in the marketplace. Nobody notices it, but that is the milestone that you look for when the disruption, the displacement is about to take place. And we've done that in our country and we have -- you know, this is going to happen not because the government tells it, but because the market is going to drive it there because we can produce cars that go -- you know, that get six cents -- that cost six cents a mile over the life of the car to drive electric cars versus internal combustion engine that costs 60 cents. How long can they maintain that? It's just not going to happen. And we can produce energy for free. And so they -- you know, oil and coal and all these incumbents have a huge advantage now because they own Congress and they own the Senate, but the market, ultimately, is going to drive us there and it's going to drive us there fast. We're at the tipping point now and you're about to watch the cascade.
Greg Dalton: We're about to go to audience questions also and see if you can ask a question. The point here -- we're going to put the microphone up here and I'll just ask one question and then I'll ask you again on this side to come around. You mentioned presidential leadership and you're an advisor to the Obama administration. The Los Angeles Times recently wrote an editorial saying that President Obama has been a bit of a disappointment on environment issues. He didn't deliver a climate bill. He has done some things on -- invest in light and high-speed rail and increased auto efficiency standards. How would you assess how well the Obama administration has done on energy?
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: I would say that if the Obama administration did what it wanted to do, what President Obama wanted to do, that we would have done all the things that I just talked about. The problem is that President -- that our democracy is broken. The press is broken in this country. We have 30 percent of Americans now getting their information from talk radio, which is 95 percent controlled by the right. We have 22 percent getting their news from Fox News and we have an oil, we have our campaign finance system, which is just a system of legalized bribery that's just been opened by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Citizens United case, which is the most disastrous opinion.
You know, H.L. Mencken said that a journalist is somebody who can't distinguish between a bicycle accident and the end of civilization. Well, (Laughter) the Citizens United case is the end of civilization, the end of democracy. We have a hundred-year-old law that said corporations cannot contribute to federal political candidates or officeholders. The Supreme Court just wiped that out and we have a tsunami of corporate wealth that is now flooding into the political process and is going to dictate the direction of this country rather than the republic and the democracy, and that is a catastrophe for our country and Obama has ran up against that wall, you know, we passed it for -- through Congress but you have a Senate that essentially are a group of corporate toadies for coal and oil. They're the carbon cronies, and that's, you know, they're representing their interest rather than the interest of the American people and, you know, Obama is not fair to, you know, to say Obama has failed when, you know, same thing with his healthcare; he's running up against pharmaceutical industry and the pharmaceutical industry has under its control all of the news organizations.
Seventy percent of the -- of advertising on network news now comes from pharmaceutical companies. Do you think that they're actually going to control -- that they're going to support something on that that damages their interest? The rest of the advertising is coming from the automobile industries and the oil industry. The reason that the America failed was not that because they didn't have listeners -- they have more listeners -- they were beating Shawn Hannity and Rush Limbaugh on every market -- they were the number one radio station in Republican, in San Diego for example. Those were Republican towns. And so it wasn't the listener, it wasn't the hunger for progressive talk, it was that they could not get advertising.
They're advertising, you know, hair products and penis enlargement and, you know, and these gold scam companies, you know, because they couldn't get national advertisers because they were boycotted by the pharmaceutical industry, the oil industry, the coal industry and the other -- well you know, oil, coal, all of them, the major national advertisers. And I -- and you know, we've -- and that happened because the abolition of the Fairness Act Doctrine by Ronald Reagan in 1988 where, you know, the media no longer has the obligation to serve the public interest. They're now serving the shareholders' interest and they do that not by telling us the issues that we need to understand to make rational decisions in the democracy but rather by entertaining us.
So we're today, you know, by appealing to the prurient interests that all of us happen -- the reptilian part of our brains for sex and celebrity gossip. So we know a lot about Charlie Sheen and we know a lot about Britney Spears' gradual, you know, emotional decline, but we know very little about what's happening in Appalachia or about, you know, about global warming or the things we need to know. We're the best entertained and least informed people on the face of the earth and we cannot keep our international leadership or our democracy if we don't have an informed public that is capable of recognizing all the milestones of tyranny and telling the truth from fiction.
You know in Canada, they don't allow lying on television. It's illegal on the television news to lie. That's why Fox News is not in Canada, (Laughter) and that's why (Applause), that's why the Canadians didn't follow us into Iraq and to what, you know, 800-year old fistfight in Mesopotamia where Dick Cheney was saying, "Oh yeah, they're going to meet us with flowers on the streets." The Canadians were saying, "Are you crazy?" Because they weren't listening to Fox News, and you know, and the devolution of the American media and the -- and the lack of campaign finance, those are two legs of the Three-Legged Stool of democracy that have folded in our country.
And you know, anybody who looks at American democracy can say we are in worst trouble now than we've ever been since the Gilded Age, when this country was owned by corporations and we have to understand this that when business is controlled by government, it's called communism. When government is controlled by business, it's called fascism. And our job is to walk that narrow trail in between, keep big government at bay with our left hand, big business at bay with our right, and walk that narrow trail which is free market capitalism and democracy. And in order to do that, we need a working press that is sophisticated, that is aggressive, and it's determined to tell us the truth about issues and we need an informed public that can recognize the milestones of tyranny -- and we don't have that anymore in the United States of America.
Greg Dalton: Our guest today at Climate One at the Commonwealth Club is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Let's have an audience question please.
Female Audience 1: Hi. The taxpayers fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency for responding to multiple flooding disasters from mountain topping in West Virginia each year. So I'm wondering why Massey or other coal polluters don't reimburse FEMA for those costs and if we went from coal to solar or wind farms, a lot of my environmentalist friends say, "Migratory birds, desert tortoises and others would be at peril." So could you please respond?
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Well, there's two questions there, why doesn't Massey pay the cost that is imposing on the American public and you know, the cost you talked, the FEMA cost, the emergency management cost, the flooding et cetera is one example but there are many, many other examples of that which is the mercury in our drinking water, the, you know, the healthy American people, the deaths which are proven, you know, between 47 and 60,000 people a year, the asthma attack, all of these to the cause of coal. But they have not been required to pay because again, we don't have true free market capitalism in this country. We have to understand the difference between free market capitalism which makes a nation more efficient, more prosperous and democratic. And what we have today which is -- which we've embraced today, corporate crony capitalism which is as antithetical to democracy, prosperity and efficiency in America as it is in Nigeria. So you know, as long as these companies aren't paying the true cost of bringing their product to market, you're going to get these distortions in the marketplace.
Your second question was --
Greg Dalton: Will the impact on birds of wind-powered --
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Well, every -- any way that you produce energy is going to cause environmental impacts and, you know, they -- you're dealing with the commons here. You're dealing with public trust assets, so what we have to do is have an intelligent debate about where the impacts are smallest, you know, and if it's a difference between cutting down the Appalachian mountains, or killing a few desert tortoise, or, you know, or maybe the injured bats. We have to look at that and say, "Is there a way you can mitigate those cost by moving and by, you know, in every case?"
We want to mitigate the cost as much as possible but to understand there will be a cost, what is the least cost option and if we -- if we actually incorporate those costs into our economic system, then the free market will answer those questions for us and we'll say, "What's the cheapest form of energy?" If you make the energy producers mitigate the cost of bringing their product to market. And that's what the environmental laws were designed to do. The 28 laws we passed after 1970 were all designed to restore free market capitalism in this country by forcing actors in the marketplace to pay the true cost of bringing their product to market. And today, those laws have been undermined and we don't have anything that even looks like free market capitalism in this country and what we've been trying to do is restore the -- I run the (inaudible) keepers and we supple it as we go out into the marketplace, we don't even consider ourselves as environmentalists, we're free marketers. We go out into the marketplace and find the cheaters, the polluters, and we'd say to them, "We're going to force you to internalize your cost the same way that you're internalizing your profits." Because as long as somebody is getting subsidies that destroys the whole marketplace and none of us gets the advantages of the efficiency, the prosperity and the democracy that true free market capitalism actually delivers towards society.
Greg Dalton: Let's go to the next audience question please.
Male Audience 1: Thank you. One of the most interesting ideas you've presented is the idea of how democracy has failed to develop proper markets and as a teacher, I'm wondering what -- how -- what lessons would you want younger kids, when they're looking at this problems to understand about the way democracies and markets in Iraq, that's one question you can pick that one on, or we can take a group of seventh graders to Central Valley next year for our road trip. Are there local issues that they should approach and how should they approach them as young students who -- because it is a very toxic political world especially in the news, it's hard to get good information and to judge what should they be doing as young, you know --
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Well, I think the -- well I've been a teacher for 27 years and I think the most important lesson that we can teach our children is critical thinking. It's you know, I show them an advertisement on television and asked them, where is the lie? You know, where is the propaganda? How is this corporation trying to control your, you know, what -- the television is a box that everybody puts it at their home that is used -- that is a tool for corporations to sell you stuff. Alright, and so what are they doing? What are they doing? You know, I have nothing against corporations. Corporations are a great thing. They are, you know, and -- but they should not be running our government, because corporations don't want the same thing for Americans the Americans want. Corporations don't want democracy, they don't want free markets, they want profits. And the best way for them to get profits is to, you know, get their hooks into public --campaign finances and to get their hooks into a public official, then use that public official to dismantle the marketplace to give them monopoly to control and/or a competitive edge and then to allow them to privatize the commons -- the air, the water, the wildlife and fisheries and public lands, the things that belong to all of us, and to allow them to privatize it by polluting them.
In New York State, the Constitution says that people stayed on the fisheries this day. Everybody has the right to use them. Nobody has the right to use in a way that will diminish or injure or use them in enjoyment by others. That's the law. It's ancient law. It goes back to Roman times. It was in the code of Justinian. It's in the Magna Carta. It's in the constitution of every state. But -- and I pay 30 bucks for a fishing license every year, but I don't own the fish anymore. They're owned by the General Electric Company and by the coal companies that have contaminated them with mercury and PCBs so we can't eat them any more. So they've -- they've themselves rich by privatizing the public trust, and kids need to understand that relationship and we have to understand this, that the free market is the most powerful economic engine that has ever been devised -- but it has to be harnessed to a social purpose. It has to -- we have to rationalize the free market so that it creates and enhances societies that are the kind of societies that we want to live in. And make America an exemplar -- a template for the rest of the world.
You know, we now have in every state, except for California, laws that had say that -- that say that the utility -- if you want to make money, you burn a lot of energy. So the more energy, the more coal you burned or the more energy you create, the richer you'll get. I have a friend called Jim Rogers who runs Duke Power which is the second biggest -- has a second biggest coal fleet in the country. He didn't want to build any coal. He knows that coal is destroying the planet, destroying civilization, destroying the values that make our country great. So he wants to stop, but his shareholders want him to get his customers to leave their lights on all night and to leave the refrigerator doors open. So, and it's unfair to put a smart, gifted CEO in the position where the only way he can make money is by doing bad things.
So here in California, we changed those rules. So the utilities here in the state do not make money by burning energy. They make money by conserving it and by switching to wind and solar renewable. We changed that law -- my group, we wrote that law in 1982 and it -- this is not radical, it's a, you know, the way the utilities used to make money before we had deregulation, was by capital expenditures. So the utility would say "We wanted to build a dam." They go to the Public Utility Commission and say "We want to build a dam. The dam is going to cost $100 million. We want to make 15% annual profit on that. Here's the demonstrated need. The PUC would stamp and approve and they go build a dam."
Today, the way that utilities in California make money is they go to the PUC and they say, "We want to tear the Edison electric light bulbs out of a million homes in our distribution grid. We want to go and replace them with LED bulbs that use 12% of the power. We want to go into every home and tear out the hot water boiler and tear out the appliances and replace them with appliances that use 20% of the power. It's going to cost us $100 million. The homeowner doesn't have to pay, we're going to pay. It will cost us $100 million but it will save more energy than we would create by building a dam or a power plant and at a fraction of the cost."
So the PUC then stamps and approve and they go out and do it. Because we changed that law, Californians now used half the energy everybody else in this country uses. A Californian use 6,000 kilowatt hours per year. The rest of us use up between 11 and 14,000. That means the Californians -- anything Californians make is cheaper than what everybody else makes. And it's one of the reasons you have the biggest economy in the state is because you use energy a lot more efficiently than anybody else. And it's not -- it doesn't change people's lifestyles, it doesn't change your aspirations for your children or -- yeah, it doesn't diminish your quality of life. It's simply incentivizes good behavior rather than incentivizing bad behavior and allows talented, smart people to make money by doing good things for their society and their country rather than forcing them to make money by doing bad things.
Greg Dalton: Let's see if we can get two more questions in here for Robert F. Kennedy Jr., our guest today at Climate One at the Commonwealth Club. Yes, please.
Female Audience 2: In your talk, you've grouped together a nuclear, coal and oil. What are the un-captured external cost of nuclear energy and what do you think would take, to make nuclear a clean and affordable source of energy?
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Well you know, I always say to the nuke people when they talk to me, I always say, "I'm off for nuke if they ever make it economical and if they ever make it safe." Right now, it's the least economical probably of any -- it competes with coal for probably being the least economical. They used to say when they were building these plants and I remember this, "It will be too cheap to meter. Okay. There's not a single utility on this country that will build a nuclear power plant today unless 100% of the construction cost are paid for by the federal taxpayer.
So why is that? And then at the end of the life cycle of the plant, we have to store their waste for 30,000 years which is five times the length of recorded human history. Okay, you know, what kind of subsidy is that? What kind of deficit expanding is that to dump on our children? So those are just two of the costs. The biggest -- you know, I also say safe, they say well, we are, you know, we're safe, we only have Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and Fukushima and, you know, other than that we're really safe. (Laughter)
The Russian National Academy of Science has just had a study to share which people should look at. And because the nuke industry for years is always said, well there was only 73 people killed at as a result of Chernobyl. This is a meta-review of all the scientific paper and case reviews of -- that have been done on Chernobyl and it shows that 968,000 have died in Russia and the surrounding countries as a direct result of Chernobyl. Almost a million died, okay -- but here is what I say to them, "Well, we're different than Chernobyl." I say, "If you're safe, then get an insurance policy." Just like every other industry in our country, if you're safe, get an insurance policy and then compete in the free market. You know, they can't get an insurance policy. The insurance industry wouldn't write them a policy because they're too risky to insure and if they had to write a policy, it would be so expensive, they couldn't even compete in the marketplace.
So it's not just a bunch of hippies and tight dyed T-shirts we're saying, "You're unsafe." If the guys from Wall Street, black ties and suits were saying, "You're too -- you're too risky for us to insure." And in a capitalist society, the insurance industry is the final arbiter of risk. You go home and look at your homeowner's policy. Every homeowner's policy in this country has a provision in it that says, "This policy does not insure you against radiation contamination caused by a nuclear power plant." So you are now insuring yourself against their mistakes. No other industry gets that gift. That is a huge subsidy.
So I would say the construction, the insurance, and the storage make this so expensive that it just -- there's no way that it could compete in any normal marketplace. It has to be the only way it can compete is by spending money, spending whatever profits they make to control the political process and to make probably get their politicians there, you know, their political toadies and indentured servants in congress to pass laws to force us to buy their power rather than economic green, clean, safe and patriotic power that we could produce for a tiny fraction of the cost.
Greg Dalton: Next audience question please.
Male Audience 2: Sir, would you please speak to those who argue that coal generation with carbon capture and sequestration is the only way to reduce carbon emissions fast enough to avert catastrophic climate change?
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Okay, well there's no such thing as clean coal. That's just a dirty lie. But let me tell you this, I -- I debated on Blankenship, who is the head of Massey Coal. Last year, I did a 90-minute debate with him on West Virginia television and the last thing that the moderator asked us is, "Is there anything on which the two of you can agree?" And I said, "Yeah, there's one thing -- carbon sequestration is a joke." And he said, "Absolutely, we agree on that." It doesn't work. It's a joke, you know, you can make it work with huge amount of taxpayer money in certain sites where you can do a sequestration, now -- this doesn't mean at some point in history that they may figure out another solution rather than geological sequestration but, you know, sequestration -- you know, the algae sequestration or something like that that removes carbon and does it economically. But you're still left with the other emissions which are mercury, ozone and particulates, acid rain, and then you are left with the extraction pollution which is poisoning the entire Eastern seaboard with mercury, lead, and ammonia, arsenic, selenium conductivity and a whole raft of other pollutants.
So there's just -- there's that, you know, from every aspect of coal, from its extraction to its transport, its deployment to burning it, it is just, it's filthy, dirty death, and why do we want to do it when we've got really good alternatives that can make us energy-independent and that can preserve the landscapes of Appalachia and what you know, the next, everybody says, the next century, the -- we're not going to have oil worries, we're going to have water worries. But where is the best water (inaudible) in this country? Appalachia. Why are we destroying that today? Why are we destroying it? So, and that is crazy.
Greg Dalton: One more question for Robert Kennedy Jr.
Female Audience 3: Yes, I'd like to ask you if you think it's possible not to repeat the pattern, the historical pattern of way new products are brought to market in the U.S. where they're just pushed out there and then they go ahead and then terrible things happen. I've mentioned that to address your point of efficiency, power control and a tendency toward fascism or totalitarianism. For example --
Greg Dalton: So thank you. So you -- Europeans have a sort of a principle where the product has to be -- companies who make it have to prove it safe rather than here, the burden proof is the other way around.
Female Audience: Well, excuse me, sorry but I wondered if there could be a change in the political process so that something like the ISRA amendment that is being thought and introduced where there would have to be a requirement of social responsibility by corporate heads who are now often generals, say Wesley Clark, promoting ethanol and generals running the pharmaceutical company, which is very fascistic to me, being held accountable for things that may occur with new technologies. It came to my attention that after World War II when we were --
Greg Dalton: Okay.
Female Audience 3: --doing the missiles program a (inaudible) cost to program -- computer program to shut down. So a bird dropping can cause a solar panel to not operate --
Greg Dalton: Thank you, thank you for your --
Female Audience 3: --what I'm trying to say --
Greg Dalton: -- we need to wrap up. Thank you very much.
Female Audience 3: --can we have a citizen's review before we go ahead? Thank you.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Well, I'm not really sure what the question is, (Laughter) and maybe you can rephrase it?
Greg Dalton: Well, what I interpreted as -- in the United States, companies are able to put a product on the market and it is -- the burden it's sort of assumed to be safe unless it's proven to be unsafe. In Europe, products have to be proved safe before it can go into the market.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Yeah I mean, clearly the burden of proof for, for example, pharmaceutical drugs or foods or pesticides, toxic chemicals, the current way of doing that which is very, is arcane and it's -- we don't have time to go into it.
Greg Dalton: Right, right.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: It is not a sensible way of doing things. They -- you got to have to prove safety first, but we also need strong liability laws and we've got a government now that is undermining those liability laws so that there are consequences if you put a product into the stream of commerce. You ought to be more responsible for the damage that it does and the social cost that imposes it on the public and that's what, you know, our traditional liability laws were meant to prevent and the common law does prevent that but you've got, you know, this sort of so called tort-reform movements in this country which are just large corporations that are trying to protect themselves against the consequences of their greed, recklessness and bad behavior and you know, all you need -- I believe in free markets and I believe that there should be, you know, that we should have this much freedom as possible in putting our products in the marketplace and as much incentives and entrepreneurship and that we should this less -- least regulation as possible.
But you need a certain amount of regulation to protect the commons, to protect public health and then the rest of it should be just sensibleness. If you put something out there that hurts people, we ought to be able to sue you for it and impose, you know, punitive damages if we could show that you did it recklessly or knowingly, and we have those laws but they're being dismantled now in this country because of the corporate control of our democracy. We have the most right-wing Supreme Court we've had in the American history. This is not right wing in terms of conservativism. There is no conservative -- coherent conservative philosophy that governs the Supreme Court. Scalia, Edwards, Roberts and Thomas, if you -- my partner a clerk to the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, he reads every decisions, he's one of the smartest attorneys I know and it's a very, very hard job to get unless you're really a smart -- he's a lot smarter than I am, but he goes through every decision. He said "There's only one coherent philosophy with these --" with those five justices, "and it's not a conservative philosophy." It's, the philosophy is this, and you can see in the last three days the three big decisions that came with this court are so absurdly transparent of this philosophy and that philosophy is that corporations always win. If there -- if the corporation is against an individual, the corporation wins. If the government is against an individual, the government wins. If it's corporations against the government, the corporation wins.
Tell me one single decision by those five justices that differs from that philosophy. That's not conservatism. That is corporate control of our democracy. Teddy Roosevelt said that the greatest threat to American democracy would never be an outside enemy but rather manufacturers of great wealth who would steal our democracy from within. Frank -- or Dwight Eisenhower, another Republican, warned Americans that the greatest threat is warning Americans against the domination by the military industrial complex which is now part of our culture and part of our daily lives. Another Republican, Abraham Lincoln, the greatest Republican in the history said during the height of World War II, "I have the --" I mean the height of the Civil War -- "I have the south in front of me, I have the bankers behind me, and for my country, I fear the bankers more." And Franklin Roosevelt said in World War II that the domination of government by corporate power is "The essence of fascism" and Benito Mussolini who had an insight strategy with the process said the same thing, he said, "Fascism shouldn't complain. Fascism should not be called fascism. It should be called corporatism, because it was a merger of state and corporate power," and you know, what we have to understand in our country is that the tea bagger saying that government is -- the big government is the big threat to our democracy, but unsheathe corporate power is even larger threat and we need to, you know -- what we need if we're going to save the environment, number one, is to get our democracy back. Thank you all very much for having me.
Greg Dalton: Our thanks to -- our thanks to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for his comments here today at Climate One at the Commonwealth Club. I'm Greg Dalton. Thank you all for coming.