Essay: Bottled Greenwash

Essay: Bottled Greenwash

By Anthony Henry Smith

Some may think Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. should recuse himself from NY Governor Cuomo’s 13-person committee on fracking simply because he is the governor’s ex brother-in-law, but how many are aware of an additional conflict? If fracking poisons any part of the state’s drinking water supply, public reaction will certainly result in increased profits for Kennedy’s not-for-profit bottled water company and for his associates in the for-profit bottled water industry who even now are importing water from places almost as remote from one another as they are from New York.

Kennedy’s idea of selling water and donating all profits after expenses to environmental causes is contradictory on the face of it. The manufacture and distribution of bottled water does more damage to the biotic and physical environment than the so-called profits could possibly mitigate.

Glaciers in Norway are melting due to global heating. Some of this melt water is shipped by tanker to North America where it is distributed widely as bottled water. On the other side of the planet, potable water from the South Pacific island nation of Fiji is shipped to 40 countries around the world, even though those who live and work there have suffered from water shortages.

The distribution area for exotic water includes New York, and fracking obviously would greatly increase bottled water sales in the state. Fracking in New York is all the more likely if Kennedy, who has recently and only half-heartedly spoken out against fracking nationally, continues to waffle on fracking in New York

When Kennedy was scheduled to appear for a radio interview on Susan Arbetter’s April 23rd“Capitol Pressroom” program on Northeast Public Radio, he was late, which automatically gave a lot of airtime over to an experienced communications professional who supported fracking by repeating the industry’s examples of magical thinking propaganda. He actually implied that New York somehow benefits because many parts of the US are forced into sacrificing their well being to increase profits in the energy industry. Now it was New York’s responsibility to do the same. He said we need to do a “gut check.” I did the moment he said it and can’t repeat here what my guts told me to write in response. Neither my guts nor I were there to tell him directly. Neither was Kennedy.

When Kennedy did finally arrive, he spent what little of his time was left giving the views of frackers without seriously opposing them.

What are we to make of such conduct? This was not lying on Kennedy’s part, since lying consists of identifying the truth and stating its opposite. This appears to be a total disregard for the truth, an all too common manipulative device identified by Harry Frankfurt; concisely and well described by Frankfurt in the opening of “On Truth,” which is quoted in the first paragraph of this link. (See:

Arbetter opened her interview by directly asking Kennedy to state where he stood on the issue of fracking. His half-hearted response spoke volumes, suggesting that although he had been for fracking and now opposed it, he might support it if the regulatory agency were strengthened to do its job. When Arbetter asked if he thought the DEC was that regulatory agency Kennedy simply ignored the question and changed the topic. With minutes left to go, Arbetter stated “I need to know from you (in) what aspects the DEC’s review was inadequate.” The inadequacy of Kennedy’s reply was in itself remarkable. At the very moment when he had finally exhausted the topic of “roads,” Time politely drew the curtain as it must, forcing Kennedy to an immediate close with the truncated words “health issues” still clinging to his lips. But as the Royal Society has been saying since 1660, Nullius in verba. (Take nobody’s word for it.) Click on the link below and listen for yourself. And while you’re listening, notice how professionally Susan Arbetter conducts this interview with one who is not only late, but unapologetically so.:

During the interview Kennedy told Arbetter that “a lot of people like myself look at natural gas as a bridge fuel” and then went on to explain that he now thought differently. Apparently his change of heart did not come timely enough to enable Riverkeeper to engage a credible staff scientist for their September 2010 report titled “Fractured Communities.” Riverkeeper’s remarkable choice was William Wegner, a convicted environmental felon, perjurer, and tax fraud who has been described by a Riverkeeper board member in terms usually reserved for bargain basement specials: “I believe we got a very brilliant man at a discount price because he made a mistake.” (Brock, Pope, “RFK Jr.’s River of Trouble,” Talk Magazine, October, 2000, p 58)

Eight years of wildlife smuggling can hardly be dismissed as a simple “mistake,” especially when combined with perjury and tax fraud. These are not qualities one might reasonably expect to find in persons working on the staff at Riverkeeper.

Wegner’s prison sentence seems to have done little to improve his ethical sense. The resume Wegner submitted to Riverkeeper accounts for his period of incarceration without referring to the fact of the incarceration itself. Wegner describes work he performed and omits the significant information that he performed this work while he was serving time as a prison inmate. Wegner submitted this resume to Kennedy, who accepted it and then forwarded it to Boyle, who totally and immediately rejected it.

By the way, whatever did happen to Robert H Boyle, the authentic founder of Riverkeeper, the single individual who actually created the concept of Riverkeeper in America and the Waterkeeper Alliance back in the days when Kennedy was still busy living his life as a drug addict? Did he retire? Is he still alive? How is he being recognized and honored by a grateful environmental community for his lifetime of dedicated accomplishment? That polymath and naturalist who famously and compassionately trusted and mentored Mr. Kennedy in Kennedy’s time of adult crisis; what ever became of him?

When the Riverkeeper board voted 13 to 8 to accede to Mr. Kennedy’s demand to hire Mr. William Wegner as staff scientist over Boyle’s objection, Boyle resigned on the spot and 8 other board members followed him in resignation. But take nobody’s word for it. Evaluate it for yourself in this link to: Robert Worth, A Kennedy and His Mentor Part Ways Over River Group, The New York Times, Sunday, November 5, 2000

Also see: Pope Brock, RFK Jr.’s River of Trouble, Talk Magazine, October, 2000, p. 53-58.

By including Mr. Kennedy’s participation as a member of the committee to advise him on fracking, Governor Cuomo advances the illusion that environmental activists of all stripes have a voice in this forum, simply by virtue of Mr. Kennedy’s presence. Kennedy can publicly and half heartedly oppose fracking, while Cuomo can respectfully agree to disagree and overrule Kennedy. The environmentalists have been heard!

Can Riverkeeper or Waterkeeper Alliance possibly break ties with an oligarch who can raise large sums of money, even while he is out to make the world safe for exploitation by his associates in the greenwashed bottled water industry?

How can they not?

May 13, 2012
Poughkeepsie, New York

See also