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Monday April 23, 2001

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Tucson needs to keep an eye on growth, environmentalist says

By Stephanie Callimanis

Arizona Daily Wildcat

JFK's nephew urges students to protect natural resources

Tucson's biggest environmental problem is urban sprawl, environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said in an Earth Day speech to a group of UA students and community members.

Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and law professor at Pace University in White Plains, N.Y., came Friday to the University of Arizona to speak about "Our Environmental Destiny" as part of ASUA's speakers board and environmental awareness month.

He urged the 300 people in attendance to become involved in local initiatives to protect natural resources, saying it is especially important now because of the Bush administration's "disappointing, but not surprising" stance on environmental protection.

President George W. Bush recently rejected the international treaty known as the Kyoto Agreement, which called for industrialized nations to lower its carbon-dioxide emissions, "under any circumstances," saying it would cause harm to the economy.

Kennedy said the "haphazard sprawl" and "pollution-based prosperity" he sees in Arizona are not only contributing to high levels of toxins in the environment, but the rapid loss of natural land and wildlife, as well.

Kennedy, who described himself as being "obsessed with predatory birds," recalled seeing certain species of falcon as a child in Washington, D.C., that are extinct today.

"Our children should not have to pay for our joy ride," he said.

Protecting the environment does not have to come at the cost of a weakened economy, though, he said.

"People on Capitol Hill who are claiming they must choose between economic prosperity and environmental protection are creating a false choice.

"Democracy and the environment are intertwined," he said, adding that "a true free-market economy" would be the best thing to happen to the environment.

Kennedy suggested that his audience should "combat pollutants in our neighborhoods" by taking industrial polluters to federal court and by researching the toxic right-to-know laws that protect citizens.

He reminded listeners to consider the importance of such pro-active behavior when it comes to protecting the environment, saying that, historically, spiritually and physically, "nature has always been a critical underlying of American culture."

Political science and history sophomore Elizabeth Young, director of ASUA's speakers board, said she chose Kennedy as a speaker because his ability to speak on environmental issues from a political and legal background appeals to a diverse crowd. He was also selected because of his family's fame - Kennedy is the nephew of former president John F. Kennedy - and his ability to "personally connect with the audience."

Andrea Marafino, an engineering senior and recycling coordinator for UA's Residence Life, said that although Kennedy did not specifically address the importance of recycling in his speech, it "was a positive thing to get the word out about the environment" to the students in attendance.