COURTESY BLUE PLANET / HUGH E. GENTRY
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsay of the National Geographic Society listened to a panel discussion on Hawaii's clean energy future during the Blue Planet Summit yesterday at the Ihilani Resort in Ko Olina.
An energetic summit on alternative power
Renowned environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. still considers himself a tireless advocate for the environment.
He just doesn't like the title.
"I don't even consider myself an environmentalist anymore," he says. "I consider myself a free-marketeer."
"The best thing that can happen to the environment is if we had true free-market capitalism in this country. The marketplace promotes efficiency, and efficiency means the elimination of waste, and pollution is waste."
Kennedy delivered the keynote address at the opening day of the first Blue Planet Summit, a nonprofit conference aimed at developing strategies to "shift the energy culture" in Hawaii and across the country.
The conference has convened more than 80 speakers and panelists representing government, power companies, regulators, academia, indigenous cultures, environmentalists, planners and others.
Many believe Hawaii, with its abundance of alternative energy sources such as wind, wave, geothermal and solar power, can be a leader in developing programs and technologies to promote a shift away from fossil fuels.
Earlier this year the state announced a partnership with the federal government to help promote development and use of alternative energy sources.
Kennedy and other environmental advocates say the shift should have happened sooner.
"How can it possibly be economical?" he said of the state's reliance on fossil fuels for more than 90 percent of its energy needs.
"That oil is coming across two oceans on tankers to get here, then they have to refine it," he said. "How could it possibly compete with the local resources that you have on this island -- with the best geothermal resources in the world, with the wind and solar.
"The only way that it can be done is through government favors."
Kennedy, son of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy and nephew of President John Kennedy, was especially critical of the Bush administration and oil companies, placing much of the blame on corporate greed.
His speech to a friendly audience at the Ihilani Resort in Ko Olina came a day after oil company executives testified in Congress that growing scarcity of global oil supplies, taxes, investment commitments and other factors are what drive up energy costs.
Oil companies also note their profits -- $123 billion last year -- are in line with other industries. Last year the oil and gas industry earned 8.3 cents per dollar of sales, only a little higher than the Dow Jones Industrial Average for major industries, J.S. Simon, Exxon Mobil's senior vice president told lawmakers.
Kennedy harshly criticized government subsidies that he says go to some of the worst polluters.
"You show me a polluter, I'll show you a subsidy," he said. "I'll show you a fat cat using political clout to escape the discipline of the free market and force the public to pay its production costs."
The summit is funded by the Blue Planet Foundation, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group founded by Honolulu-based entrepreneur Henk Rogers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.