Kennedy, a well-known environmentalist, teacher and lawyer, issued his challenge during a speech at the Sun Valley Wellness Festival last month, an address that drew a crowd of more than 800.
"Our Environmental Destiny" was a harsh review of current environmental legislation, which Kennedy said has taken the core out of work started more than 30 years ago with the first Earth Day protest in 1970. That event drew roughly 20 million people. Kennedy drew a grim picture of political collusion with corporate polluters, a media blinded by profits, and religious fundamentalism.
"We are living in a science-fiction nightmare in this country," he said.
Kennedy drew parallels between the environment and some of the world's most prominent spiritual traditions, pointing to tales of Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha and Moses all going into the wilderness to reach religious epiphanies.
"Corporations are extraordinary at creating prosperity," he said. "They are also designed to plunder. But because of this, we would be nuts to let them anywhere near our government. Communism is when you have business controlled by government. Fascism is when you have government controlled by business. It is our duty as a democracy to walk the fine line between the two."
Rather than draw a partisan line through environmentalist ethics, Kennedy pointed out that his cousin—and Sun Valley homeowner—California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, recently enacted the strictest automobile environmental legislation in the country.
Automakers quickly filed a lawsuit against the toughened regulations, a move Kennedy said was backed by the White House.
Kennedy himself is calling for a 40 mpg-standard for U.S.-made automobiles within the next several years. He is also speaking out against the spread of mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants in Appalachia and by coal strip-mining.
"According to CDC [Center for Disease Control], one out of six American women now has so much mercury in her womb that her children are at risk for a grim inventory of diseases" he said. "Autism, blindness mental retardation, heart, liver and kidney disease ... About nine weeks ago, the White House announced it was scrapping the Clinton-era rules [classifying mercury as a hazardous pollutant under the Clean Air Act and requiring 95 percent to be removed] and substituting instead rules written by utility industry lobbyists that will require the industry to never have to clean up the mercury."
He added that White House insiders like Gail Norton, Steve Griles and Phillip Cooney have been responsible for the rollback of 400 major environmental protections over the last six years, and alternately work for the oil and coal companies they have been charged with regulating.
"We are supposed to be the leaders of the free world, but we don't even know what is going on in the free world," Kennedy said. "We are the best-entertained and the least well-informed people on the planet."
He traces this idea back to Ronald Reagan's 1988 abolition of The Fairness Doctrine, which required "news of public importance," balanced opinion and a diversity of ownership in the media.
He ended his address with a question-and-answer session, in which he called for everyone to get more involved in the political process. "I would rather you threw your trash out the window, as long as you get involved in the political process on some level, even your local library board," he said.