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Kerry Speaks at Development Forum

By Naveen Sunkavally and Brian Loux


In a keynote address to a forum on sustainable development held at MIT, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry made a strong plea to bring environmental issues to the forefront of politics and to reform the American education system.

The Regional Sustainable Development Forum, a day-long series of events open to anyone with an interest in the environment, set out to further the development of the surrounding region in compliance with the principles of sustainable development.

MIT Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72, the first speaker at the forum, highlighted MIT’s environmental accomplishments. “The Institute has a very long-standing commitment to the environment,” he said, citing MIT’s recycling and purchasing programs.

In addition, Bacow said, “Ten percent of MIT’s research is devoted to the environment.”

Kerry blasts current politics

Kerry began his speech with an attack on the current political and media climate. “Money in American politics is destroying our ability to make smart decisions,” he said. Pointing to the current coverage of the presidential elections, Kerry said the media is more interested in titillating its audience rather than covering substantive issues.

In addition to political and media-related problems, Kerry also said the good economy has seduced people into taking the environment for granted. Kerry acknowledged that America has made significant gains since the 1970s on the environment, but he reminded his audience that the proper yardstick to measure environmental progress is not how much has been accomplished since the 1970s but how much more still needs to be accomplished.

“The environment was a voting issue in the 1970s. It’s not a voting issue anymore,” he said.

Kerry comes out against vouchers

In order to raise awareness of environmental problems, Kerry advocated an overhaul of the public education system. “Education is key. I’m talking about the basics of education. [We need to] fix the public schools. ... If you don’t educate kids, you can’t have democracy that works,” Kerry said.

Kerry, however, rejected the idea of charter schools and vouchers, citing the fact that 90 percent of students attend public schools, and that no matter how many charter schools are built, students will still be attending public schools.

In addition to educating students, Kerry said that the United States must also take an active role internationally in standing up for the environment. When discussing the environmental problems of the world at large, Kerry said that America shoulders much of the blame. “We’re the real stumbling block -- the United States,” he said.

Kerry said that because the United States has not decreased emissions, it has been acting out of accord with the other developing nations of the world, who are now reluctant to further reduce their emissions.

Kerry also briefly touched on the effects of urban sprawl on the concentration of wealth. “Sprawl concentrates poverty in urban centers ... [there has been] insufficient effort to guarantee we have an urban plan.”

The last part of Kerry’s speech dealt with the common view that focusing on the environment would lead to a loss of jobs or an increase in taxes. Kerry said that cleaning up the environment does not necessarily mean either of those consequences, and, in fact, can lead to an expansion of jobs.

The forum, sponsored by New Ecology Inc., later broke into workshops run by experts in various fields of environmental planning and design. Topics included housing strategies, regional development planning, and recycling-based economic programs.

The conference designers hoped to establish a network of designers and planners that will lead metropolitan areas towards an environmentally sound future.