The ardent environmentalist opens up about his family, politics, the worrisome state of our planet, and how a few changes in the law could make us all healthier, wealthier, and safer...

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The front hallway of Bobby Kennedy Jr.'s home in Mt. Kisco, New York, bears a framed letter from former president Richard Nixon. "While your father and I were political opponents," Nixon wrote, "I always respected him as one of the ablest political leaders of our time." The note—dated June 24, 1985—hangs across from a letter Bobby sent his uncle Jack in 1961 requesting a visit to the White House. Once there, Bobby presented then president John F. Kennedy with a salamander. Four decades later, Bobby, 53, is one of the country's most passionate environmental activists. Protecting nature isn't just about saving the fish and the birds, he says; it's about tending to our own deepest values and our children's basic needs. "Our landscapes connect us to our history; they are the source of our character as a people, as well as our health, our safety, and our prosperity," he tells me. "Natural resources enrich us economically, yes. But they also enrich us aesthetically and recreationally and culturally and spiritually." Never before have I heard someone speak with such clarity and conviction about protecting our earth.

Born into a political dynasty (the third of Robert and Ethel Kennedy's 11 children), Bobby didn't always plan to work in environmental law—his career grew out of personal adversity. In 1983, when he was a 29-year-old assistant district attorney in Manhattan, he was arrested for possession of heroin. Sentenced to community service following rehab, he volunteered with Riverkeeper, a group fighting industrial pollution in New York's Hudson River. He quickly became the organization's chief prosecuting attorney. Today he is also president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, an international network of groups protecting the world's waterways.

He is also clearly a family man, married to second wife Mary Richardson and the father of six kids: Robert F. III, 22; Kathleen, 18; Connor, 12; Kyra, 11; William, 9; and Aidan, 5. On the day of our visit, he has just returned from taking Connor to hockey practice. The Kennedys' miniature long-haired dachshund, Cupid (born on Valentine's Day), scurries through the living room, where a chair cushion reads BORN TO FISH. Home is a priority, which is why he has never considered a bid for public office—until now.

Start reading Oprah's interview with Bobby Kennedy Jr.

Note: This interview appeared in the February 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.

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