Ted Turner: Telling it like it is

It would be easy to dismiss Ted Turner as a billionaire with a big mouth, a blowhard or even a buffoon.

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

Ted was on display in all his Ted-ness the other day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Cooking for Solutions conference on food and sustainability. He ranted, he raved, he clowned, he ignored questions from interviewer, Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post. Moderating Ted is about as easy as domesticating a bison. (His herd numbers 50,000.)

But what Turner said made a lot of sense, even as his answers wandered, ADD-like, all over the map.

I’ve covered Ted, on and off, since the late 1980s,when I was a media writer.  He’s always been underestimated. Conventional wisdom in the broadcast industry was that CNN, his pioneering 24-hour news channel, would never work. Much later, after he merged his Turner Broadcasting  Co. with Time Warner (my employer at the time), he was one of the few top execs who opposed the disastrous merger from the start. He has always lived his values, using the platforms he created to support causes dear to him–the environment, nuclear disarmament, the end of the Cold War. Remember the Goodwill Games?

His bombastic demeanor  may be a reason why he hasn’t gotten the credit deserves for his philanthropy. Turner, who is 72, has given away more than $1.3 billion to the Turner Foundation, the United Nations Foundation, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the Captain Planet Foundation, and the Turner Endangered Species Fund. He also took the Giving Pledge put forward by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

As if that weren’t enough, Turner owns about 2.1 million acres of land in the U.S., making him the nation’s 2nd biggest landowner (behind his fellow cable mogul John Malone). Most of his land is protected from development.

So what’s on his mind these days? Lots. Some highlights:

Food, population and women: “What really concerns me is if we go to 8 or 9 billion. The natural world is collapsing all around us. There are two things we can do that won’t cost a lot of money… Millions of women don’t have access to family planning. If you provide people with  family planning, they won’t have unwanted pregnancies and they won’t have to  have abortions. The second thing we could do and we should have done it a long time ago is half the women in the world don’t have equal rights with men. In the Arab world, people are treated like dogs. They can’t vote in Saudia Arabia. They can’t drive a car. They don’t get an education. Women need to have equal rights with men, and equal education and equal rights to a job, and when women have that, they will choose to have smaller families.” [click to continue…]

Geoengineering: A congressman’s thumbs up

Before we get to today’s topic–engineering the climate– let me call your attention to a couple of news items that got my attention last week.

First, a Chinese company called the Shanghai Electric Group signed a $10-billion deal to sell 42 coal-fired thermal-generation units to an Indian conglomerate called the Reliance ADA Group, the Wall Street Journal reported. Forty-two! I hate to say it, but all the efforts by enviromentalists to stop new coal plants in the U.S. won’t do much to curb global warming if India and China expand their coal-powered generation.

Second, The Nature Conservancy released a video and poster about the upcoming UN climate negotiations in Cancun saying “This is not a vacation!” and inviting people to submit videos calling for action on climate. Yes, it has come to this: So futile are the UN’s efforts to bring about a global climate treaty that environmentalists have to reassure people that there’s more to COP16  than sand and surf.

No wonder a thoughtful Tennessee congressman named Bart Gordon said this in a report published last week:

It is the opinion of the Chair that broad consideration of comprehensive and multi-disciplinary climate engineering research at the federal level begin as soon as possible in order to ensure scientific preparedness for future climate events.

Gordon, a Democrat, and his staff on the House Committee on Science and Technology, have been studying geoengineering. They held three public hearings, pored over research and worked with legislators in the UK to better understand climate engineering—which they define as

the deliberate large-scale modification of the earth’s climate systems for the purpose of counteracting and mitigating anthropogenic climate change.

Gordon’s 56-page report about climate engineering comes in the wake of a similar study from the General Accounting Office. Both favor a coordinated government research program, albeit with plenty of cautions.

In his report, Gordon notes that reducing greenhouse gas emissions must remain the top priority of dealing with global warming. This is smart because climate engineering won’t resolve the global warming threat; it will only buy more time to deal with it. Gordon goes on to say:

However, we are facing an unfortunate reality. The global climate is already changing and the onset of climate change impacts may outpace the world’s political, technical, and economic capacities to prevent and adapt to them. Therefore, policymakers should begin consideration of climate engineering research now to better understand which technologies or methods, if any, represent viable stopgap strategies for managing our changing climate and which pose unacceptable risks.

Translation: Environmentalists and forward-thinking politicians have been trying for years to come up with a way to curb GHG emissions. They have little to show for it. So it’s time to consider alternatives.

I’ve written about climate engineering more than most environment reporters  — see this, this and this – not only because it fascinates me, but also because I’m convinced we need to learn more about it. Plus, the debate is heating up. Last week, as the GAO and Congressman Gordon spoke out, ministers at a UN meeting on biological diversity in Japan called for a moratorium on geoengineering. [click to continue…]