Cable News Network (CNN) CEO Ted Turner definitely isn’t afraid to speak his mind.
Starting from humble beginnings with a small Atlanta UHF television station and modest resources back in 1970, Turner’s determination and outspoken style (he recently said, “Christianity is an eco-unfriendly religion”) changed the face of television.
That same dynamism is now directed toward environmental ventures: Turner actively crusades for cleaner transportation, sustainable population growth, wilderness conservation and greener business.
Turner, who is president of his own foundation, the flamboyant owner of the Atlanta Braves, a major western landowner, creator of the Goodwill Games, a famous yachtsman, and maybe even a presidential candidate, gave some $25 million to grassroots environmental groups last year. The Turner Foundation also started the Turner Endangered Species Fund to involve private landowners in conserving imperiled species, including desert bighorn sheep, Mexican wolves, California condors, and black-tailed prairie dogs. According to the Foundation’s executive director, Peter Bahouth, “There are 450 groups being funded by the foundation now.” Turner really made news a year ago when he announced plans to start a foundation dedicated to helping the United Nations, with an initial donation of $1 billion, paid over 10 years. The funds are reserved for population and women’s projects, and for programs directly helping the environment and children.
You and your wife, Jane Fonda, have devoted a lot of time and energy to family planning and overpopulation issues. What can we do to make family planning programs, both in the U.S. and abroad, become more successful?
You could write a hundred books on that subject. There’s no real simple answer, but we have to do everything that we can to reduce the growth in human numbers. The simplest answer is that the world population should be about two billion, and we’ve got about six billion right now. I haven’t done the actuarial tables, but if every woman in the world voluntarily stepped up and said, `I’ll only have one child,’ and if we did that for the next 80 to 100 years, that would reduce the kind of suffering we’re having.
Right now, one out of every four people doesn’t have enough to eat each day and doesn’t have access to clean drinking water. Already, the human misery index is huge if you consider the entire planet. We could have 10 billion people living below the poverty line, or we could have two billion people living well and having color TVs and an automobile. The planet can support that number of people, and that’s the way it was in 1930. You didn’t have the global warming problem then, or all these problems that have occurred since the population has built up. And how you get there is very complicated. It’s going to take a lot of education and improvements in health care.
Personally, I think the population should be closer to when we had indigenous populations, back before the advent of farming. Fifteen thousand years ago, there was somewhere between 40 and 100 million people. But [population researchers] Paul and Anne Ehrlich have convinced me that if we’re going to have a modern infrastructure, with commercial airlines and interstate highways around the world, we’re going to need about two billion people to support it. The environment can handle two billion at current consumption levels, so everybody in the world would be living at a decent standard.
Most of the world has much lower consumption levels than America, but higher birth rates. Which should we be more concerned about, overpopulation or over-consumption?
Well, we’ve got both, so why not be concerned about both? Why is it an either/or question? I think that’s like saying, `Which would you rather have, tuberculosis or breast cancer?’ What we should do is use energy-efficiency and efficiency of all types to reduce consumption levels, and certainly reduce waste. A perfect example of wasteful practices in the United States is that we use twice as much energy per person as the average European or Japanese, who have the same per capita income, and the same standard of living that we do. One of the reasons is big homes and big cars. We should be driving smaller cars and living in smaller homes. I’m a billionaire and my main residence in Atlanta is 700 square feet, and I love it. Bigger is not necessarily better, particularly if it’s wasteful.
What have you done personally to lower your consumption levels?
I drive a medium-sized car, a Ford Taurus. That’s my main car in Atlanta. And when I’m out on my ranches, I drive a very low horsepower Land Rover. I don’t drive a Cadillac or a Mercedes that burns a lot of gasoline. I deliberately do that, and I walk whenever I can. I walk to work here in New York–it’s only about five blocks, but a lot of people would have a car drive them.
Do you recycle at home?
Absolutely. Do I go around turning out the lights? Absolutely. I mean, who the hell do you think I am? You’ve got to walk the walk and talk the talk. If I’m giving away hundreds of millions of dollars to protect the environment, I’m certainly going to set good examples. I lead that kind of life as best as I can.