"Stop Doing Dumb Things!" Ted Turner on GM, CNN, at Columbia Climate Center Launch

In a lively discussion at New York's Columbia University today, media titan Ted Turner lamented the US auto industry's slow approach to green, promised to talk with Rupert Murdoch about the Wall Street Journal's skeptical take on climate change, and criticized environmental coverage by CNN, the network he founded.

The "Mouth of the South" made his characteristically spirited remarks at the launch of the Climate Center at Columbia University, a new multi-disciplinary research base on climate change. The event also featured Jeffrey Sachs, Robert Orr, Lee Bolinger and a bevy of climate scientists. Before getting into the scientific discussion of climate change, the event began with much praise for the efforts of Columbia University, which boasts an impressive wealth of researchers and centers focused on environmental challenges, said Jeffrey Sachs, the superstar economist. The Climate Center, he said, will bring together experts from various backgrounds, "including social science, legal, business, policy, ecological, engineering, and other institutions."

In introducing Turner, Sachs praised the media mogul for "directing the world's attention to the global challenges of an imbalanced planet, armaments, population and the environment." He cited Turner's creation of the the Better World Society and the UN Foundation when he said that Turner was "not a late comer to this issue but one of the pioneers."

Here's part of the exchange between Sachs and Turner:

Sachs: How do we approach the problem?

We need stop doing dumb things and start doing smart things. To use a baseball analogy, humanity is in the seventh inning and down by two runs. We need to hold the other dumb guys at bay while we score three more runs in the last two innings. We should be able to do it because now we have global communications...Most of us are educated and have access to information. I'd imagine that 90 pc of people in the world know something about climate change. So at least we know about it... If we know something about the problem and don't do it, then we don't deserve to live.

This world is potentially a garden of Eden. At the time of Buchenwald and Auschwitz, it was a hell. I'd like to see it made into a heaven. Imagine: elephants walking around the streets of New York. Wouldn't that be nice?


Sachs: How do we get Wall Street Journal editorial page to change? You've had dealings with Rupert Murdoch.
I don't read it that often. Is it that bad? Next time I'll see him I'll talk to him about it.

"Okay, we're making progress," Sachs said, as the main hall of Low Library erupted into applause. "If you can give him a call that'd be helpful."

How do we get the science better communicated?

I heard about a recent survey that said that thirty-five percent of people around the world don't believe in global warming. But that means 65 percent do. So we have a majority.

Sachs then asked about Turner's three-pronged approach to saving the world.
First, we need population stabilization and reduction -- voluntary 1-2 child families over the next 200 years. Second, we need everybody to get rid of nuclear weapons....We're only one major meeting away from getting rid of them, if someone has the vision to call that meeting. Third is global climate change.

Sachs: How optimistic are you?
I'm generally optimistic. I had the good fortune to underwrite Captain [Jacques] Cousteau's voyages for 10-15 years. I asked him once if he thought we were gonna make it. He said, 'Even if we knew for sure we weren't going to make it, what could men of good conscience do but keep trying?'

He's right. It ain't over til it's over. It's going to take a renaissance, a new burst of knowledge. We have global communications. We don't have an excuse. When Princess Diana was killed...98 percent of the world knew about it in 24 hours.


Sachs: Has CNN gone the way you wanted?
For a long time it did. But it's more tabloid than i'd like to have seen it. I'd like to see more environmental and international news. I'd like it to be more substantive. We had an 18 person environmental unit. But a couple years ago they disbanded that. They still cover the environment with regular reporters, which I think is inadequate. But that's just me...

Hey, if the stock goes down much more I could buy it all back.

Sachs then asked about GM's troubles and clean car technology.

Where were they ten years ago when Honda came out with a hybrid? Just think: if we'd been ten years behind Japan in getting the atomic bomb, we wouldn't have won World War II.

Sachs ended with a question about the UN Foundation, which Turner founded with a $1 billion grant a decade ago.

Before that the only funding source for the UN was from governments. I didn't know if there was room for a non-governmental organization to fund the UN without getting in the way. But there is, especially for one that's carefully run in close coordination with the UN. My worst fear is that the UN and the UN foundation would get into an argument. But in the 11 years we haven't had a single argument... the UN needs all the help it can get. Because humanity needs all the help it can get.

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