Ted Turner blasts U.S. for once again sitting back on climate change

Speaking at the Colorado Conservation Voters annual fall luncheon today, media mogul Ted Turner scolded the United States for failing to sign the Kyoto Protocol and said the rest of the world is waiting for the United States to take a leadership role in clean energy and climate change.

“It is such a complicated issue,” Turner said of climate change. “It is the most complicated issue humanity has ever faced. It is easy to be a naysayer, and the opposition has learned that it is easier to do nothing. They have done a good job of casting some doubt on global warming.”

Ted Turner speaking in Denver today.

Gov. Bill Ritter, sitting on stage with Turner and moderator Reggie Rivers, agreed with Turner that climate change is the issue of the day.

“I think we are at a place better than we were at five years ago, but it has become politicized and I think we are in a really difficult place in the country because some really important issues have become politicized and very difficult to work on,” Ritter said.

“Climate change has become a four-letter word, where candidates are afraid to have a discussion on it,” Ritter said.

“There is also a time imperative if we don’t act soon. We’ve moved nowhere in the last two years from a policy perspective. If we allow another two years to go by, that’s four years. We don’t have the luxury of waiting,” he said.

Ritter said nothing will change on climate change until the United States takes a leadership role. “It won’t happen if the U.S. doesn’t lead. They say they are waiting for the United States. They are not going to move without us. I don’t think even China or India will move unless we develop a policy where they can say, ‘There it is; the U.S. is leading.’”

“We have not gotten any legislation on energy or climate change through Congress at all, and that’s not good and the prospects are not that good for anything significant happening in the immediate future,” Turner said.

“It looks a lot like Kyoto. We weren’t there in the beginning. We weren’t there in the middle and we weren’t there at the end. And we were the only country in the world that didn’t sign onto the Kyoto Protocol. God help us if we take that same position now,” Turner said.

“I keep hoping it will change, that Kyoto was the aberration. But it is Kyoto all over again three years into the new regime,” Turner said.

Rivers asked why the issue was so important to Turner.

“I got laid off at AOL Time Warner,” Turner said to laughter. “I’ve worked all my life and I’m way too young to retire at 65, so I looked around for something to do and this looked like the most important area. It’s a survival issue for the human race, for life on the planet, so I decided to concentrate on it.

“It is a survival issue. We choose to do this because it is so important. Failure is not an option because if we fail here, it is just unthinkable. The consequences are just so great. We have to deal with this,” Turner said.

“We almost lost the bison in this country, and I dedicated part of my life to bringing the bison back. We have to pick our fights and fight hard and we can’t afford to lose this one,” he said.

Rivers asked the two men what they were most proud of in their careers, and Turner mentioned the land his 50,000 head of bison live on.

“Preserving two million acres of primarily grassland, which is some of the most endangered ecosystems in the world,” is what Turner said he was proudest of.

Ritter said he was proudest of getting Colorado to the point where it is known nationally and beyond for its green energy initiatives.

He said when he ran for governor in 2006, he was wary of promising too much in the way of creating a green energy brand for the state, but that now that his term is about to expire, he thinks he has succeeded.

“We said we were going to do it. We’ve done it. People from around the country, even around the world, look to Colorado for our public policy and the things we have done to establish the new energy economy and I am proud of that. Job creation is tied to that as well,” he said.

He and Turner both said that working on environmental issues is a calling they feel to serve future generations. “It’s about our kids and our grandkids,” Ritter said.

“Almost more than anything else you can do, this is about our kids and our grandkids. As we’ve crafted out legislative agenda, there has really been a passion about that. It is so not about self-interest. There are a lot of other arenas you deal with in politics, where you just deal with people’s self interest. It was always about our understanding that this is bigger than our self interest,” he said.

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Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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