Emory Report

Feb. 15, 1999

 Volume 51, No. 20

Turner delights WHSCAB crowd at Future Makers talk

Sportsman, entrepreneur, media mogul, environmentalist, philanthropist. A lot of people have called Ted Turner a lot of things, not all of them good, but "Captain Outrageous" lived up to his nickname Feb. 9 in a speech at WHSCAB Auditorium.

Speaking as part of health sciences' Future Makers series, CNN Founder Turner delivered 45 minutes of off-the-cuff remarks centered mostly around the destruction human beings wreak on the environment. Turner, who oversees the local Braves, Hawks and hockey's new Thrashers, said humanity "is in the seventh inning and down by two runs" in the battle to save itself from its own folly.

"The human race is like the Braves when I bought them in 1976--a franchise in trouble," said Turner. "And I like trouble. All the teams I bought were doormats; you can turn doormats around."

Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Michael Johns awarded Turner the Woodruff Medal before his speech in recognition and gratitude for contributions to fighting the world's health and environmental problems. President Bill Chace also took the stage to read the dedication printed on the honorary doctorate Turner received from Emory in 1991.

But the rest of the event belonged to Turner, who often leaned with one elbow on the podium and delivered his address from the hip. "It's just staggering," he said of the world's exploding population, which he said was 1 billion when he was born in 1938, will reach 6 billion this year and 8 billion in 20 years. "And the bugaboo of over-population is its impact on the environment."

When he launched CNN in 1980, Turner said, the top problem in the world was the Cold War--"the first and only time humanity has ever faced annihilation"--and he used the cable network over the years to exert what influence he could to "isolate man's problems and get us pointed in the right direction."

Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the threat is now environmental destruction, Turner continued, and the problem lies in the very economic system that has made the United States the richest country in history. "The way we're keeping score is flawed," he said. "We keep score with gross domestic product (GDP), gross national product--all they do is measure the dollar value of economic activity. They don't measure quality of life.

"If you clearcut a forest, yeah, that creates jobs and adds to the GDP, but how do you measure the value of an old growth forest? When we show a 5 percent increase in U.S. GDP, it's a bunch of beans because we're not debiting that against the environmental destruction."

But humanity is capable of anything, Turner maintained, and it's not too late to act. "We need to make the same kind of commitment to environmental health that we did to get to the moon or to fight the Germans [in World War II]," he said. "If we fail ... we deserve to be a short-lived species."

Not all of Turner's remarks were so pointed, and he broke the capacity crowd up several times. Remembering how he took an IQ test in high school, Turner said he stole the test results out of his principal's office because "I wanted to know what I was dealing with." A score of 128, he said, put him in the 97th percentile. "So I'm smarter than the average bear. Yeah, me and Yogi Bear. Yogi Bear ... we own Yogi Bear," he said, referring to the Cartoon Network.

True to form, Turner spoke his own uncensored truths. On the subject of population control: "Look at Italy. Italy is a Catholic country, and you've got the pope talking all this mumbo-jumbo about how they're not supposed to use birth control. But the Italians get it; they're all using it."

And finally: "I'll close by saying what I'm having printed on my tombstone--'I have nothing more to say.'"

--Michael Terrazas

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