In Aspen, Ted Turner, Lester Brown say fossil fuels must go |

In Aspen, Ted Turner, Lester Brown say fossil fuels must go

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

Lester Brown discusses the reduction of carbon emissions to Ted Turner and Sally Ranney during Friday morning’s armchair conversation at the Aspen Institute as part of the AREDAY summit.
Leigh Vogel/The Aspen Times |


Lester Brown is considered one of the world’s foremost authors on the problems concerning world population and resource sustainability. His latest book, “Full Planet, Empty Plates,” looks at the world’s food supply and asks if food might be the weak link for our civilization.

Here are some of the key points Brown touched on Friday morning as part of the AREDAY Summit at the Aspen Institute.

• “We’re on a path that’s not sustainable. We’re disrupting the climate, we’re eroding soils, we’re destroying forests, grasslands ... we’re destroying our support systems. No civilization has ever survived the ongoing destruction of its support systems, nor will ours.”

• “We have to bridge the family planning gap. We’re adding 80 million people every year. There are literally hundreds of millions of women in this world who want to plan their families but don’t have access to family planning resources and reproductive health care. Population growth is one of the most serious threats to our future security.”

• “We have to address the population issue. We have to think about climate change. Agriculture, as it exists today, evolved over an 11,000-year period of remarkable climate stability. The agricultural system we have today is designed to maximize production with that climate system, but that climate system is no more. It is now changing and with each passing year, the agricultural system and the climate system are more and more out of sync with each other. We’re in unchartered territory here.”

•“We can’t separate energy policy, food security and population policy — these are all part of the same complex issues that we’re not dealing with effectively.”

• “One of the most exciting examples of dealing with energy is the Sierra Club. They campaigned to close around 130 out of 520 coal-fired power plants, and their goal is to close every one of them.”

• “The cost of wind is now lower than the cost of coal.”

• “The Chinese are building seven wind mega complexes. Each one will generate a minimum of 20,000 megawatts of generated capacity. Think 20 nuclear power plants ... this is not small potatoes. The largest wind farm of the seven is in inner Mongolia. When it’s completed, it will have 38,000 megawatts of generated capacity. That’s enough electricity to satisfy the needs of a country like Poland ... or Egypt.”

• “One of the best things about wind power is you can use as much as you want today and it doesn’t affect how much you have tomorrow.”

With new options for cleaner, cheaper sustainable energy, one of the most recognizable voices in the world today said it’s time to say goodbye to fossil fuels.

Ted Turner’s comments came Friday during the 10th annual ARE Day summit, which is running this weekend in Aspen with more than 90 speakers who all have a common goal of reducing global warming and expanding the use of sustainable energy.

The theme of this year’s summit is “Advancing Clean Energy: Transition to a Sustainable Global Economy.” The four-day summit is offering a wide variety of dialogue from some of the biggest names and companies associated with renewable energy at both a national and an international level.

Friday morning’s “Armchair Conversation” on the state of the world, hosted by Sally Ranney, president of the American Renewable Energy Institute, featured speakers Turner and Lester Brown.

Turner is one of the most visible and influential philanthropists in the world. The founder of CNN dedicates much of his time and resources to addressing global issues, including climate change, nuclear disarmament, global health, environmental protection and renewable energy.

Turner is also the largest private landowner in the United States, with more than 2 million acres.

Brown is the founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute and a prolific author, having written or co-authored more than 50 books. The Washington Post described Brown as “one of the world’s most influential thinkers.”

The discussion started with concerns about lack of water availabile for food development, as well as overgrazing being one of the main reasons for a global loss of topsoil.

Turner then pointed out that it’s time for the world to catch up with new technologies for sustainable energy.

“It’s time to say goodbye to fossil fuels,” Turner said. “Thank God it is, because it’s going to poison us if we don’t phase it out. It’s the right thing to do, it’s economical to do, and it’s going to be more efficient. We need to get on it right away.”

Brown has been looking into wind power extensively and pointed out that South Dakota and Iowa both get more than 25 percent of their electricity from wind.

“We know it’s doable,” Brown said. “It’s just a matter of getting government support.”

Ranney pointed out that the U.S. has been invited to tackle the energy crisis on a global scale that never has been seen. She asked if we need a binding, international treaty at this point.

Brown replied that he didn’t have a lot of confidence in internationally negotiated agreements as solutions to problems. Brown sees countries such as Germany and China turning to wind power not because they signed some agreement but rather because they think it is the thing to do.

Ranney then spoke of Turner being one of the top 10 investors into renewable energy in the U.S. She asked Turner about his relationship with Southern Co. in California and New Mexico.

“Southern Co. is the largest electric company in America,” Turner said. “They produce most of their energy from coal. So instead of fighting them, our executives talked to them about the advantages of using renewables. We’re slamming them from the inside and loving them to death, … and it’s working.”

Turner pointed out that Southern Co. has closed down several coal-burning power plants in the past several years.

“It’s amazing what you can do through the power of salesmanship,” he said.

Both Brown and Turner agreed that in order to get more businesses to convert to renewables, one of the most important steps would be changing our tax system so that the income tax is lower and the carbon tax is higher.

Near the end of the discussion, Ranney asked both men the following question: If there were three things to move us toward sustainability and reduced emissions, and they were talking to the U.S., China and India as well as the U.N. General Assembly what would those three things be?

Turner said that people need to stop fighting and start cooperating, that fossil fuels need to be phased out and that the world needs to get rid of all nuclear weapons.

“Once you fire a nuclear missile,” he said, “there’s no recall button.”

Brown said we need to redefine security. He said he doubts anyone would attack the U.S. and the real threats we face are climate change, population growth and water shortages.

“That’s where we need to spend more money,” Brown said, “not on advanced military technology.”

He also listed restructuring the tax system and addressing family planning.