No investment advice from Turner
August 24, 2008
ASPEN ” Media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner argued Saturday night that the “next big fortune” will be made in renewable energy. But, he declined to give investment advice.
In general, Turner avoided the specifics of the growing renewable-energy industry on Saturday. Although his interview with Pat Mitchell headlined American Renewable Energy Day, the conversation hovered mostly on the topic of Turner and his charitable giving.
Perhaps some of this direction was dictated by his interviewer: Mitchell, the former CEO of PBS and the current CEO of the Paley Media Center, worked for Turner for 10 years. She now shares three grandchildren with him (his daughter married her son).
Mitchell spent much of the interview reminding Turner of his successes and great deeds. The hard questions ” and those about renewable energy ” were fewer and further between.
Turner was not without his characteristic dry sense of humor, however, turning it even on his host city. To drive home his point about the futility of war, Turner asked the audience to imagine someone bombing Aspen, after all the work that has gone into the expensive homes. And when Mitchell asked him about his numerous ranches, he noted that he would never buy one in Aspen, due to land costs. “It’s hard to believe that those little dinky houses are selling for $7 million,” he said, to audience laughter.
When Mitchell asked if he planned to spend more of his money on renewable energy, he said he might if he had any left after his other philanthropy and recent stock market declines.
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And in a line that got at least half the audience’s applause, he suggested all men be banned from office for 100 years, to ensure funding for health care and education.
Turner earned his fortune and reputation by parlaying a family billboard business into a broadcasting empire, inventing the cable “superstation” and creating the Cable News Network (CNN). Film lovers remember him from his controversial campaign to “colorize” black-and-white movies. Ranchers know him as the largest individual landowner in North America ” he personally owns more than 2 million acres.
However, Turner is now almost as well known for his philanthropic efforts, many of which are linked with his commercial interests. His ranches promote sustainable ranching practices and cultivate bison for his restaurant chain, Ted’s Montana Grill.
His Captain Planet Foundation is linked to the WTBS cartoon of the same name. Turner heads up three other philanthropic ventures: the Turner Foundation, the Turner Endangered Species Fund and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which he co-founded with former Senator Sam Nunn. He once famously gave $1 billion to the United Nations.
He was also briefly a player in the renewable energy field. In January 2007, he partnered with Dome-Tech Solar to create DT Solar, a renewable energy company. The company was purchased by First Solar Inc. just 11 months later.
Certainly, Turner was not without opinions Saturday night, and one of his strongest arguments was for renewable energy incentives to mobilize the country in a World War II-type effort.
But even if America can mobilize, he acknowledged that getting the countries of the world to agree on a path forward will be challenging. But he insisted that if the world’s countries could gather to fight global warming, stomping out war ” the next problem” will be easy. No one will want to destroy infrastructure they’ve helped build, he said.
Ultimately, his advice for the world was simple. And he insisted it was the same advice he gave the Time Warner board before he quit in disgust.
“What we’ve got to do,” he said, “is start doing the smart things and stop doing the dumb things.”
Aspen Renewable Energy Day (AREDAY) was a three-day affair featuring speakers, films, panel discussions and music. Along with Turner, the festival featured musician/philanthropist Peter Buffet and Earth Policy Institute President Lester Brown.