Ted Turner, Media Executive

Landon Lecture
November 28, 2005

Thank you Jon, Mr. President, for that generous introduction, and I am definitely not the world's leading expert on bison. I'm perhaps one of them. But there are people in the academic world that know a lot more than I do about them.

But I do know a lot and I've studied them a lot and I've studied a lot of things a lot. In fact, it's why I love being around universities: because I'm a student, and I just love learning.

I love this planet. I really like just about everything about this world. There are a couple of things that I'm not real fond of and you probably know what they are. One of them is stupidity. And laziness. I don't like lazy people that much and that's another great thing about being around universities-there's no lazy people at universities. Everybody's getting it done. And there's a lot to do.

I'm going to try and make a fairly serious speech today because the world situation is at a critical juncture as far as humanity is concerned. For many years I underwrote Captain Cousteau's program and I became a very close friend of his.

I was with him on the Calypso up the Amazon. We were doing a six-hour series on the Amazon, which was probably the most in-depth series ever done on that magnificent part of our planet. It was right after Ronald Reagan had been elected president and he had made his famous statement that the Soviet Union was an evil empire. Where I come from, when you call people derogatory terms it's an easy way to get punched in the nose.

You go into a bar in Kansas, I have a ranch here, in Medicine Bend, and you say, 'I really don't like Kansas, I don't like the people here, the ones I've met, I don't like the weather, and I just basically don't like it at all.' Well you'll just get whacked right in the nose. On the other hand, if you go into that same bar and you say, 'geez you know I've never been to Kansas before, this is a beautiful place, the people are so friendly and nice, I just like everything about it.' The people'd say, come over we'll buy you a beer.

So basically, when you are looking for enemies on this planet, they are easy to find, they're everywhere. All you've got to do is approach them the way that I spoke of just a minute ago. On the other hand, if you're trying to make friends on this planet, they're everywhere too. In fact a lot of them are exactly the same people, it's just the way you approach them.

If you approach them and treat them with dignity, respect and friendliness. That's what we all need to do in this world. We don't need to go around starting wars with people, particularly when there's no good reason to do so. I mean, I don't think that Iraq is better off today than it was before we started the war. They're not producing as much oil as they were before, because they're constantly blowing up the oil fields and pipelines. More people are being killed today.

Saddam Hussein may have killed a lot of people, but a lot of people are being killed today and a lot of people were killed when we were bombing and collateral fire and so forth, a lot of civilians are dying over there. I believe we should have an intelligent, friendly approach to life and the world and we all need to study the global situation which I am now going to talk about and suggest some things that need to be done.

One good thing about our circumstances, if somebody asked me and I do get asked, give us the bottom line of what you think the future holds for say the next 50 years for the human race. And I say, well, I like to liken it -- I was in baseball for quite a while -- I liken it to a baseball game. I think humanity is the seventh inning, and we're down by two runs.

Now, that is not a hopeless situation by any manner of means, a serious, but not hopeless. All we got to do is not let the other team put any more runs on the scoreboard and we've got to score three runs in the last two innings. A difficult job but certainly doable.

And every one of our problems has a solution. And a solution that we already know what the solution is pretty well. There still needs to be some work done in some of the areas.

I've listed seven major areas that we need to work on and work on immediately. The first one, and I've tried to put them in order of importance, but they're all important, they're all extremely important, and we have to look at the solution to the predicaments that we're in in a holistic way because if we don't really handle the whole thing we're not going to have a very good outcome. It's just like our bodies, you might have a great heart, but if you've got cancer, what good is it? You're going to die anyway of cancer.

And the first, and as I see it, the most dangerous thing, is the weapons of mass destruction. Particularly nuclear. Nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. We still have tens of thousands of nuclear weapons in this world. The United States and the former Soviet Union, which is now Russia, have I think around 10,000 each pointed at each other on hair-trigger alert.

The reason we don't pay much attention to it is because it's been that way for the last 50 years. The cold war's been over for 12, 13, 14 years and our leaders can't figure how to get these weapons off hair-trigger alert. That's why I started the nuclear threat initiative with Sam Nunn because we've got to be concerned about these weapons.

If something goes wrong, if there's an earthquake under the area where the missiles are concentrated -- a lot of them are in Nebraska and South Dakota, they're near here, not far away -- and of course a lot of them are on submarines patrolling off the coast of the Russian Republic, and they've got theirs same numbered or a few more pointed at us than we have at them.

And nobody, newspaper publisher right here, nobody anywhere in the world is seriously talking about nuclear disarmament. They're talking about getting the weapons off hair-trigger alert, which we haven't been able to do. But if there's this earthquake up in Nebraska, and the wires get crossed, and those weapons get launched accidentally.

Or you have some nut, everyone here's seen Dr. Strangelove, remember that Sterling Hayden character just flipped out. He lost precious bodily fluids and decided he was going to launch the weapons without authorization from the White House, and he did, if you'll recall. Something like that could happen too.

You have to question the judgment of our president on a lot of the decisions that's he's made and it's our job to do that. He might just think launching these nuclear weapons would be a good thing to do, he thought attacking Iraq would. He doesn't have to get Congress to approve it. All he has to do is push the button; he has the power to do that.

And the thing about these. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, is there's no fail-safe mechanism there. Once they're launched -- let's just assumed that we launched them all because for whatever reason, and the president Putin calls Bush on the phone and says, "we surrender unconditionally, you don't I need to launch your nuclear weapons." "Well, I'm sorry we I already launched them about a minute ago." "Well how about recalling?" "There's no way to recall them."

When they've been launched they go hit their targets. They don't even have a way to detonate them once they get into outerspace, it's all over. So that's really dangerous because if there was a full-scale nuclear exchange it's going to kill everybody on the planet. That's what the scientists say with nuclear winter and all the radioactivity that would be caused by the tens of thousands of nuclear weapons.

Why don't we do something about that? We could do something about it if we put somebody who demanded it be put on the agenda. The Russians don't like the situation any better than we do, because they don't want to die either.

Anyway, that's the biggest problem, because in an afternoon it's the end of the human race. And not just the human race, but the higher forms of life. There might be a few cockroaches left after but there wouldn't be any elephants and no rhinos and no whales, the things we love and care so much about.

That could be easily done, it would be very easy -- there are only eight nuclear powers, they all sign a treaty agreeing to get rid of nuclear weapons under IAEA supervision, and we could get rid of them over a period of time. If was running the place, we would already be rid of them, I can tell you that. I'm not, and I won't be, but there's no reason why somebody else can't do it.

The next biggest problem that we face, in my opinion, is climate change, and environment, because they're one and the same. We have got to move away from fossil fuels and stop putting CO2 into the atmosphere, and we have to do that in an emergency situation like we did when we mobilized for World War II. We need to put up windmills and solar panels and bio-fuels, and possibly even expand nuclear power, again, as much as I don't like that, but if we have to, I'd rather have a nuclear plant than a coal-burning plant, in the circumstance we have. We have got to get serious about saving our environment.

The next thing that we've got do that is extremely important, is we've got to get serious about family planning. We cannot keep piling billions and billions more people into a finite world. When I was born in 1938 there were slightly over 2 billion people on this planet. Now there's close to six and a half billion, and if I live to be 85, which I'm hoping to do, at current rates we'll be at 8 billion people.

In 85 years the population of this planet of human beings has quadrupled while the number of gorillas has gone down by over 90 percent, the number of elephants down by 90 percent, human beings has increased by 800 percent.

We've go to have smaller families. And I've got five children, okay, but guess what -- they were born 40 years ago, and the population when they were born was 3 billion. Half what it is today. But if I was doing it over again I wouldn't have but one or two, as painful as that would be. But I would do that because it's the only responsible thing we that can do if we want to stay and live on this planet at a decent standard of living.

The next thing we've got to do, and this program is already under way through the UN, is we've got to abolish poverty. Poverty is at the root core, or one of the certainly major root causes, of the terrorism that we're having all over the world. And there already is a program under way at the UN to do just that under the Millennium goals.

We've got to take better care of our water, and use less of it, conserve it, because we're running out of fresh water all over the world. And we also have to abolish hunger. In order to do these things we need resources. We have the technology, what we need is the resources.

Where are we going to get the resources? Well, the easiest and best place is from the military budgets of the world. The world is now spending about a billion dollars a year -- not a billion, sorry, a trillion. You get billions and millions kind of mixed up. At least I did. I thought I was worth millions but turned out I was worth billions, then I lost it all again. It really doesn't make that much difference. I've got to tell you, that's one of the things I've learned. At least when you've lost it, it doesn't do any good to cry over spilt milk.

Anyway, so saying millions, billions, who cares...you know, makes it a little easier to take. The military budgets is where the money is locked up. Let me tell you, the military budgets are a big waste of time. Military conquest is no longer a good way to do things. I would have thought we would have learned that in Vietnam, because in Vietnam we were fighting a third world country just like we're fighting a third world country now in Iraq.

The thing about it is, in the old days you'd send your troops in somewhere and you would conquer the other country and they would surrender and then the war was over. But that didn't happen Vietnam. And one reason that it didn't happen I think, is because everyone's got television in the world now, and nobody wants to surrender. It's like losing the Super Bowl, except that in losing the Super Bowl nobody dies.

These people said 'we are going to have our independence, and we are not going to be conquered by the United States unless they kill every last one of us,' And we just finally got tired of it, although during that war we lost about 50,000 casualties and the Vietnamese lost 3 million casualties. We killed with our bombs, our Napalm, our Agent Orange, which we poured all over North and South Vietnam, trying to kill all the plants. That was chemical warfare, incidentally.

The United States, we talk about how great we are. During that war, what was Agent Orange but chemical warfare? It absolutely was. It was not only chemical war against the Vietnamese people, but against Americans too because a lot of American boys had that stuff poured on them while they were out in the jungle and they're having birth defects and having all sorts of problems with cancer and so forth, just like the Vietnamese people are. It just to me is unthinkable.

And napalm. We were accused at least of dropping phosphorous, we said we used it to light up a town at night, but a lot of it fell on children, or some of it did, and some people say that we violated the chemical warfare ban again.

Anyway, the superpowers of tomorrow are not going to be the military powers of today. They're going to be the countries that put their investment into things like education, health care, science and technology -- that's what's going to be on top in the future. Not who's got the most bombs or tanks or rifles or grenades or cannons to blow things up.

I mean my god, it's hard enough to build things, can we imagine this beautiful old town we're in right now if the American military decided for some reason that they wanted to wipe it off the face of the earth? They could do it in an hour, not even an hour, probably 30 minutes if they got everything lined up properly, to have the bombers come over and blow the whole little place off the face of the earth. Is that what we want to do, is that the kind of humanity, are we going to be like the jerk who came into the bar in Kansas and said, 'I don't like anybody in here, and what's more I'm going to bomb the place too to prove I don't like it, I'm gonna blow you off the face of the earth.

If you don't do what I'm telling you to do, I'm just going to kill every god damn last one of you, you know? Your children, your grandparents, your hospitals, your schools, we're going to blow up everything. That's what we're going to do.'

In fact, if that's the way we're going to be, if that's the way we're going to act, we really don't deserve to live, and the sooner we commit suicide, which we're headed towards now, the better the world would be without us.

The thing I don't like to see is taking the elephants, the chimpanzees, and the gorillas with us when they're totally innocent. No gorilla ever bombed anybody and there's only about, 1,000 of them left in the world. 6.3 billion people and 1,000 gorillas. Does that sound right or fair to you?

People ask me why I care about the environment. I'm trying to bring back prairie dogs. I've got a 100,000 prairie dogs approximately on my different ranches. Keith, how many have we got here? We've got about 10,000 here in Kansas. I'll bet you we've got more prairie dogs than anybody else in Kansas. Anybody here got more than 10,000 prairie dogs on their ranch? I don't see a single soul.

So we're number one in prairie dogs, by god, and it's something, because prairie dogs are in a lot of danger, on a small scale because they're just little things. They are in about the same spot the bison were. There were billions out here and now there's only a million or two left which is one-thousandth as many as there were back when the white man first came out here.

So really what I'm calling for is a basic change in human behavior. But basically it's not anything different than your learning here at the university, because what the university is trying to do is teach us that we should be as good as we possibly can and that we should live up to our potential, that we should be working to make our own lives better and those of the people and all the other little critters around us better as well.

That we should be the best that we can, not the worst that we can. And what does it require? It's just education. That's why my ex-wife, Jane Fonda, said 'Why do you go get those honorary degrees? Every spring you go to three or four colleges and get an honorary degree. Why do you do that?' I said, 'Well, I don't get that many.' I'm not getting an honorary degree today and I'm here.

I'm here because I was invited. I said, 'first of all I'm a business man and I think it's really important that business needs to stay very close and be very supportive and have as much interplay as possible with the educational community.' Because in order for our country and our world to be successful we need business and we need education. And we need them to work and pull together for the betterment of our society.

And what we need for everybody in this room and everybody around this world -- this is not going to be a thing where it's us or them…it's going to be all of us together.

I'm on my way next week to Bangladesh and India and Pakistan with this same message. I just got back from Russia and Kazakhstan and North and South Korea with the same message, that we are going to survive together or we're going to perish together.

And all we need to do is do the right things and stop doing the wrong things. And if we do that we're going to be just fine.

Ted Turner
Landon Lecture
November 28, 2005