- The media mogul taught his daughter from birth to value the environment. In turn, she has passed these lessons to her son.
- Simple acts by ordinary people can start movements that change the world for the better.
- Global development agencies such as UNICEF will be no good if the environment is dead.
- Good intentions are sometimes not enough. Legal action is often needed to change undesirable situations.
It’s the small, visible actions you take as a parent that will determine if your kids inherit your good values. This is what media mogul Ted Turner believes, and his daughter Laura Turner Seydel (above) is living proof. On a visit to the ancient Peruvian ruins of Machu Picchu five years ago, the founder of CNN, who is now worth an estimated $2.2 billion, could be seen picking up other people’s trash and depositing it into trash cans. It’s something Seydel has watched since she was a child and the lessons have worked. No longer satisfied with building one of the world’s largest media empires, Turner has turned the spotlight onto issues of global significance that include the proliferation of nuclear weapons, global warming and the preservation of the environment. Teaching your kids good manners is one thing, expecting them to help you change the world is slightly more challenging, but not impossible. The values Seydel lives by today are an example of how future generations can be influenced to tackle pressing social and environmental problems.
“’Pretty was my fathers first word when he saw a butterfly. His infatuation with nature has been passed to me,” says Seydel, who now heads up the Captain Planet Foundation that teaches kids about the importance of conservation and the dangers of pollution. Captain Planet was the brainchild of Turner and aired on television as an animated series from 1990 to 1996, seen in 100 countries in 23 languages. It was seen by 80 million youth in the United States alone. In the plot, a group of “Planeteers” from several nations comes together to fight eco-villains with names like Hoggish Greedly, Duke Nukem and Looten Plunder. Although no longer on air, Seydel and her father go on an annual environmental retreat to survey the “effects” of these eco-villains and to formulate strategies on how to turn public opinion against them.
This year, they visited the glaciers of Greenland to see firsthand the effects of global warming on 110,000 year-old ice sheets, that would cause sea levels to rise by 24 ft. if they were all to melt. “We have to wake up and listen to the scientists,” says Seydel. “It’s really alarming to hear it directly from the experts while looking at these remote glaciers that remain invisible to most. The devastating effect of global warming from carbon emissions makes you want to throw up your hands and quit, but we cant. If the world came together and acknowledged that we’ve screwed up, that might be a good start to finding a solution.”
Many bemoan the destruction of the environment, but Seydel has seen some individuals create massive change with simple ideas. She gives the example of Wangari Maathai of Kenya who built a peace movement by planting trees with her constituents. Renowned researcher, Alan Savory, has shown that using cattle for high intensive grazing in Africa can bring life back life to nutrient-poor soil, activating grass seeds that have lain dormant for 100 years.
“We need to focus on how eco systems work to find lasting solutions,” says Seydel. “Global development organizations like UNICEF will be for nothing if the environment is dead.”
“There’s an attitude that the economy is everything and nature as just an subset. You can’t have a healthy economy or a business without a healthy life support system. A lot of business-minded people don’t get this, because there’s been a total disconnect from nature.”
As she learned from her father, the solution starts with young people. How many of us have been berated by our kids for smoking or not wearing a seatbelt while driving? Kids have an inherent understanding of the consequences of risk. It’s refreshingly simple and an attitude Seydel wishes Congress would learn when dealing with legislation.
“There’s great pressure on Congress from the fossil fuel lobby. It’s holding us back from becoming leaders in this area, and resulting in carbon pouring into the atmosphere – making our planet and people sick,” she says. “Our kids are going to hold us accountable for this inaction one day. They’ll say we had time to do something, but sat back and didn’t do enough.”
“Teaching kids early and consistently is powerful because they can become stewards of the earth. Raising kids with ethics can deliver big payoffs in the future. Trying to train people when they’re older and set in their ways is hard. They become biased and develop attitudes that just won’t move,” explains Seydel.
A stubborn attitude Seydel encountered 20 years ago was with the city of Atlanta. Raw sewerage from the city was being released into the Chattahoochee River and effecting livelihoods and families throughout the state of Georgia, Alabama and Florida, to shellfish farmers of Apalachicola Bay 700 miles away, where the river met the ocean. Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, of which Seydel is a founder, managed to convince all those affected that they needed to stand united and not just focus on their patch of affected river. By galvanizing communities the length of the river, a lawsuit went to the Supreme Court and resulted in the city being forced to raise $4 billion to upgrade their antiquated sewer system.
The power of lobbying and the realization that one person can make a difference has already been passed on to Seydel’s son and two daughters. Her 22 year-old son, John, spoke about environmental issues at the United Nations in September and has founded an organization that educates millennials on their power as citizens.
Seydel Tweeted: “ I’m such a proud Mom, my son, @JruthII, is speaking tomorrow at the #MoralActionOnClimate Justice Rally.” I can only imagine that Grandpa Turner was even prouder.