Laura Turner Seydel, Captain Planet and friends at the school gardens program.
As daughter to Ted Turner, being an activist for good and environmentally conscious is in Laura Turner Seydel’s DNA. “I am passionate about health, quality of life and future of our children.”
Interview by Mission.
I work to protect and restore the systems that support life on Earth for children and future generations — our air, water, land and a stable climate.
As a recent Climate Reality trainee and a fan of Dr. George Luber, the director of the Climate Change and Health program at the CDC, I believe that global warming or what some people are calling climate disruption are the biggest immediate threat to our children – that is besides the threat of nuclear weapons. I am on a mission to advocate for and promote solutions to address global warming because we have about 12 years, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent. This is according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s report from September 2018. Can we move to a 100 percent clean-energy economy? Yes, indeed we can. The solutions are available. We just need to scale them!
What you do, in your own terms?
I am passionate about the health, quality of life and future of our children. Our kids expect for us to be good stewards and hand over a livable planet with a stable climate. So far, we have not done enough to meet their expectations. I spend my time working with nonprofit organizations that are leading on environmental issues. I also use my platform to inspire, educate, motivate and activate anyway possible.
How has your life influenced your activism?
My grandparents survived the Great Depression and taught me how important it was to not waste anything, including food, energy and other resources. It was considered a sin. We spent every hour possible exploring in nature and grew up with an appreciation and understanding of what was important about stewardship. I also worked at Greenpeace right after college and came to understand that animals have important rights that, like our children, we have to fight for. And since then, I have witnessed much injustice toward low-income and minority communities, young people and nature — mainly due to overconsumption and greed.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned from your father and watching Captain Planet shape together when you were younger?
I learned that media/screens matter in kids’ lives as far as developing character and culture. The “Captain Planet and The Planeteers” cartoon was Dad’s idea. He thought there should be a superhero for Earth that worked with a culturally diverse group of youth from around the globe, known as Planeteers. The children watching would learn that they too, like the Planeteers, could work together to solve the world’s biggest environmental problems. His experiment worked as there are millions of Planeteers who are mindful about the need to care for our home. The Captain Planet Foundation awards grants for school gardens, eco-stem kits and cash to educators that allows kids to learn about their world, how to work to solve tough problems and make a difference in their communities. In fact, in 28 years, CPF has impacted more than 10 million youth through its grants and programs!
What are some major strategies you have implemented in the past few years that have proven successful in bringing environmental awareness and causing change?
I have worked to inform others through speaking engagements, my social media platform, and I am an environmental editor of an Atlanta-based magazine. Over the years, I have worked to improve water quality and quantity issues by co-founding a riverkeeper program with my husband on a river which runs through our city of Atlanta. I am also co-founder of Mothers and Others for Clean Air, which advances public policy that will improve air quality and fight climate change to reduce effects on public health – especially children. Besides serving as chairperson of the Captain Planet Foundation, I serve on additional national boards that I believe are leaders of the environmental movement. The League of Conservation Voters works to elect environmental champions at the Federal, State and local levels and hold them accountable. Waterkeeper Alliance which advocates for swimmable, fishable and drinkable water around the globe. Also, I serve on the Board of Recycle Across America, to advocate for standardized labels for recycling receptacles – one of the proven top solutions to help people recycle right and fix the recycling crisis and the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a Patron of Nature advocating for protection of endangered flora and fauna around the globe.
What are some of the organizations you currently working with?
I serve on the boards of my family’s foundations and businesses: the Turner Foundation, Jane Smith Turner Foundation, the Turner Endangered Species Fund and Ted’s Montana Grill. I am also on the advisory board for the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. I am proud to be a Rotarian and on the Carter Centers Board of Councilors.
Currently watching/reading/listening to:
Documentaries: “The Game Changers” features the world’s elite athletes who get their competitive edge from eating a plant-rich diet. “Generation Zapped” investigates the potential dangers of prolonged exposure to radio frequencies (RF) from wireless technology: its effects on our health and well-being, as well as the health and development of our children. In “The Devil We Know,” citizens in the Ohio River Valley take on DuPont after they discover it knowingly dumped and exposed people to a toxic chemical, PFOA (now found in the blood of 99.7 percent of Americans), into the local drinking water supply. “Dark Money” examines one of the greatest present threats to American democracy: the influence of untraceable corporate money on our elections and elected officials.
Books: “Drawdown,” by lead author Katherine Wilkinson and edited by Paul Hawken, shares the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. It includes maps, measures and models, and it describes the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming. “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv documents decreased exposure of children to nature in American society and how this “nature-deficit disorder” harms the health and well-being of children and society.
When you’re not working to save the environment, we can find you:
I love to spend time being exposed to leaders who are working to make the world a better place. That may be listening to presentations, reading books or watching impact documentaries that make me a better messenger and contributor to a healthier, more equitable and just society. I also love spending time in nature. It heals me. Or spending time with my children, husband and family.
What is a simple thing people can do in their lives to make a big difference in saving the environment?
Today one must do everything they can do because we have big problems posing challenges that are affecting lives around the planet. We have all heard of the four Rs, right? Of course we must reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse, but especially refuse non-essential, one-use, throw-away anything. It’s a wasteful use of Earth’s precious resources. And with 2 billion more people joining the nearly 8 billion by 2050, we must give up our addiction to plastic straws, thin film bags and plastic bottles.
Also, plant trees and protect the ones we already have. There are so many important services they provide. They cool our cities and communities. They clean the air. And a mature tree produces about 170 pounds of oxygen a year. In the 2020 election, vote for candidates who will stand up for clean air, clean water and a stable climate, which will ultimately protect our children’s health and future.
Can you talk about the importance of being able to bring about social impact regardless of the field you are working in?
Today it is about all hands on deck. We must fight as if our lives depend on it, because our lives do depend on it. Stand up for what you believe in, speak truth to power, march, vote and register others to vote. Testify or volunteer. There’s strength in numbers, and we must not concentrate our work in silos. Like Captain Planet says, “by our powers combined.” I also always think about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” We have young people rising up on social issues, such as the youth-led gun safety movement and the climate strike where 1.6 million youth sat out of school on March 15.
What are your thoughts on the intersection between art and activism? Do you think art has activist roots embedded within it inherently?
I believe art plays an important role in reflecting challenges and movements. Impact documentaries are a powerful and effective way of exposing the problems facing humanity. The personal stories featured are quite effective at influencing awareness and attitudes related to tough issues like climate disruption, mass extinction of species, population growth and pollution. A few of my favorite artists, Dianna Cohen and Pam Longobardi, have exhibited their art around the globe, bringing awareness to the plastic-pollution catastrophe.
How has the depiction of environmental issues changed in the past decade?
Ninety-eight percent of scientists agree that the global climactic disruptions are human-induced and we must take action now. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that came out in September said we have 12 years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent; if we do not, we will pass the concentrations of gases that will cause runaway temperatures and extreme weather events that will make more parts of the world uninhabitable. We are already witnessing these abnormal weather events much more frequently and severely. Just about every country is being affected. Some of the countries with the lowest carbon outputs are suffering the most. The rise of chronic diseases in children is alarming. This is the result of their exposure to harmful toxins in our environment. The “big three” chronic health conditions for kids are obesity, which affected 5 percent of American children in the early 1970s but 18 percent of children today; asthma (9 percent prevalence, nearly double from the 1980s); and a dramatic rise in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. All in all, in the US, 54 percent of US children have a chronic disease. This is because of exposure to a cocktail of chemicals they are being exposed to as early as in their mother’s womb. Babies are being born pre-polluted with industrial chemicals. This is totally unacceptable!
Do you think awareness of environmental issues has increased over the years? Why?
The extreme weather conditions caused by climate change are affecting communities everywhere. I attended Al Gore’s Climate Reality training this month, which had standing room only and about 2,200 people. He featured at least 100 slides on climate disasters in the US and around the globe. I was a believer to begin with, and now I have become a disciple, because the evidence is overwhelming that our beautiful Earth has stage four cancer, and we must do everything in our power to fix it. We saw images of intense hurricanes in Florida and Puerto Rico, flooding in the Midwest, deadly tornados in Alabama, polar vortexes in Chicago and the Northeast, and wildfires in California. The majority of Americans understand that the threat of global warming is real and we must take action now.
What does the word “sustainable” mean to you?
We have to manage our life support for the long term. We can’t be drilling, mining, cutting and killing off the Earth’s biodiversity for short-term gains when we are inflicting long-term losses for people and the planet.
What message do you have for people who want to become activists?
It is absolutely necessary for people to take action. What’s the adage – think globally act locally. There are many opportunities in one’s community where you can get involved to make a difference.
Laura Turner Seydel with her father Ted Turner.
Who is an eco warrior in your life (a person who inspires you, who you look up to)?
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who started the climate strike in 120 countries across the globe. Jane Goodall, an exemplar eco-warrior and a United Nations messenger of peace. My dad, Ted Turner, who has worked to protect our planet and promote peace between nations. He started CNN to bring us news from around the world, and he donated $1 billion to the United Nations to coordinate worldwide efforts to stop diseases and support international peace efforts. He started the Turner Foundation and Turner Endangered Species Fund, which has donated millions to protect our air, water and biodiversity. He is the co-creator of the “Captain Planet” cartoon series, which has inspired millions of kids around the planet to become Planeteers. He also started the Nuclear Threat Initiative to address the imminent danger of nuclear weapons in our world. Excuse me for saying he’s an eco-warrior badass.
How are you an Eco Warrior?
I think I am….it’s certainly in my DNA.
My mission is…My dad coined a slogan: Save Everything. He even created a bumper sticker. And if we save everything, we will save what matters to us most. And we will be able to look the next generation in the eye and say we did all in our power while there was time.