Ted Turner thinks the Gulf of Mexico oil spill should be a wake-up call to end offshore drilling and the country's dependence on fossil fuels.

The environmentalist, philanthropist and founder of CNN was in town Saturday for an appearance at Charleston Collegiate School's commencement on Johns Island. Before an on-stage question and answer session with one of the graduating seniors, Turner said folks here should be just as worried as about this disaster as those in the Gulf coastal region -- seeing as how no one has been able to stop the oil in a month.

"It's ten times more oil than they said at first. Then they used the word 'catastrophe.' What do you say now? What's worse than a catastrophe," Turner said. "God help us if it gets down to the Florida Keys and comes up the East Coast. What if it gets to the beaches in Charleston. You've got to be worried about the tourism business."

But it is more than business concerns that drive Turner. The largest landowner in the United States (he owns more than two million acres across the country) is mostly concerned about the environment.

He thinks the country has developed an over-reliance and over-confidence in technology -- "We were not told it was perfectly safe. They said it was pretty safe." What, he asked, if this had been a mistake with nuclear weapons?

Turner made headlines earlier this week when he appeared on CNN and said "I'm just wondering if God's telling us he doesn't want us to drill offshore." He said there will be long-term effects on the environment, on animals and on the people.

Ultimately, Turner hopes the disaster will turn public opinion against oil and coal, and toward more environmentally friendly ways to produce power -- wind, solar, geo-thermal. He said Charleston would be the perfect place to try solar power (the Lowcountry already is getting in the wind business).

"We need to get on with it instead of sending all this money to the Middle East which goes to al-Qaida -- we're paying for both ends of the war," Turner said. "At some point, the oil and coal are going to run out. Why don't we switch to better options now? It's obviously got people concerned."

Reach Brian Hicks at 937-5561 or bhicks@postandcourier.com.