The Obama White House hosted its big South by South Lawn festival of ideas, art, and action yesterday. The event highlighted important issues facing Americans and the world as a whole — with talks, performances, film screenings, music, and good food. This year the festivities were capped off by Leonardo DiCaprio premiering his latest film, Before the Flood, after hosting a Q&A with President Obama and Texas Tech atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe about climate change and our future.
DiCaprio introduced the outgoing Commander in Chief as “A president who has done more for the environment than any other president in history.” Obama has indeed protected the most amount of land and sea since President Theodore Roosevelt, and he’s never shied away from diving into the fight to preserve the ecosystem. He even reinstalled President Carter’s White House solar panels that President Reagan had discarded (not the actual ones from the ’70s, new ones).
After the introductions and platitudes were dispensed with, DiCaprio jumped right in and asked POTUS, “How do you grade the global response to the climate change movement thus far?” The president drew on his days as a professor of law to answer. “We get an incomplete. But the good news is that we can still pass the course if we make some good decisions now.” It sounds like he would have been a pretty great professor to have. Our grade on the other hand… not so great.
DiCaprio pressed further into why we seem to be stuck in a rut when it comes to dealing with climate change and Katharine Hayhoe was ready with an answer:
We think to ourselves, ‘climate change — it’s important, but we can deal with it later.’ We can no longer afford to deal with it later. Because if we want to fix poverty, if we want to fix hunger, if we want to fix inequality, if we want to fix disease and water scarcity, we are pouring all of our money, all of our hopes and prayers into a bucket and the bucket has a hole in the bottom and that hole is climate change. And it is getting bigger and bigger.
The conversation later turned to our energy consumption and the realities of transferring our enormous energy needs over to a more sustainable, and less damaging replacement. Finding a balance between job security, job creation, lowering emissions, and even convincing the public that hard truths need to be faced and are monumental tasks. Again President Obama broke down in easily digestible terms the problems and their solutions:
Look, the economics of energy are extremely complicated, but let me just simplify it as much as possible. Dirty fuel is cheap because we’ve been doing it a long time. We know how to burn coal to produce electricity. We know how to burn oil. We know how to burn gas. And if it weren’t for pollution, the natural inclination for everyone would be to say, ‘let’s go with the cheap stuff.’ … If we’re going to be able to solve this problem, we are going to have to come up with new sources of energy that are clean and cheap. Now, that’s going to involve research. That’s going to involve investment. … And it takes time to ramp up these new energy sources, and we’re in a battle against time.
The Q&A wound down and DiCaprio wrapped up the night by asking a question about our future president (who is only three short months away from taking office).
“How important is it that we have a president that not only believes in the importance of climate change, but one that understands that we must conserve these natural resources…to maintain a sustainable life for future generations?” he asked.
President Obama drew from his personal life to find an answer that many of us will be able to relate to.
As my girls start getting older, I start thinking about grandkids. Not soon! It’s natural. You start thinking about the next stages of your life. And the idea that my grandkids wouldn’t see something I had seen that…Look, you can be a conservative Republican in Alabama but you have a memory of your dad taking you out hunting and you being quiet and still. And you want to do that same thing with your kids. And that may be different than me taking my grandkids body surfing at Sandy Beach — but there’s the same feeling of wanting to pass that on.
With that, the crowd cheered. The photographers snapped their shots. And we were reminded that with all of us so close to an election that could have a strikingly diverse outcome, that future is a bit of an unknown quantity.
Lastly, the SXSL audience got to watch the world premiere of DiCaprio’s new documentary. The rest of us will get to see the film on October 30 when it airs on NATGEO. Here’s the trailer.
(Via The White House)