President Barack Obama, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, and atmospheric scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe were the headliners at the first-ever South by South Lawn festival at the White House.
The trio took the stage Monday evening to discuss climate change ahead of Before the Flood, the documentary produced and featuring DiCaprio and helmed by Oscar-winning director Fisher Stevens. DiCaprio, who moderated the discussion, seemed to take aim at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has publicly asserted on numerous occasions that climate change is a hoax.
“The scientific consensus is in, and the argument is now over,” DiCaprio said in his opening. “If you do not believe in climate change, you do not believe in facts, or science, or empirical truths; and therefore, in my humble opinion, should not be allowed to hold public office.”
Obama appears in the documentary, and on Monday, the president reminisced about his transition from being amazed by California’s gorgeous, smog-induced sunsets in the 1970s to his administration’s concerted effort to curb climate change.
“We are very proud of the work we’ve been able to do over the last eight years here in the United States,” Obama noted, citing more fuel-efficient cars and investment in clean energy. “[But] climate change is happening even faster than five years ago or 10 years ago … which means we’re really in a race against time.”
Obama acknowledged that changing skeptics’ minds about climate change initiatives is a process. “We also have to recognize that this transition is not going to happen overnight, and you’re not starting from scratch,” he said. “People are locked into existing ways of doing business.”
“The most important thing to do is to connect this issue to what’s already in our hearts,” Hayhoe added. “One of the most insidious myths I feel we’ve bought into is, ‘I have to be a certain type of person to care about climate change, and if I am not that person, then I don’t care about it, because I care about these other things.’ But the reality is, if we’re a human living on this planet, this is the only planet we have. It’s our home.”
When DiCaprio won his first Academy Award in February, he used his acceptance speech to preach action against climate change. “Climate change is real. It is happening right now,” he said. “It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.”
Before the Flood opens in theaters Oct. 21 and will air globally (in 171 countries and 45 languages) on the National Geographic Channel starting Oct. 30. See a trailer for it below.
Watch the full discussion above, starting at 38:20. SXSL was billed as a White House “festival of ideas, art, and action.”