Leonardo DiCaprio has been a warrior for climate change throughout much of his career. And on Monday, the 41-year-old Oscar-winning actor didn’t hold back when talking about the issue with President Barack Obama and leading climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe at the South by South Lawn festival at the White House.
“The scientific consensus is in and the argument is now over,” DiCaprio said in his opening remarks. “If you do not believe in climate change, you do not believe in facts, or science, or imperial truths. And therefore, in my humble opinion, should not be allowed to hold public office.”
“This moment is more important than ever,” he added. “We must empower leaders who not only believe in climate change but are willing to do something about it.
Throughout the hour-long conversation, DiCaprio put the pressure on the president, calling out the “corporate greed of the oil and gas industries” and wondering how politicians can work with big corporations to make change.
“Does our planet have the ability to regenerate if we do the right things? Or has there been enough lasting damage that can never be undone?” he asked. “Have we put enough carbon into the atmosphere that we’re going feel the repercussions of climate change for decades to come?”
The president, who said the United States had received an “incomplete” in the climate change report card, told DiCaprio that “we’re really in a race against time.”
“What we’re seeing is changes in climate patterns that are on the more pessimistic end of what was possible,” Obama said. “Part of what I’m hoping everyone comes away from is hope that we can actually do something about it, but also a sense of urgency that this is not going to be something that we can just mosey along about and put up with climate denial or obstruction as politics.”
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While the president pointed out that there has been progress — specifically with smog in Los Angeles, acid rain, and the hole in the ozone layer — he criticized members of congress who ignored the urgency of the problem, which he called “one of the most significant national security threats that we face.”
“Even as we have members of Congress who scoff at climate change at the same time that they are saluting and wearing flag pins and extolling their patriotism, they’re not paying attention to our joints chiefs of staff and the Pentagon who are saying this is one of the most significant national security threats that we face over the next 50 years,” Obama said.
“As hard as it is for us to start acting now to solve a problem that has not fully manifested itself yet, this is going to be a really important test for humanity and our political system,” he added. “And it’s a test that requires everyone to do better.”
In the end, Obama was hopeful that the country could find change.
The president explained: “At the end of the day, the one thing I’m absolutely convinced about is that everybody cares about their kids, their grandkids, and the kind of world we pass on to them. And if we can speak to them about our responsibilities to the next generation and we can give people realistic ways to deal with this so they don’t feel like they have to sacrifices this generation to do it, they have to put hardship on their kids now in order to save their grandkids, then I tend to be a cautious optimist about our ability to make change.”
The South by South Lawn festival is D.C.’s adaptation of South by Southwest — the annual Austin, Texas-based film, music and media festival. The day-long event was held on the lawn of the White House.