The Corner

Obama: I Get Briefings on Environmental Issues Just Like My Security Briefings

Congress’s failure to combat climate change could have “profound national-security implications,” President Obama warned in an interview with the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman over the weekend. In fact, climate change is now so important that he told Friedman he gets environmental briefings frequently, similar to the daily national-security briefing the president gets.

It’s not clear exactly how frequent the briefings are, but when Friedman asked him if he gets environmental briefings like he does national-security briefings from the intelligence community, Obama said, “I do.”

“[White House science adviser] John Holdren typically makes presentations when there are new findings,” he explained. While the two practices aren’t quite comparable, Obama typically reads his presidential security briefing rather than meeting with advisers about it in person.

What’s his takeaway from the briefings? Domestic “bread-and-butter” problems like wildfires and hurricanes are a problem, but the president also worries that climate change could create dangerous instability in poorer countries. Prolonged droughts caused by climate change, he argued, can help lay the seeds for unrest, ultimately forcing the United States to get involved.

“They don’t have a lot of margin for error, and that has national-security implications,” President Obama said. “When people are hungry, when people are displaced, when there are a lot of young people, particularly young men, who are drifting without prospects for the future, the fertility of the soil for terrorism ends up being significant.”

Friedman asked if he would like to “just go off” on those who disagree with him on the issue, that “science is science,” as Friedman put it. “Yeah, absolutely,” Obama responded, saying the situation is “frustrating.”

He compared his efforts to change the national conversation to challenges of another president from Illinois.

“The person who I consider to be the greatest president of all time, Abraham Lincoln, was pretty consistent in saying, ‘With public opinion there’s nothing I cannot do, and without public opinion there’s nothing I can get done,’ and so part of my job over these next two and a half years and beyond is trying to shift public opinion,” he said. “And the way to shift public opinion is to really focus in on the fact that if we do nothing our kids are going to be worse off.”

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