In a new interview published in The Atlantic magazine, President Obama says he is more worried about climate change than the terrorist group ISIS.
“ISIS is not an existential threat to the United States,” he told Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg. “Climate change is a potential existential threat to the entire world if we don’t do something about it.”
Climate change is particularly worrisome, Obama said, because “it is a political problem perfectly designed to repel government intervention. It involves every single country, and it is a comparatively slow-moving emergency, so there is always something seemingly more urgent on the agenda.”
And climate change is probably helping fuel groups like ISIS, he said.
"Right now, across the globe, you’re seeing places that are undergoing severe stress because of globalization, because of the collision of cultures brought about by the Internet and social media, because of scarcities—some of which will be attributable to climate change over the next several decades—because of population growth," Obama said. "And in those places, the Middle East being Exhibit A, the default position for a lot of folks is to organize tightly in the tribe and to push back or strike out against those who are different."
Climate change will also likely create new refugee problems as arable land becomes more scarce.
“If you start seeing more severe drought; more significant famine; more displacement from the Indian subcontinent and coastal regions in Africa and Asia; the continuing problems of scarcity, refugees, poverty, disease—this makes every other problem we’ve got worse," he said. "That’s above and beyond just the existential issues of a planet that starts getting into a bad feedback loop.”
While the Democratic candidates for president have pledged to continue Obama's legacy fighting climate change, Republican candidates have shown no interest in tackling the problem. Donald Trump recently told radio host Hugh Hewitt that climate change is, "a problem that I don’t think in any major fashion exists,” while Ted Cruz has called climate change "a religion" and "not science."
Obama continues to press on with initiatives to address climate change; Thursday, he is expected to announce a new pact with Canada to cut methane emissions and protect remote communities and ecologically sensitive marine areas in the Arctic.
The Atlantic article focuses on Obama's experiences dealing with foreign policy issues, and Goldberg reports that Obama "has grown steadily more fatalistic about the constraints on America’s ability to direct global events." Obama has a "growing sense that larger forces—the riptide of tribal feeling in a world that should have already shed its atavism; the resilience of small men who rule large countries in ways contrary to their own best interests; the persistence of fear as a governing human emotion—frequently conspire against the best of America’s intentions," Goldberg writes. "But he also has come to learn, he told me, that very little is accomplished in international affairs without U.S. leadership."
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.