Cliff Ransom sat down with President Obama in an exclusive interview for Popular Science to talk about "How to Win the Future" through science and technology. Besides doting on the "very pro-science president," his initiatives in STEM education, innovation, and space exploration, much of the interview was dedicated to climate change.
But before Ransom could get to the crux of the interview, he had to establish the president as a kind of "Nerd-in-Chief." He asked, "You have been a very pro-science president. Why do you see science and technology as being so important?"
"Science and technology helped make America the greatest country on Earth," Obama replied. "Being pro-science is the only way we make sure that America continues to lead the world."
The president reminded that in his first inaugural address, he made a promise to "restore science to its rightful place."
"And that's exactly what we've done," he added.
When asked if he considers himself a nerd, Obama said, "Well, my administration did write a pretty detailed response to a petition, explaining why we wouldn’t build a real-life Death Star, so I’d like to think I have at least a little nerd credibility built up."
Having the title "nerd" is "a badge of honor now," the president said:
Growing up, I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid who read Spider-Man comics and learned how to do the Vulcan salute, but it wasn’t like it is today… I think America’s a nerdier country than it was when I was a kid—and that’s a good thing!
Ransom played it safe throughout the interview, not bringing up Obama's shelving of the space shuttle program or first-moonwalker Neil Armstrong's criticism of the president's "blueprint for a mission to nowhere," and instead kept the focus soft on things like: "If you were to end up on Mars, who would you want as your companion: Mark Watney from The Martian, or Ellen Ripley from Alien?" (Incidentally, Obama chose both for the hypothetical.)
But to bring the interview to point, Ransom set up the "very pro-science president" to finish strong with his guardian-of-the-galaxy-style manifesto: saving the Earth from itself.
Obama called the Paris climate agreement "the biggest single step the world has ever taken toward combating global climate change." He attributed that bold declaration to "American leadership" -- that is, HIS leadership:
When I traveled to Paris at the beginning of the climate conference, I said we needed an enduring agreement that reduces global carbon emissions and commits the world to a low-carbon future. That’s exactly what we achieved.
Ransom didn't ask about the fuel efficiency of Air Force One on international trips but did ask if the Paris agreement "goes far enough," to which Obama replied, "No agreement is perfect, including this one. But the Paris agreement is the enduring framework the world needs."
But what about those "climate-change deniers left in Congress and outside it" (dummies?), Ransom asked. Obama swung hard at this softball:
Fifteen of the planet’s 16 warmest years have come in the first 16 years of the 21st century. The warmest year yet was 2015. The Pentagon is warning us that climate change will threaten our national security by fostering instability overseas. Here at home, we’re seeing longer and more dangerous wildfire seasons, coupled with devastating droughts. Last year I visited Alaska, where towns are literally being swallowed up by rising sea levels. Miami now routinely floods at high tide.
So this debate is over. The question now is what we do about climate change because there is such a thing as being too late. And I think that regardless of their party, if candidates for elected office want to resign your children and grandchildren to a world that’s broken beyond repair, then there’s simply no way they deserve your vote.
Slathering it on thick, Obama dramatically concluded:
I think about my two girls, and the grandchildren I’d hope to have one day. I imagine myself pushing a little boy or girl on a swing set, out in the open air, looking up at the sun. In that moment, I want to know that the planet’s going to be in pretty good shape. And I want to have contributed to that.