Apr 18, 2022

President Obama Discusses Life Post-Presidency And His Lifelong Passion For National Parks Transcript

President Obama Discusses Life Post-Presidency And His Lifelong Passion For National Parks Transcript
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President Obama Discusses Life Post-Presidency And His Lifelong Passion For National Parks. Read the transcript here.


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Al Roker: (00:02)
How’s it feel being in this national park?

Barack Obama: (00:05)
Well, you know what? When we get out of the city and we’re among trees and woods and critters, I feel better.

Al Roker: (00:22)
So Mr. President, you’ve got this new series. It looks at not just our national parks, but national parks around the world.

Barack Obama: (00:32)
Species found nowhere else on earth. Join me in this celebration of our planet’s greatest national parks and wilderness.

Al Roker: (00:43)
After looking at all this, does this give you hope that these parks, these places of refuge, are kind of a buffer in a sense against what we see on the outside world, including climate change?

Barack Obama: (00:55)
Well, one of the great things about national parks is they belong to everybody. And one of the reasons I wanted to do this show about these great national parks is this is really one of America’s great exports. Teddy Roosevelt designated Yellowstone as a national park. We had one. Now around the world, there are 4,000 great national parks. And what we do is we look at the variety of landscapes from Monterey Peninsula and the amazing waters that are filled with all kinds of sea animals that are continually replenishing our air and our water down to Tsavo in Africa, this massive park that’s full of lions and elephants and amazing creatures. But part of what we also see in these national parks is how people are learning to take care of these amazing landscapes, but also the dangers that are posed by human encroachment. And I’m hoping that by us reminding ourselves of how precious these resources are that we’re going to learn something, not just about how to maintain national parks, but why it’s so important to deal with issues like climate change that threaten the entire planet.

Al Roker: (02:23)
We have younger kids, Sasha and Malia, this generation that demands us being better caretakers. Will people seeing this heed that call?

Barack Obama: (02:37)
One of the amazing things about the footage, it reminds you of the incredible biodiversity of our planet. But we are continually losing species. We’re losing plants. We’re losing the land on which they thrive. And as you point out, Al, I think that the generation of our kids are more mindful of how we haven’t always taken care of the planet. And with climate change affecting everything, they are demanding action. And my hope is that what this show does is not only remind us why we need to act, but also gives you some indication of the ways in which we can actually restore and rebuild some of these landscapes that were devastated.

Barack Obama: (03:26)
You think about even here in the United States, a place like Yellowstone, where for a while, there were almost no bison. They were right on the verge of extinction. And now when you go into these national parks, you have entire herds that are running across the planes. Nature is more resilient than we think if we are intentional about it. But when you look at the recent reports, for example, from the International Panel on Climate Change, the window for us to act to ensure that we don’t have cataclysmic climate change, that window’s closing, and we’re going to have to seize on it.

Al Roker: (04:10)
You, as a boy, went to national park and you’ve gone with the family. Is that one of the impetuses for this?

Barack Obama: (04:15)
Part of what I want us to do, as families rediscover this amazing treasure that we have… Because I think back to my own youth. I was lucky enough to live, when I was a kid, in Hawaii. The whole state almost is a national park. And so the oceans, the coral reefs, the mountains, the forest, that was part of my everyday life. And part of what we do in this show is track some of the areas like Indonesia, Kenya, Patagonia, places where I’ve traveled. But it stirred, when I was a child, a sense of how big the world was and how interconnected we all are.

Al Roker: (05:00)
Speaking of being interconnected, climate is one of those things that gets pushed down when things happen, for example, and now we’ve got Ukraine. And there’s a talk about let’s ramp up production of fossil fuels because inflation, higher gas prices. Do you worry that’s going to push back the initiative?

Barack Obama: (05:20)
Well, interestingly, when we see what’s happened with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it argues for us redoubling our efforts to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. Russia is emboldened and empowered in part because they think we have to buy their oil and gas. And one of the things I’ve been very encouraged by, because it’s not easy to do, is the Biden administration’s ability to mobilize Europe, countries like Asia and Korea, to say not only that we’re going to sanction Russia for this vicious and unjustified invasion of an independent country, but also that we now have to think about how do we revamp our energy so that we are no longer dependent on these fossil fuels. It’s not just that it is contributing to the heating of our planet. It’s also that it ends up empowering folks that we don’t want empowered.

Al Roker: (06:24)
Speaking of Vladimir Putin, you’re one of the few people who’ve been in the room with him. What you see happening now? Is this the Vladimir Putin that you had to deal with?

Barack Obama: (06:33)
Putin has always been ruthless against his own people, as well as others. He has always been somebody who’s wrapped up in this twisted distorted sense of grievance and ethnic nationalism. That part of Putin I think has always been there. What we’ve seen with the invasion of Ukraine is him being reckless in a way that you might not have anticipated eight, 10 years ago. But the danger was always there. And I think that, as I said, the encouraging thing has been the extraordinary courage of the Ukrainian people, but also the ways in which the majority of the world has been repulsed by it and is reacting to it. We’re all going to have a part to play in not only helping the Ukrainian people, but also looking at some of these larger trends. How can we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels so that we can shift to a more clean energy future? That’s going to be good for all of us.

Al Roker: (07:46)
You talk about current administration. You were just at the White House for the first time in five years. How did that feel?

Barack Obama: (07:52)
It was wonderful to see some of the old team, people who we interacted with every day for eight years, worked so hard, folks who looked after us, not just the policy people, but the staff that do the little things every day to make your life easier. The fact that I could leave though, was nice.

Al Roker: (08:15)
A lot of people, I think when you made the Vice President Biden joke… Were you a little surprised if people are like, hey, what’s up with that?

Barack Obama: (08:23)
No. Look, President Biden and I have an extraordinary friendship as well as professional relationship. And our families know each other. His grandkids are close friends with my daughters. And I think that he understands what I came to understand when I was president, which is each of us when we occupy that seat, we’re relay runners. We’re trying to move the ball forward. Issues are tough. It’s not always easy. But if we’ve got good people around us and a good team, we can get things done. And I think they’re getting good stuff done.

Al Roker: (09:09)
You talk about back in 2010. You talked about with the midterms, you took a shellacking.

Barack Obama: (09:14)

Al Roker: (09:14)
What do you think is going to happen in this midterm election?

Barack Obama: (09:18)
Well, it’s too early to say. I mean, we’re still far away. I will say this. I think the Biden administration has overcome some extraordinary circumstances. COVID, the economy, and now most recently, Ukraine, and they have handled the policy right. But look, understandably, people feel exhausted by COVID. That was a traumatic experience for a lot of people, even tougher on a lot of working families who didn’t have the option of Zooming from home when it came to work, and people who’ve lost loved ones. So that was tough. And that’s going to create… That’s going to dampen the mood of a country. Inflation is a real issue. A lot of it is having to do with COVID and supply chains, and now Putin’s gas tax essentially by virtue of his invasion of Ukraine.

Barack Obama: (10:19)
But the underlying economy. There’s a good story to tell. I mean, unemployment is close to record lows. Wages are up. People are finding jobs. And so what I’ve said consistently is the Democrats have to go out there and tell the story, and we’ll see how it plays out. Ultimately, the voters decide on this thing. The one thing that I learned, I guess, from my own experience is typically in any election you’ve got to tell a story that people find compelling. And you wish sometimes if you built a better mouse trap, that people would beat a path to your door, but sometimes you got to go out there and show them-

Al Roker: (11:08)
Put the cheese out there.

Barack Obama: (11:09)
… show them what a good mouse trap this thing is.

Al Roker: (11:12)
You mentioned COVID. 80 million Americans, you’ve tested positive for it. How are you feeling?

Barack Obama: (11:17)
I feel fine. Look, I was fortunate that I did not get it until I had been vaccinated, I had been boosted. And I barely had symptoms. And this is one of the arguments for those who are still hesitating about getting a vaccine. Because they say to themselves, well, you got vaccinated and you still got COVID. I barely had any symptoms. And the risk of hospitalization, or long COVID symptoms that linger on for years, are awful lot lower if you take advantage of this modern medical miracle that now has been tested on probably about a billion people with almost evidence of any significant side effects. This is something that I hope people continue to take seriously and continue to take advantage of.

Al Roker: (12:20)
Post-presidency, how has life changed for you, Michelle, Sasha, Malia?

Barack Obama: (12:29)
Well, there’s nothing that compares who the privilege and honor of serving the American people in the highest office of the land. And there are times where I miss the work. There are times where I miss the incredible camaraderie that you build with a team of people who are incredibly dedicated, working amazingly hard. And you’re in the foxhole altogether, right, the adrenaline that comes with that and the team spirit that comes with that.

Barack Obama: (13:08)
I don’t miss the hoopla though. I don’t miss the confinement. And we’re finding that we can be really productive, contributing citizens in all kinds of other ways. My work and Michelle’s work with the foundation. We’re training a whole new set of leaders all around the world and here in the United States who are interested in figuring out how do we solve big problems like climate change. Our ability to do projects like this one, with the great national parks. Which by the way, not only do we have a show on Netflix, but we’re also partnering with the Wildlife Conservation Society with something called Wild For All. And you can go on a website, Wild For All, and find out ways in which viewers can actively participate in helping to build a conservation mindset and appreciate our national parks. So there are a lot of fun things that we’re able to do, but things that I think are meaningful as well and I hope we are able to continue to do.

Al Roker: (14:15)
During your presidency, you protected more public lands, more waterways than any previous administration. Now that you are a private citizen, is climate change and the environment one of your top priorities?

Barack Obama: (14:29)
I think it has to be one of the top priorities for all of us. Look, you and I were fortunate enough growing up, and it almost didn’t matter where you were on the planet, where as we were coming of age, an environmental movement came about. If you were a little older than us and you were living in LA, you couldn’t breathe because of the smoke. If you were a little older than us and you were living in Chicago, the Chicago River caught on fire. Because of the environmental movement all of us ended up living happier, healthier lives. And that was passed on to us because of the work of a generation before us.

Barack Obama: (15:14)
The threat of climate change is many times over a bigger threat than pollution was. Because if we start seeing temperatures tip to a point in which we can’t reverse them and oceans start rising, as you know better than anybody, the climate patterns and the jet stream, huge global systems start changing, the consequences for all of us, farmers, people who live on coastlines, the consequences for public health, insect-borne diseases, mass migration, conflict, those things are going to accelerate.

Barack Obama: (16:04)
I don’t want to leave that kind of legacy for my kids and my grandkids, and I don’t think any of us do. And so that means that we’ve got to get to work. And the good news is that we have, on the shelves right now, technologies that if we deployed them, wouldn’t completely eliminate the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change, but would tampen them down and give us more time to create new energy sources. It’s just a matter of will and us getting ourselves organized. And we’re going to have to do that. Here in the United States, as a major contributor to these greenhouse gases, we’ve got to set a good example, and then we’re going to have to help mobilize the world. And that’s not easy to do, but we’ve done hard things before.

Al Roker: (16:48)
One last question. On a personal note, our son, Nick, is getting rid to go to college. He’s about to leave. Deborah and I are like, I can’t believe this. You’ve been through it. You got any tips for us as far as empty nesting?

Barack Obama: (17:03)
Well, first tip is you are going to weep copiously when you drop Nick off at college, but you can’t let him see you cry. So you drop him off and then you quickly leave, and then you cry in the car. That’s tip number one. Because you don’t want them to feel bad as they getting all excited about their new life. You’ll feel horrible.

Al Roker: (17:28)
Thank you.

Barack Obama: (17:29)
Tip number two is you try to bribe them with like nice trips, “Hey, we’re going to Hawaii. You guys want to come?” so that they show up. And keep the refrigerator stocked because they can’t afford fresh fruit and things like that. But look, seriously, Michelle always said, and she’s absolutely right about this, our job as parents is to teach our kids not to need us. And it hurts, but when you see them as accomplish, confident, kind, thoughtful, responsible people, then you know you’ve done your job. And it turns out that after they’ve been away from you for a little while, they kind of remember, oh, I sort of like them, and they start showing up again.

Al Roker: (18:27)
Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Barack Obama: (18:29)
Absolutely. You’ll survive.

Al Roker: (18:31)
Thank you, Mr. President.

Barack Obama: (18:31)
Appreciate you.

Al Roker: (18:32)
Appreciate it.

Barack Obama: (18:32)
Good luck.

Al Roker: (18:33)
Thank you.

Barack Obama: (18:34)
Part of why I’m excited about this show is so many of us are removed from nature most of the time. And one of the great inventions of America that has now been exported around the world is our national parks.

Al Roker: (18:54)
And I know you spent time as a kid in national parks.

Barack Obama: (18:57)
I did.

Al Roker: (18:58)
We’ve got some great kids here-

Barack Obama: (18:59)
Here’s what’s going on, guys?

Al Roker: (19:00)
… from the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington.

Children: (19:00)

Barack Obama: (19:00)

Joseph: (19:00)
I’m Joseph and I’m in third grade.

Al Roker: (19:05)
And the former president is also hoping to inspire the next generation to get involved with national parks and share his love of nature. So we led some local kids on a scavenger hunt.

Barack Obama: (19:17)
It was very nice to meet you. And mom made you put on tie today, huh?

Joseph: (19:20)

Barack Obama: (19:21)
Yeah. It’s okay. It look sharp. Is this Team Roker over here?

Al Roker: (19:24)
This is Team Roker.

Francine Sewell: (19:25)
Team Roker.

Al Roker: (19:31)
Team Roker.

Barack Obama: (19:31)
You guys, you know-

Child: (19:31)
I want to be on your team.

Al Roker: (19:31)

Barack Obama: (19:32)
No, you know what? Roker’s team, he knows a lot about this stuff. So I think you guys will be all right with Team Roker.

Francine Sewell: (19:36)
We got this covered. We got this covered.

Barack Obama: (19:36)
Let’s see Team Obama, though.

Speaker 5: (19:37)
Hey, Team Obama.

Child: (19:39)
Hi, Obama.

Speaker 5: (19:39)
Yes, sir. Nice to meet you.

Barack Obama: (19:40)
What’s your name, sir?

Al Roker: (19:41)
He’s come to play.

Barack Obama: (19:43)
What’s your name, sir?

Joah: (19:43)

Barack Obama: (19:43)

Joah: (19:43)

Barack Obama: (19:43)
Very nice to meet you.

Al Roker: (19:43)
But we’re going to have to take his team down.

Barack Obama: (19:45)
What grade are you in?

Barack Obama: (19:46)
Well, I am very excited about our kind of treasure hunt we’ve got going here, our scavenger hunt. We’re going to go find stuff that’s on our list, right?

Children: (19:56)

Barack Obama: (19:57)
And Ranger Aaron’s going to explain it all. Where’s my clipboard? How are we going to do this?

Aaron LaRocca: (20:04)
Well, we got to set the expectation that this team is going to win. So Team Obama’s going to win?

Barack Obama: (20:14)
Hey, come on.

Children: (20:14)

Al Roker: (20:14)
No! We’re going to win?

Children: (20:14)

Al Roker: (20:14)

Barack Obama: (20:14)
All right, one, two, three.

Al Roker: (20:14)
Ready, set, scavenge. Here we go. Let’s go!

Francine Sewell: (20:25)
Does anyone see any yellow flowers?

Child: (20:28)

Al Roker: (20:28)
[inaudible 00:20:28] see some yellow flowers?

Child: (20:29)
Yes, I see them right there.

Al Roker: (20:31)
Right there.

Francine Sewell: (20:31)
Yellow flowers. We going to check that off our list.

Barack Obama: (20:38)
I see trees on here. That’s kind of easy. Am I right?

Francine Sewell: (20:42)
I think that counts, yeah.

Barack Obama: (20:42)
I think that counts. That’s a big one. That’s bigger than a kid arm span. Why don’t you guys look [inaudible 00:20:44] on the right? See if you can-

Francine Sewell: (20:46)
What about big tree bigger than your arm span? Who could find a big tree they can’t hug?

Al Roker: (20:53)
You can’t hug the tree. Can you hug that?

Barack Obama: (20:55)
In the animal kingdom, it is the male that looks fancier, is more colorful, et cetera, because they’re trying to attract the female. See?

Aaron LaRocca: (21:07)
So the wood duck we have here is brilliant greens and blues and oranges, all kinds of different colored feathers.

Barack Obama: (21:14)
So I think that means that it must be a male duck, don’t you think?

Aaron LaRocca: (21:16)
Yes, sir.

Barack Obama: (21:16)
Okay. Is this fungi?

Aaron LaRocca: (21:19)
It is.

Children: (21:19)

Barack Obama: (21:19)
So does anybody know the difference between a fungi and a moss? Ranger, you-

Aaron LaRocca: (21:23)
A fungi?

Barack Obama: (21:24)

Aaron LaRocca: (21:24)
Is this going to be a fungi pun? Is this going to be like…

Barack Obama: (21:26)
No, it wasn’t a dad joke. I was actually asking a serious-

Francine Sewell: (21:29)
You see any? Oh, there go one. Is that a blue bird?

Al Roker: (21:37)
There’s a bird.

Child: (21:38)
I saw a bird right there.

Al Roker: (21:39)
They’re right there on the branch.

Francine Sewell: (21:39)
We’ve got this checked off our list.

Aaron LaRocca: (21:44)
And I hear some birds. So this is now peak migration, spring migration for birds. Birders who like to check birds off lists, kind of like what we’re doing, they want to attract the birds closer to them so that they can see those birds. That’s the way you can identify birds is by, like we were talking about the ducks, by looking at their feathers. And so to attract birds, you can fish by using your mouth. And then the birds are curious or interested as to what that noise is, and they can come closer so that they’re easier to identify. [crosstalk 00:22:21]. Yep. Or you can use a bird call.

Barack Obama: (22:24)
Oh. Have you guys tried these?

Children: (22:25)

Barack Obama: (22:25)
You want to try it?

Child: (22:25)
But I’ve tried it with scissors. It makes like a squeaky noise.

Barack Obama: (22:25)
Okay, so how do you do it?

Aaron LaRocca: (22:31)

Barack Obama: (22:33)
Oh, sounds like a bird, doesn’t it? The whales that migrate all the… They swim all the way down from Alaska, and then they swim all the back.

Child: (22:45)
Aren’t you born-

Barack Obama: (22:45)
I was born in Hawaii, yeah. [inaudible 00:22:51].

Child: (22:51)
It starts with a [inaudible 00:22:51].

Barack Obama: (22:51)

Child: (22:51)

Barack Obama: (22:51)

Aaron LaRocca: (22:51)
Very good.

Barack Obama: (22:52)
Thank you. See, you know more than some people about where I was born.

Francine Sewell: (22:54)
All right. So this is skunk cabbage, guys. And why do you think they call it skunk cabbage?

Child: (22:58)
Because it smells bad.

Child: (22:58)
Because it smells like a skunk.

Francine Sewell: (23:01)
Well, let’s have Mr. Al Roker see how it smells.

Al Roker: (23:04)
Why me? Oh my. That’s not good. That smells just like a… Has anybody smelled the skunk before?

Child: (23:11)
Yeah, no.

Barack Obama: (23:12)
No. Yeah. You don’t want to smell this. This is-

Child: (23:14)
We’ve already smelled it.

Francine Sewell: (23:14)
Let’s pass it around to get a smell.

Al Roker: (23:17)
Hey, everybody take a whiff. Take a whiff of that.

Child: (23:19)
It’s not that bad.

Barack Obama: (23:23)
Wow. You hang around with some smelly people [inaudible 00:23:27]

Child: (23:27)
No, I don’t.

Francine Sewell: (23:29)
All right, let’s pass it around.

Child: (23:31)
[inaudible 00:23:31].

Francine Sewell: (23:33)
Is this the cabbage like you eat at home? To find a former president.

Barack Obama: (23:38)
Does anybody know where there’s a former president?

Children: (23:40)
Right there.

Francine Sewell: (23:41)

Al Roker: (23:45)
I think Team Obama.

Barack Obama: (23:46)
We’ve got to take advantage of something. One of the things on our list is a weather expert, so we’re going to grab this guy.

Al Roker: (23:51)

Barack Obama: (23:51)
And take a quick picture.

Al Roker: (23:54)

Barack Obama: (23:56)
Do we have to take a pledge?

Francine Sewell: (23:57)
Yep. We must take a pledge and raise our right hands.

Barack Obama: (24:00)
We should stand up for this.

Al Roker: (24:01)

Francine Sewell: (24:02)
All right, everyone. Stand up.

Barack Obama: (24:04)
All right.

Francine Sewell: (24:04)
Raise your right hand.

Barack Obama: (24:06)
Everybody ready?

Al Roker: (24:06)
Everybody good?

Barack Obama: (24:08)
Everybody got their right hand up?

Francine Sewell: (24:10)
All right. And repeat after me, loud and clear.

Al Roker: (24:13)

Francine Sewell: (24:14)
As a junior ranger…

All: (24:15)
As a junior ranger…

Francine Sewell: (24:17)
I promise to learn…

All: (24:18)
I promise to learn…

Francine Sewell: (24:20)
About the world around me…

All: (24:22)
About the around me…

Francine Sewell: (24:23)
Explore the national parks…

All: (24:24)
Explore the national parks…

Francine Sewell: (24:24)
And help protect the natural and cultural…

All: (24:24)
And help protect the natural and cultural…

Francine Sewell: (24:24)
And historic resources…

All: (24:24)
And historic resources…

Francine Sewell: (24:24)
Of the national park system…

All: (24:33)
Of the national park system…

Francine Sewell: (24:42)
So that they will be here forever.

All: (24:43)
So that they will be here forever.

Francine Sewell: (24:44)
You now are officially Junior Rangers.

Barack Obama: (24:46)
Oh. Congratulations.

Al Roker: (24:46)
Yeah, all right.

Barack Obama: (24:49)
Man, and they got badges too?

Francine Sewell: (24:49)
You get a badge.

Al Roker: (24:50)
Wow. Very cool. And it’s a trip.

Francine Sewell: (24:51)
And a certificate.

Al Roker: (25:02)
Hey, thanks for watching our YouTube channel. Find your favorite recipes, celebrity interviews, uplifting stories, shop our favorite deals and so much more with the Today app. Download it now.

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