During his highly anticipated event in Vancouver Tuesday afternoon President Barack Obama covered a wide range of subjects – from home life following eight years in the White House to climate change, healthcare and his leadership advice.
The 44thpresident of the United States was in the city for a special engagement with the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade – A Conversation with President Barack Obama. It was a packed house as the more than 3,500 attendees, including federal, provincial and municipal politicians, business and community leaders hung on Obama’s every word.
The hour-long talk had moments of levity – he told board of trade president and CEO Iain Black, who moderated the event, that after the last day in the White House in 2017 his family flew to California instead of hometown Chicago “because it was January” – as well as more serious moments.
Obama had a dire warning about the potential effects of climate change.
“I’m an old-fashioned guy and I believe in facts, and the facts are that the planet’s getting warmer. You can’t attribute a single climate episode to rising temperature but what we do know is this – over time you get more wildfires… and the sea level begins to rise.”
He said with the large percentage of the human race that lives along coastlines means that there is the potential for hundreds of millions of people to be displaced due to the effects of climate change.
He said his own daughters will start to see the effects of climate change in their lifetime but if it isn’t stopped, future generations will really feel the effects of global warming.
“This is coming… I don’t have grandchildren yet but those of you who do, it will make life very difficult for them even if they are wealthy… and I don’t mean to paint this horrible dystopian picture, these are just facts.”
On life after the White House, Obama commented on how smooth the transition back into “normal life” was for him and his family after eight years in the White House, joking that he did have to figure out how to work the coffee maker and he has much less closet space now.
“We [him and wife Michelle Obama] didn’t really become national figures until we were in our 40s,” he said. “We enjoyed a normal life for a long time… We didn’t believe our own hype.”
He said that helped keep the whole family, including daughters Sasha and Malia, who grew up in the spotlight, grounded.
He said that one of the highlights of his time in office was getting Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, approved in 2010.
“It’s still hanging in there,” he said, eliciting a laugh from the crowd. “We’ve still got 8.5 million people with health insurance that wouldn’t have had it.”
He said the act was based on the premise that in an advanced nation like the U.S., people should not lose their house trying to pay for healthcare.
He said his hope is this: “At some point what all of you take for granted will be taken for granted in the United States as well.”
On the subject of leadership, Obama said that during his time in the Oval Office, he tried to develop a process for decision making that brought diversity to the table and ensured every decision was made with integrity. He said he knew that mistakes would be made at times but always knew those mistakes were made with integrity.
Obama added that he always made sure to surround himself with people who were smarter than him.
And as he finished his hour-long conversation, he saved his final message for the young people in the audience.
He said that while social media continues to deliver a lot of bad news, young people today should be hopeful and that, looking back over history, now is the best time for anyone who might be questioning their identity, beliefs, race or gender.
“The world has never been wealthier, never been healthier, less violent, more educated, more tolerant than it is today… It indicates that the trajectory of human progress has been significant and extraordinary.”