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Obama: Climate Change Contributed to Syrian War, Is Major Security Threat

During the first ever 'South by South Lawn' event, President Obama discussed the grave consequences of climate change with actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

White House

President Barack Obama liked his March trip to Austin's South by Southwest festival of technology and music so much that he decided to try to re-create the SXSW vibe from Texas on the South Lawn.

On Monday, he rolled out "South by South Lawn," or SXSL, bringing together artists, innovators, musicians and entrepreneurs for the equivalent of a giant White House block party for tech nerds.

The president made a midday visit to the South Lawn to check out booths and vendors promoting everything from virtual reality technology to fake tattoos. He later spoke to the crowd about climate change in a joint appearance with actor Leonardo DiCaprio and climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe.

In that exchange with the famous actor President Obama listed the national security interests in agressively tackling climate change.  “There’s already some really interesting work — not definitive but powerful — showing that the droughts that happened in Syria contributed to the unrest and the Syrian civil war," Obama noted.

"Well, if you start magnifying that across a lot of states, a lot of nation states that already contain a lot of poor people who are just right at the margins of survival, this becomes a national security issue. And, that’s why even as we have members of Congress who scoff at climate change at the same time as they are saluting and wearing flag pins and extolling their patriotism they’re not paying attention to our Joints Chief of Staff and the Pentagon who are saying this is one of the most significant national security threats that we face over the next fifty years.”

In an email promoting the event, Obama wrote that SXSL was "at its heart, a call to action. The folks out on the lawn today are artists, creators, entrepreneurs, and innovators who will share how they've used their unique skills to engage their communities in making the change they want to see - whether it's curing cancer, fighting poverty, empowering women, and so much more."

DiCaprio's documentary film on climate change, "Before the Flood," received its domestic premier on the lawn later in the day.

The White House tech fest also featured a student film festival, a wall of art made of Post-Its, Lego statues, demonstrations on the science of food and using technology to help the disabled and lots of music. Among those performing: the Lumineers, Gallant, Black Alley, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and DJ Bev Bond.