Obama: “Brian, we can’t solve global warming because I f—ing changed light bulbs in my house.”

Newsweek‘s special election project has a great anecdote about Obama talking bluntly about dumb debate questions:

The debates unnerved both candidates. When he was preparing for them during the Democratic primaries, Obama was recorded saying, “I don’t consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, ‘You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.’ So when Brian Williams is asking me about what’s a personal thing that you’ve done [that’s green], and I say, you know, ‘Well, I planted a bunch of trees.’ And he says, ‘I’m talking about personal.’ What I’m thinking in my head is, ‘Well, the truth is, Brian, we can’t solve global warming because I f—ing changed light bulbs in my house. It’s because of something collective‘.”

Good thing Obama didn’t actually say that because McCain probably would have later singled out his use of the word “collective” to argue that Obama believes in Soviet-style communism.

Seriously, though, how refreshing it will be to have a president who thinks and speaks intelligently on complicated issues like energy and climate.

For the record, here is how the April 26, 2007 exchange between Williams and Obama actually went:

Williams: … what in your personal life, Senator Obama, have you done personally to make for a better environment? Personal life…

Obama: Well, you know, we just had Earth Day. And we actually organized 3,000 volunteers to plant trees, which…

Williams: I mean, like light bulbs…

Obama: Well…


I thought the tree thing was pretty good.

Williams: Well, yes, but…

Obama: We’ve also been working to install lightbulbs that last longer and save energy. And that’s something that I’m trying to teach my daughters, 8-year-old Malia and 5-year-old Sasha.

Nice to know even the uber-eloquent President-elect is (almost) like the rest of us, thinking up snappier answers after-the-fact.

10 Responses to Obama: “Brian, we can’t solve global warming because I f—ing changed light bulbs in my house.”

  1. Russ says:

    It reads like satire, really. Media green-chic Spinal Tap.

    Except at least Obama’s smart enough to realize how silly the light-bulb ideology is.

  2. Modesty says:

    Coincidentally, a year ago–to the day, what’s with that?–I got an email talking about Gore segregating the personal and the political. At the CGI last year, Gore said:

    “There should be no mistake that this crisis, the climate crisis, is not going to be solved only by personal action and business action. We need changes in laws…”

    The author went on to say that it was unfortunate that Gore’s rhetoric inadvertently but implicitly excluded actions that would influence changes in laws (informed voting, for instance) from the category of “personal action.”

    Interestingly, Jim Hansen, when asked, instead, couldn’t have been clearer: the top lifestyle change to save the world is to become more politically active and hold elected leaders accountable.

    Fortunately, even though Obama didn’t say…

    “Well Brian, *my* personal action is to run for President of the United States of America and make building a new, healthy, strong, and truly clean energy economy my top priority and to lead the international community toward a more just and prosperous future, with a more stable climate.
    And I’m asking every one of you out there to make sure that *your* personal actions include active participation in our democratic process.”

    …that’s what enough people heard. And the rest is history.

  3. Paul K says:

    “It’s because of something collective” is inspirational to me.

    Replacing Fossil Fuel aspires to be a national association that speeds the deployment and reduces the cost of 21st Century energy technology through the power of collective action. RFF is dedicated to providing alternative energy resources to schools, libraries, museums and community centers. Join in the transition to 21st Century Energy production one watt at a time.

    To that end, I am hosting a forum Wednesday Nov. 12 at the Beverly Arts Center of Chicago. The Beverly Arts Center is well suited for conversion to solar energy. It is an important community asset. The building is all electric, including heat. It has a large, unobstructed flat roof. The local utility has automatic buy back, a key to success.

  4. Ronald says:

    We can make some behaviorial changes. Some of that can be described in the mantra, Reduse, Reuse, Recycle. Then we add all the others to that; Redesign, Rethink, . .

    But what we need is a very low and non carbon fueled industrial policy. As far as energy is concerned that would be, 1) energy avoidance 2) energy efficiency 3) electrify power sources 4) fill the electrical grid with non and very low carbon fueled electricity.

    I think we should change what is called man-made global warming or human activity global warming to Human Machine and Land use Global Warming (HMLGW.) The reason is some people are worried they have to change the humans to do something about HMLGW, that they don’t want to become liberals to reduce greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. And we should make it easier for conservatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by telling them it isn’t humans that have to change, it’s our machines that have to change. Instead of coal burning electrical power plants, use giant windturbines and concentrated solar thermal power. Instead of gasoline engines, use batteries more and more for transportation until it’s all batteries.

    We don’t need to change humans. We just have to change some of our machines. And conservatives don’t have to become liberals to do something to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  5. Dano says:

    I largely agree with Ronald above, but there’s an awful large chunk of the population where ‘rethink’ is a non-starter.

    In my view, we also have to start charging for the ‘bads’ and stop charging for the ‘goods’.

    For example, why do the pickups going to the landfill have to pay $25.00 to dump in the landfill, but $0.00 to dump in the airfill?

    And why do most of my neighbors never put out their recycle bins? Why can’t we charge by the pound for trash but pick up the recycling for free?

    Why do we make employers spend money figgerin’ out payroll tax? Why do we tax good things (jobs) but fail to tax bad things (waste)?

    And why are houses still being built that aren’t up to IBC/IRC standards – e.g. R-19 walls, R-3x roofs, 2x glass? Why are CAFE standards so low? Why are there so many far-flung inefficient single-fam detached that require inefficient provision of services? Why do farmers overapply N fertilizer?

    We can start right away by cutting waste by making everyone pay for wasteful practices. So many aspects of our society are wasteful.



  6. Alb says:

    I just don’t get American attitudes to lightbulbs. You seem to have Terminator / Rambo attitude to energy usage. You deride changing light bulbs, all the while admitting that efficiency is important. Please remember “it needs to be all of the above” and efficiency is one of the big wedges. We thought we were quite efficient in a home with all the usual appliances using about 9 KWHrs per day (and no gas or oil). However by reviewing all our energy use over the last year we are now at 7.5 KWHrs per day and know this can be reduced to 5.5 when we replace our very old fridge and freezer. None of this involves denying ourselves anything; it is just choosing efficient lights, fridges, computers etc.

  7. Modesty says:

    Please. It’s not about deriding light bulbs. Of course you change your light bulbs. It’s about deriding the maniacal focus on the individual as a consumer instead of as a consumer AND a citizen.

    This focus is both a distraction from political awareness (inadvertently or not) and a block to effective communication about the scale of the challenge.

  8. red says:

    “Good thing Obama didn’t actually say that because McCain probably would have later singled out his use of the word “collective” to argue that Obama believes in Soviet-style communism.”

    Actually the word made me think of the Borg.

  9. If you’re in the UK and thinking like this about climate change – that individual action isn’t where it is at, that we need Government action – then sign up to our new campaign Serious Change . Save the economy from climate change.

  10. I was interested to find this blog. 20 years ago I had a book published on different economic concepts to point the way to a sustainable world economy. Someone who liked the book recently contacted me to suggest that I update and re-publish it as a blog. She set up the blog, and the book is now complete on the blog in a series of postings. In addition, a piece on Global Warming has recently been added. Here is the link:

    With all good wishes,
    Charles Pierce