Transcribed excerpts from A conversation with Bill Clinton – a 54-minute audio posted July 11 by Minnesota Public Radio:

Former President Bill Clinton was among the influential people to grace one of the stages of the Aspen Ideas Festival last week. He spoke on July 7 with “The Atlantic Monthly’s” James Fallows.

[3:30] Q: …which issues look different to you now from when you were president?

Clinton: …both the AIDS and climate change issues look somewhat different to me.


Clinton: With regard to climate change …

[the recent Bush energy bill] did give a 25% tax credit for the purchase of clean energy technologies. So I went back and read the speech I gave in 1997 advocating that. It was given at the National Geographic Building. Al Gore went there. We hyped the living daylights out of it to the press. I talked about the problems of global warming and we were running up to Kyoto then.

I thought it was a pretty good speech – and it was total dud. I mean nobody covered it even. It elicited a giant yawn from the press and the American public. …


Big oil and big coal were against cutting taxes to buy solar power and wind power and all that other stuff. It was interesting. And the reason was oil was low and the core of people who understood this was smaller.

So what I’ve learned about that since I’ve got out is two things [actually he mentions three things].

One is, it’s a lot worse than I thought it was when I was in.

7:40 …the second thing [is that responding to climate change can be economically positive] …

After we negotiated the Kyoto Treaty … it’s the only thing the Senator voted unanimously on during the whole time I was President … they voted like 85 or 90 to nothing ro reject it even before I presented it to them. Because they believed it would wreck the American economy.

Compare our economy to Britain’s, where they’re going to meet their Kyoto targets. We have similar economic systems, similar economic rates, but wages are stagnant in America, American poverty is rising, inequality is rising. They have rising wages and declining inequality. I believe the most important reason is – I’d like to tell you it’s because Tony Blair has economic policies like mine – but the truth is, I think the most important reason is they took climate change seriously. Because they did, they created hundreds of thousands of new jobs in new areas by going for a clean energy future. And I feel more strongly about that than I ever did.

The third thing I’ve learned …

I was reading a book the other day by a guy just bashing the living hell out of me, saying that he was certain the CIA briefed me once a week on how America was running out of oil and I did nothing serious about it. Of course he ignored what we tried to do and got our brains beat out doing. But that’s not true.

To the best of my knowledge I never had a security briefing which said what some of these very serious but conservative petroleum geologists say, which is they think that either now or before the decade is out that we’ll reach peak oil production globally and with the rise of China and India and others coming along unless we can dramatically reduce our oil usage we will run out of recoverable oil within 35 to 50 years.

And that would mean in addition to climate change we have a very short time in the life of the planet to turn this around. So I think that we all need to start … thinking about that. As we propose practical solutions to climate change, we all need to keep this in the back of our minds.

There’s a good chance that these people who made a living all these years studying petroleum deposits know what they’re talking about, and we may not have as much oil as we think. So we need to get in gear.

But it’s a blessing, it’s a bird’s nest on the ground. America needs a source of new jobs and we should be leading the way.

Furthermore, if we don’t, the Chinese and the Indians will never follow suit and we’re cooked anyway.

[10:50] … in order to get broad bi-partistan support and have it bite with the American people, you need to have to put the climate change issue into the context — first you have to inject this oil depletion issue. This needs much more serious debate. It’s almost not discussed at all in the mainstream media and very few people know about it. You’ve got to read these books by these geologists or people who talk to them to get a grip on the facts.

Secondly, we need to present it [climate change] in terms of a national security and an economic development argument as well as climate change. Obviously if we become more independent of foreign oil, not simply from the Middle East, but from Venezuela and elsewhere, we have a freer hand in pursuing our values and our other interests in foreign policy.