President Barack Obama called on Americans coming of age to demand that politicians respond more aggressively to climate change, comparing those skeptical about man-caused alterations to the environment to a belief that the moon is “made of cheese.”
In a commencement address yesterday to graduates of the University of California at Irvine, Obama delivered one of his feistiest critiques of lawmakers who, in objecting to environmental regulations he’s pushing to reduce carbon emissions, question the need for such action.
Obama said rising temperatures and sea levels and intensifying storm patterns define “one of the most significant long-term challenges that our country and our planet face.”
He also used his speech at Angel Stadium of Anaheim to announce a new program in which states, communities and Native American tribes hit by natural disasters can seek money for projects to combat or prepare for climate change-related challenges.
Almost $1 billion will be set aside for the National Disaster Resilience Competition, according to the White House. Some of the money will be available to communities in any state with a presidentially declared major disaster from 2011-2013, while $180 million is reserved for states affected by 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.
“The question is not whether we need to act” on climate change, Obama said. “The overwhelming judgment of science, accumulated and measured and reviewed over decades, has put that question to rest. The question is whether we have the will to act before it’s too late.”
The speech and creation of the fund follow Obama’s announcement earlier this month of plans to cut power-plant emissions, the nation’s largest source of carbon dioxide, by 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels.
“When President Kennedy set us on a course for the moon, there were a number of people who made a serious case that it wouldn’t be worth it,” Obama said. “But nobody ignored the science. I don’t remember anyone saying the moon wasn’t there, or that it was made of cheese.”
Today’s Congress, “is full of folks who stubbornly and automatically reject the scientific evidence,” he said. “They will tell you it is a hoax, or a fad.”
While Obama didn’t provide any names, he added: “One member of Congress actually says the world is cooling. There was one member of Congress who mentioned a theory involving ’dinosaur flatulence’ -- which I won’t get into.”
Laughter greeted that last remark.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio is among those Republicans who have strongly criticized Obama’s emissions cuts, calling the plan “nuts.”
“Americans are still asking, ‘Where are the jobs?,’ and here he is proposing rules to ship jobs overseas for years to come,” Boehner has said.
Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and prospective presidential contender, told ABC News last month that he didn’t believe scientists who say humans are responsible for changes in the climate.
Since recordkeeping began in 1895, average U.S. temperatures increased 1.3 to 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.7 to 1.1 Celsius), according to a statement released by the White House, while severe storms, heat waves and hurricanes have intensified and sea levels have risen.
Obama also had harsh words for those who “duck the question” of climate change. He said they say, “Hey, look, I’m not a scientist.”
Said Obama: “I’ll translate that for you. What that really means is, ‘I know that man-made climate change really is happening, but if I admit it, I’ll be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate science is a liberal plot.”
He said Republicans including former President George H.W. Bush and Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican he defeated in the 2008 presidential election, were once willing to acknowledge climate change and discuss legislation.
Republicans were more open to the idea “before the Tea Party decided it was a massive threat to freedom and liberty,” he said, referring to the small-government political movement.
The emissions-reduction plan Obama announced earlier this month may give the administration credibility as the U.S. pressures developing nations including India and China to become part of a global climate-change agreement. The proposed carbon rule, as detailed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, would require state-by-state limitations on carbon-dioxide emissions.
Some Democrats from coal-producing states have joined Republican leaders in opposing the plan, citing its impact on jobs.
As one method of thwarting the rule, Republican House leaders are considering blocking funding for the EPA.
Obama has used other commencement addresses this year to detail his policy commitments.
Speaking last month at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, Obama laid out a postwar strategy for a more targeted approach to the threat of terrorism while moving away from unilateral military action and proposed a $5 billion fund for military counterterrorism operations.
Before his speech yesterday, Obama attended a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee at Laguna Beach home of Anne Getty Earhart, an environmental activist who is a granddaughter of the late oil-company founder J. Paul Getty.
The event, described as a roundtable discussion and closed to the press, included 25 donors each contributing up to $32,400, according to a DNC official who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to make a statement.