At Commencement, Obama Mocks Lawmakers Who Deny Climate Change
By MARK LANDLERJUNE 14, 2014
ANAHEIM, Calif. — President Obama, appearing emboldened after his recent move to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, on Saturday ridiculed members of Congress who deny climate change or plead scientific ignorance as an alibi for avoiding an inconvenient truth.
Speaking in gleefully sarcastic terms to a commencement ceremony at the University of California, Irvine, Mr. Obama likened those who deny climate change to people who would have told John F. Kennedy, at the dawn of the space program, that the moon “was made of cheese.”
He saved his most scathing words for lawmakers who say they are not qualified to judge the issue because they are not scientists. These people, the president said, recognize the truth but will not utter it for fear of being “run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate science is a liberal plot.”
“I’m not a scientist either,” Mr. Obama told this young audience, “but we’ve got some good ones at NASA. I do know the overwhelming majority of scientists who work on climate change, including some who once disputed the data, have put the debate to rest.”
The president also said he had hit upon a novel way to speed up and improve the nation’s response to hurricanes, floods, droughts, tornadoes, wildfires, mudslides and other natural disasters: Make states and cities compete for grants from a $1 billion fund.
Mr. Obama announced the competition, saying it would award funds to state and local authorities with the most innovative plans for rebuilding in a way that protects against future disasters. The money would come from existing federal recovery funds, with $180 million of the total reserved for states devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
“We also have to realize, as hundreds of scientists declared last month, that climate change is no longer a distant threat, but ‘has moved firmly into the present,’ ” the president said. “In some parts of the country, weather-related disasters like droughts, fires, storms and floods are going to get harsher, and they’re going to get costlier.”
Mr. Obama’s remarks came during a four-day visit to the West Coast that has been shadowed by the crisis in Iraq. The White House said the president spoke by phone with his national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, on Friday evening and Saturday morning. Ms. Rice and other aides were meeting in Washington to develop military options for Mr. Obama.
Determined not to let the crisis paralyze his trip, Mr. Obama kept the focus firmly on climate change Saturday. This month he announced regulations that would cut carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Mr. Obama can push through this measure without legislation, though lawmakers might try to block it. So in speeches to friendly crowds like this one, he has reveled in portraying his Republican opponents as a sort of flat-Earth society.
“Today’s Congress,” he declared, “is full of folks who stubbornly and automatically reject the scientific evidence. They will tell you climate change is a hoax or a fad. One member of Congress actually says the world might be cooling.”
Lest his message veer too much into partisan sniping, Mr. Obama added, “I want to tell you this to light a fire under you. As the generation getting shortchanged by inaction on this issue, I want to tell you that you cannot accept that this is the way it has to be.”
The ceremony was held under bright sunshine before a crowd of about 30,000 at Angel Stadium, and came 50 years after President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke at the dedication of this campus.
Earlier, Mr. Obama attended a Democratic Party fund-raiser in Laguna Beach. He spoke to 25 donors at a home on a manicured hillside overlooking the Pacific that belongs to Anne Earhart, an environmental activist who is a granddaughter of the oil tycoon J. Paul Getty.
Reporters were kept out of the meeting, which a Democratic Party spokeswoman described as a round-table discussion, with each guest contributing up to $32,400.
Mr. Obama squeezed these events into what is otherwise a getaway with his wife, Michelle, and daughter Malia in Rancho Mirage. The president has become enamored of the desert oasis there since he began holding meetings at Sunnylands, the estate built by Walter H. Annenberg. On Saturday, with the temperature 102 degrees, he played golf on the Sunnylands course.
This time, with no foreign leaders to meet, the Obamas are staying at a vacation house that belongs to Michael S. Smith, an interior designer known for remodeling the Oval Office. Mr. Smith’s partner, James Costos, an HBO executive, was appointed by Mr. Obama as ambassador to Spain.