President Obama gave a de facto follow-up to his previous climate change speech on June 14, during his commencement address at the University of California-Irvine. In a bold and positive move, he called out climate change deniers, emphasized the urgency of the matter, and called on students to push the issue beyond the current partisan divide in Washington, D.C.
He criticized the negative remarks made by Republicans in Congress, such as those of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who claimed that the effects of climate change, if any, were “unknowable;” and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who diverted questions on global warming and simply said he was not a scientist. “One doesn’t need to be a scientist,” Obama pointed out, “to act on scientific issues while in public office.”
The President said that when Americans were set on a course for the moon, “nobody ignored the science. I don’t remember anyone saying that the moon wasn’t there or that it was made of cheese. Today’s Congress, though, is full of folks who stubbornly and automatically reject the scientific evidence about climate change. They will tell you it’s a hoax, or a fad. There are some who also duck the question. They say, ‘Hey, look, I’m not a scientist.’ And I’ll translate that for you: what that really means is, ‘I know that climate change is happening, but if I admit it, I’ll be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate change is a liberal plot, so I’m not going to admit it.'”
Vox writer Ezra Klein said the speech was a diverse one in that it “was about more than just the Republican Party. It was an impassioned case for why climate action is necessary. And it was, politically, a speech that showed Obama is done trying to convince Republicans to work with him on climate change and has moved on to trying to convince the public – and in particular, the next generation of American voters.”
Obama is indeed clearly trying to work with young environmentalists, as evident by his remarks: “People are [too busy] thinking about politics instead of thinking about what’s good for the next generation. The reason I’m telling you this is because I want to light a fire under you. As the generation getting shortchanged by inaction on this issue, I want all of you to understand you cannot accept that this is the way it has to be. You’re going to have to push those in power to do what this American moment demands. You’ve got to educate your classmates, colleagues, family members, and fellow citizens, and tell them what’s at stake. You’ve got to push back against the misinformation and speak out for facts.”
Ben Adler, Grist.org writer, pointed out that Obama’s act of reaching out to the new generation is a smart move. He said, “Republicans will never embrace climate action just because most people passively support it, or because environmentalists ardently do, but young people could entice them. The millennial generation is growing in electoral strength, leaning heavily Democratic but showing signs of disappointment with the Democrats. If young voters really did show elected officials that support for climate change is a prerequisite for their votes, Republicans might eventually take notice.”
“I’m not a scientist either,” said the President. “But we’ve got some really good ones at NASA. I do know that the overwhelming majority of scientists who work on climate change, including some who once disputed the data, have since put that debate to rest.” It’s time, he concluded, “to invest in what helps and divest in what harms. We have to realize that climate change is no longer a distant threat. It has moved firmly into the present.”
Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP