Obama likens denying climate change to thinking the moon is made of cheese


President Obama delivers the commencement address for the University of California, Irvine, on Saturday in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

ANAHEIM, Calif. – President Obama blasted members of Congress who do not believe in climate change Saturday, saying their view is a threat to the future.

During a commencement speech to graduates of the University of California-Irvine, Obama said some in Congress duck the question of climate change by claiming that they are not a scientist, which, he said, translates to: “I know that manmade 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. So, I’m not going to admit it.”

That view, the president said, is a “fairly serious threat to the future,” but “at least they have the brass to say what they actually think.”

Obama reiterated the dangers of climate change, which his administration has vowed to make one of its highest priorities during Obama’s last 2½ years in office: rising temperatures, shrinking ice caps, a harsher wildfire season. And he  implored the graduates to work to combat those effects.

“I’m telling you all of this because I want to light a fire under you,” Obama told nearly 8,600 graduates at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. “As the generation that is being shortchanged by inaction, you do not have to accept that this is the way that it has to be.”

Scientists, Obama said, have long established that the world needs to fight climate change. When President John F. Kennedy wanted to send people to the moon, Obama said, many said it wouldn’t work, but few denied its existence or said the moon was “made of cheese.”

The president’s address came two weeks after Obama bypassed Congress to put forward an ambitious climate change agenda that includes cutting emissions from power plants. He announced during the speech a $1 billion competition that will allow communities that have suffered natural disasters to compete against one another for funds to rebuild in a way that makes them more resilient against future calamities. The contest will encourage communities to adopt new policies to help them plan for the impact of climate change.

During the speech, Obama also urged the graduates to fight against the daily barrage of cynicism they encounter. He rattled off changes that have come in the past few years under the Obama presidency: More people have health insurance; the number of states where same-sex couples can marry has doubled; and, he said, fewer people are fighting wars.

“Cynicism has never won a war, or cured a disease, or started a business, or fed a young mind, or sent men into space," the president said. "Cynicism is a choice.  Hope is a better choice.”

Obama attended a fundraiser in Laguna Beach, Calif., before the speech. He and first lady Michelle Obama will spend the rest of the weekend in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Obama’s trip has been criticized by Republicans who said he should stay in Washington to monitor the situation in Iraq.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama called National Security adviser Susan Rice Saturday morning for an update on the situation in Iraq. The national security team is meeting through the weekend to review potential options. Obama instructed Rice to keep him appraised.

Katie Zezima is a national political correspondent covering the 2016 presidential election. She previously served as a White House correspondent for The Post.

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