TIME White House

President Obama Urges Action on Climate Change During UC Irvine Address

Commander-in-chief delivers speech about dangers of climate change before around 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students

President Barack Obama delivered a commencement speech on Saturday at the University of California, Irvine that focused on the overwhelming challenge of climate change, saying he wanted to “light a fire” underneath his young audience to help save a warming planet.

The overwhelming majority of the scientific community has embraced the science behind the warming planet and attributed it to manmade causes, Obama said, and young people have an obligation to act.

“The question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science, accumulated and measured and reviewed over decades, has put that to rest,” Obama said. “The question is whether we have the will to act before it’s too late.”

The President also announced a $1 billion fund to help communities protect against wildfires, flooding and storm damage caused by the changing climate. “What’s the point of public office,” he said, “if you’re not going to use your power to help solve problems?”

About 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends are very likely due to human activities, according to NASA. But still, the president noted, a “radical fringe” exists that writes off climate change as a “liberal plot.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an authoritative international body of over 1,200 international climate experts and 195 member countries, said this year that some of the overwhelming costs of climate change—including drought, food shortages, flooding, wildfires, ruinous hurricane seasons, mass migration, and wide-ranging economic damage—are already being felt.

“The climate change deniers suggest there’s still a debate over the science. There’s not,” Obama said. “The talking heads on cable news suggest public opinion is hopelessly deadlocked. It’s not.”

“I’m telling you all this because I want to light a fire under you,” said the President, adding that fighting global warming meant drafting scientists, factory workers and entrepreneurs who could poise the United States to take advantage of new economic forces. “As the generation getting shortchanged by this inaction, do not for a second accept that this is the way it has to be.”

Last month the administration announced a plan to reduce carbon emissions by coal-fired power plants 30 percent by 2030.

“The country that seizes this opportunity first will lead the way,” Obama said. “I want those jobs. I want those opportunities. I want those business right here in the USA.”

Some 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students were set to be awarded degrees at the commencement ceremony, which marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s address for the dedication of the university’s land, KTLA 5 reports.

The event came with high levels of security, as well as flight restrictions for private pilots. Obama also delivered the commencement address to Worcester Technical High School in Massachusetts earlier this week.

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