Speaking at an Earth Day event in Florida’s scenic Everglades National Park Wednesday, President Obama sought to imbue his environmental message with urgency.
“We do not have time to deny the effects of climate change,” Obama said. “Nowhere is it going to have a bigger impact than here in South Florida.”
“Here in the Everglades you can see the effect of a changing planet,” Obama continued. “This harms freshwater wildlife. The salt water flows in aquifers that flows into the drinking water of 7 million South Floridians.”
“If we don’t act, there may not be an Everglades as we know it,” he added.
The location of Obama’s speech was both symbolic and politically charged, with the low-lying Florida peninsula especially vulnerable to sea level rise. It’s also home to several prominent Republican politicians, like Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush, who have all cast doubt on climate change.
Obama delivered a pointed rebuke to Scott, whose administration has reportedly banned use of the term climate change (Scott’s office denies that there’s a ban). “Simply refusing to say the words ‘climate change’ doesn’t mean climate change isn’t happening,” said the president, adding, “You got a storm coming, you don’t stick your head in the sand, you prepare for the storm.”
And Obama sought to dispel the notion that the effects of climate change won’t be felt until far into the future.
“It’s not a problem for another generation, it’s a problem now,” he said, citing “stronger storms, deeper droughts, longer wildfire seasons” and rising sea levels.
Obama was joined for the trip by Bill Nye, the “Science Guy” and avid environmentalist.
Although the damaging impact of climate change is predicted to worsen in the coming century, its extreme effects are already being felt on every continent and across the world’s oceans, a United Nations assessment revealed last year. The UN has warned that the global threat will increase if leaders don’t rein in the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Federal records revealed that the past winter and the first two months of 2015 were the hottest on record globally, despite the constant chill throughout the eastern United States.
Obama has made combating climate change one of the key focuses of his presidency. He currently is looking to make a global climate change agreement with other countries. In November, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping decided on a climate deal to reduce carbon emissions and tackle the growing crisis of global climate change. The pact includes a first-ever commitment by the Asian country to stop its emissions from increasing entirely after 2030.
Earlier this month, the White House unveiled a series of initiatives to draw attention to the public health issues associated with climate change after America has seen the number of people diagnosed with asthma more than double over the last three decades. And Obama has signed an executive order to reduce the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40%. Although the government contributes only a small percentage of total emissions, the cuts are expected to keep 26 million metric tons of greenhouse gases out of the air by 2025.
Congressional Republicans have largely opposed the president’s policies and expressed doubt about humans’ ability to impact global temperatures, emphasizing the harm regulations on emissions would have on carbon-intensive industries like coal. Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection has even gone as far as to ban the use of the term “climate change,” according to multiple reports, although the state governor’s office denies the charge.
In February, the president vetoed a bill that would have approved the Keystone XL pipeline, a main piece of the Republican energy agenda. Stopping construction of the pipeline, which would bring heavy tar sands oil from Canada across the middle of the United Sates to a port on the Gulf of Mexico, became a top priority for environmentalists, who said the project would exacerbate climate change and create other pollution risks.
A major UN conference on climate change is scheduled to be held next year in Paris.