WASHINGTON — Calling climate change one of the major challenges of our time, President Obama on Saturday urged college graduates to help engineer solutions and push politicians to take action.
Obama told graduates of the University of California-Irvine that it will take their youthful spirit, passion and knowledge to overcome naysayers who don't believe climate change is a threat or don't want to take dramatic action to stop it before it causes more wildfires, floods, storms, and droughts.
"There's going to be a stubborn status quo, and there are going to be people determined to stymie your efforts to bring about change," Obama told an estimated 30,640 people gathered at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. "There are going to be people who say you shouldn't bother. I've got some experience with this myself."
The president was referring to criticism by Republican leaders in Congress — and by some Democrats — that his administration's new carbon pollution regulations are too stringent and will hurt the economy by putting more than 600 coal-fired power plants out of business and increasing the cost of energy.
Environmentalists say the action is long overdue to fight the growing threat of climate change and the catastrophic weather events it creates.
Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency announced new regulations that would cut carbon pollution from the nation's power plants 30% from 2005 levels by 2030.
It is the strongest action ever taken by a presidential administration to reduce climate change, and Obama clearly hopes to make it an important part of his legacy. If the legislation survives legislative challenges in Congress and legal challenges in court, it could lead to a huge change in the way the nation gets its power.
"The question is whether we have the will to act before it is too late," Obama told the graduates. "The answer will affect the world we leave — not just to my children — but to your children and your children's children."
Obama compared the challenge to President John F. Kennedy's call to the nation in the early 1960s to land a man on the moon.
"It's no accident that Kennedy went to a university (Rice University in Houston) when he wanted to convince the nation about going to the moon," Obama said. "Progress requires the spirit of youth, it requires optimism, it requires hope."
Progress on climate change will be measured in "disasters averted, lives spared," the president said.
"Can you imagine a more worthy legacy than protecting the world?" Obama said. 'I ask you to help us leave that legacy."
During the speech, the president announced the creation of a $1 billion competitive fund for communities to tap into to pay for repairs caused by extreme weather or to protect themselves from catastrophic events.