To underscore his argument, he stressed that a majority of scientists and the public believe the threat is real.
“The climate change deniers suggest there’s still a debate over the science. There’s not,” he said. “The talking heads on cable news suggest public opinion is hopelessly deadlocked. It’s not.”
Stymied by Congress, Obama has been using executive actions where he can to curb emissions that contribute to climate change. His administration recently announced proposed regulations to curb power plant carbon emissions that create greenhouse gases, a major contributor to climate change.
On Saturday, he also announced a new $1 billion initiative that would challenge local communities to develop innovative ways to rebuild or plan infrastructure to better respond to the effects of climate change, such as flooding and storms.
The $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition would be financed from existing appropriations, but would require communities declared as disaster zones in recent years to compete for the cash by proposing new ways to rebuild or plan.
“What’s the point of public office if you’re not going to use your power to help solve problems?” he said.
But he still needs Congress to enact anything more sweeping, and criticized a political culture he said wrongly refuses to accept that human development is changing the climate.
He drew a personal line from the opposition
“No matter what you do in life, you will run up against a stubborn status quo and people determined to stymie your best efforts, who say you can’t do something and shouldn’t bother trying. I’ve got some experience with this myself,” he said.
But he said he — and the graduates — should be optimistic.
“We are Americans. That’s what we do,” he said. “Even when our political system is consumed by small things, we are a people called to do big things. Progress on climate change is a big thing.
“And progress won’t always be flashy — it will be measured in disasters averted, lives saved, a planet preserved. But can you imagine a more worthy goal — a more worthy legacy — than protecting the world we leave to our children?”