President Obama, in an address speech to UC Irvine graduates Saturday, took aim at congressional Republicans and others who dispute climate change, saying they posed a threat to the future.
The president told those gathered at Angel Stadium in Anaheim for the university's 50th anniversary commencement ceremony that there was a pattern to those who said climate change was not tied to humans.
"They say when they're asked about climate change, 'Hey, look, I'm not a scientist.' " Obama said to applause. "I'll translate that for you. What that really means is: 'I know that man-made 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."
The president said he actually preferred those who say climate change is a hoax.
"Their view may be wrong," he said, "and a fairly serious threat to everyone's future, but at least they have the brass to say what they actually think."
He noted that even those who objected to President Kennedy's goals for the space race never denied the moon existed or claimed it was made of cheese.
Obama, who used the appearance to announce the creation of a $1-billion competitive fund for states affected by severe weather, complimented his audience.
"Since this is a very educated group, you already know the science," he said. "Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide traps heat. Levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are higher than they have been in 800,000 years."
"The question is whether we have the will to act before it's too late, or we fail to protect the world we leave not just to my children, but to your children," he said.
Touting his new $1-billion initiative, Obama said the effort "should not be a partisan issue."
"After all, it was Republicans who used to lead the way on new ideas on how to improve our environment," he said, citing the passage of the Clean Air Act under Richard Nixon and the push to develop national parks by Theodore Roosevelt.
Obama called on college students to get involved in the fight for environmental reform and focused largely on his administration's successes in an address that clocked in at around 29 minutes.
"I'm here to tell you that you are right to be optimistic. Consider this, since the time most of you graduated from high school, fewer Americans are at war, more have health insurance, more are graduating from college."
Standing before a crowd of more than 10,000 graduates and proud parents, Obama opened his remarks to a roar of approval at UC Irvine's 50th anniversary ceremony.
"Hello, Anteaters!" the president, sporting a purple graduate's robe, said to cheers. "That is something I never thought I'd say."
Obama said the campus had "the inside track" in earning his visit because one of his assistants is a UC Irvine graduate. He had fun with the crowd early on, pumping up the college's baseball team and congratulating students on the recruiting blitz that drew him to the ceremony.
"I'm here for a simple reason," he said. "You asked."
Obama's appearance was the product of a yearlong recruitment drive by campus officials and students who sent the president postcards and video invitations.
The campus spent $2 million on the anniversary and commencement ceremony, and Obama's appearance marked the third time a White House resident has visited a UC ceremony. Lyndon B. Johnson attended the campus' 1964 dedication, and First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at UC Merced's 2009 graduation.
The president closed his remarks by repeating his excitement to see what becomes of a generation he called the country's most optimistic and educated.
"I cannot wait to see what you do tomorrow," he said.
As the president stepped down, the throng of students in the crowd directed him to hold his hands up in classic Anteater form and led him in the school's "Zot! Zot! Zot!" chant.