Obama: Denying Climate Change Is Like Saying the Moon Is “Made of Cheese”

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 14 2014 7:04 PM

Obama: Denying Climate Change Is Like Saying the Moon Is “Made of Cheese”

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President Barack Obama applauds as he arrives to deliver the commencement address to University of California-Irvine graduates

Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama gleefully mocked climate change deniers during a commencement address today to the graduates of the University of California at Irvine, ridiculing those who deny the issue is a real threat. Weeks after he unveiled new rules to cut carbon emissions from power plants, Obama called climate change “one of the most significant long-term challenges” facing the world. “The question is not whether we need to act,” Obama told about 8,000 students during his commencement address in Anaheim’s Angel Stadium, according to MSNBC. “The question is whether we have the will to act before it’s too late.”

Using what Reuters describes as “a feisty tone and a touch of aggravation” Obama harshly criticized those who question the science behind climate change:

When President Kennedy set us on a course for the moon, there were a number of people who made a serious case that it wouldn’t be worth it; it was going to be too expensive, it was going to be too hard, it would take too long. But nobody ignored the science.  I don’t remember anybody saying that the moon wasn’t there or that it was made of cheese.
And today’s Congress, though, is full of folks who stubbornly and automatically reject the scientific evidence about climate change.  They will tell you it is a hoax, or a fad.  One member of Congress actually says the world is cooling. There was one member of Congress who mentioned a theory involving “dinosaur flatulence”—which I won’t get into.
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Those who deny the science aren’t the worst part of the opposition to action though because “at least they have the brass to say what they actually think,” Obama said. Others, however, would rather just avoid talking about the issue:

There are some who also duck the question. They say—when they’re asked about climate change, they say, “Hey, look, I’m not a scientist.”  And I’ll translate that for you.  What that really means is, “I know that manmade 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.”
Now, I’m not a scientist either, but we’ve got some really good ones at NASA. I do know that the overwhelming majority of scientists who work on climate change, including some who once disputed the data, have put that debate to rest.  The writer, Thomas Friedman, recently put it to me this way.  He were talking, and he says, “Your kid is sick, you consult 100 doctors; 97 of them tell you to do this, three tell [you] to do that, and you want to go with the three?”

On a lighter note, Obama also praised the students for their yearlong campaign to get him to be their commencement speaker:

I’m here for a simple reason:  You asked.  For those who don’t know, the UC Irvine community sent 10,000 postcards to the White House asking me to come speak today.  Some tried to guilt me into coming.  I got one that said, “I went to your first inauguration, can you please come to my graduation?”  Some tried bribery:  “I’ll support the Chicago Bulls.”  Another said today would be your birthday—so happy birthday, whoever you are.

(Transcript of the speech via Daily Kos.)

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.