Obama Tackles Climate Change in UC Irvine Commencement Speech

President will also meet with fundraisers in Orange County, visit Palm Springs area while in SoCal

President Barack Obama challenged a young, "super underrated" generation to take on climate change and protect the planet during a UC Irvine commencement speech Saturday.

After praising California for leading the way in environmental issues, he said Congress "is full of folks who stubbornly and automatically reject the scientific evidence" and say climate change is a hoax or fad.

"Look, I'm not a scientist either, but we've got some good ones at NASA," Obama said. "And I do know that the overwhelming majority of scientists who work on climate change, including some who once disputed the data, have put the debate to rest."

Obama told the 8,000 graduates that it would be up to them to make change as they grow into leadership roles.

"I am not trying to discourage you, I am trying to light a fire under you," Obama said.

Obama said that he couldn't wait to see what this generation of college graduates would do, adding that they are "super underrated."

"Consider this: since the time most of you graduated from high school, fewer Americans are at war," Obama said. "More have health insurance. More are graduating from college. Our businesses have added more than nine million jobs. And the number of states where you're free to marry who you love has more than doubled. That's just some of the progress you've seen over your four years at UC Irvine."

During his speech, Obama also announced a nearly $1 billion competition that will help communities recover from natural disasters and plan for future ones as well.

The president accepted the school's invite after students, faculty and athletes sent signatures, postcards, and a student-made video featuring the university’s 7-foot-6 basketball team center to the White House.

The Saturday ceremony coincides with the 50th anniversary of then-President Lyndon B. Johnson’s dedication of the land that university is built on, but it took place at nearby Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

Obama arrived by motorcade at the stadium. Outside were dozens of protesters calling for his impeachment, and another group protesting the lack of immigration reform measures.

The president and First Lady Michelle Obama begin their time in California with a brief stay in the Palm Springs area - the president's third time in a year.

With the president's visit comes traffic closures as well. They include:

  • Closure of PCH from Newport Coast Drive in Newport Beach to Ledroit Street in Laguna Beach from 8:30 a.m. to 8:50 a.m.
  • Closure of PCH from Newport Coast Drive in Newport Beach to Ledroit Street in Laguna Beach from 10:00 a.m. to 10:20 a.m.
  • Katella Avenue and Douglas Road closures in Anaheim from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
  • Highway 57 north and southbound closure at Katella Avenue in Anaheim from 1:00 p.m. to 1:10 p.m.

The White House has not confirmed where the Obamas will stay during their visit, but the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, where he hosted a summit with King Abdullah II of Jordan in February, is a possibility.

Saturday morning, Obama will travel to Orange County, where he will be at a Laguna Beach roundtable with 25 fundraisers who each donated up to $32,240 to the Democratic National Committee, before delivering the commencement address.

City News Service and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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