EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, FLORIDA – President Barack Obama strolled past reedy sawgrass and twisted mangrove tree roots in Florida’s Everglades on Wednesday, part of a push to get Americans thinking and talking about the damage climate change is causing close to home.
Obama took a half-hour walk on the Anhinga boardwalk trail on the western edge of the vast 1.5-million-acre (607,000-hectare) park, past alligators slinking around the edge of porous limestone pinnacle rocks.
Rising sea levels are killing grasses and threatening the unique ecosystem. It was silent, save for birds, the occasional splash of a gar fish, and the clicking of cameras capturing Obama in this vivid backdrop for talking about the urgency of climate change.
“Climate change is threatening this treasure and the communities that depend on it,” Obama said in a speech to a small crowd at the park’s welcome center. “If we don’t act, there may not be an Everglades as we know it.”
With less than two years left in his presidency, Obama hopes to make addressing climate change one of his legacy accomplishments. He wants to finalize rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and marshal support for a global deal this year to limit carbon pollution.
With climate shaping up as an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, the trip also gave Obama a chance to draw a contrast with Republicans who want to overhaul his proposed regulations.
He mocked Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe for throwing a snowball on the Senate floor during Washington’s cold winter.
“This is not a problem for another generation, not any more. This is a problem now,” Obama said.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who has entered the race to for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, has said humans are not responsible for climate change.
Former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, who also is considering a 2016 run, has said his concerns about the economy outweigh his concerns about climate.
But Republicans are not Obama’s only obstacle.
Many Americans are “psychologically distant” from climate change, seeing it as a far-off problem, said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, which surveys Americans on their climate views.
“It’s like a famine in Africa: People basically say, ‘I don’t like it, I wish somebody would do something about it, but I don’t see what I can do and how it directly relates to my life,'” he said in an interview.
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