While touring areas of California ravaged by a historic drought, President Obama on Friday sounded an ominous warning and said that even if the federal government takes meaningful action to combat climate change, much of the damage already has been done.
"Unless and until we do more to combat carbon pollution that causes climate change, this trend is going to get worse, and the hard truth is even if we do take action on climate change, carbon pollution has built up in our atmosphere for decades. The planet is slowly going to keep warming for a long time to come," Mr. Obama said while touring a farm in Los Banos. "We're going to have to stop looking at these disasters as something to wait for. We've got to start looking at these disasters as something to prepare for, to anticipate."
Mr. Obama and many Democrats, along with their supporters in the environmental community, have held up extreme weather events such as California's drought, Hurricane Sandy and others as proof that global warming is wreaking havoc all across the planet.
But the issue remains bitterly divisive, and many lawmakers believe Mr. Obama's dire warnings are grossly overstated.
The heated debate over climate change has led to near gridlock on Capitol Hill, with Republicans and some Democrats standing in staunch opposition to major legislative proposals to address the issue. That opposition helped kill the controversial 2010 cap-and-trade bill, which would have put a limit on carbon emissions nationwide.
In lieu of congressional action, the Obama administration has taken a number of executive steps. The most notable were the ambitious automobile fuel standards, which call for American cars and trucks to average 54.5 mpg by 2025, and the Environmental Protection Agency's strict new rules limiting carbon emissions from power plants.
The White House on Friday also announced that in the president's new budget proposal, due out next month, Mr. Obama will ask Congress to create a new $1 billion "climate resilience" fund to spur new research into how communities and infrastructure can be better prepared for the impacts of climate change.
The initiative, if approved, also would fund new technologies "that will make us more resilient in the face of changing climate," the White House said in a statement.
Moving forward, the president said, such efforts will become more critical — especially in states such as California, which will have to deal with longer, more severe droughts and less water as the climate situation worsens.
"Everybody, from farmers to residential areas to the north of California and the south of California and every place in between, as well as the entire Western region, are going to have to start rethinking how we approach water for decades to come," the president said.
While in California, the president also attended a town hall meeting with the state's Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats, and other state and local officials.
Mr. Obama will spend the rest of the weekend in California. Later on Friday, he'll hold a bilateral meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan at a private retreat in Rancho Mirage.
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