In Florida's Everglades, Obama wades into climate change politics

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 22, 2015 6:08 AM

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will tour the subtropical swamps of 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 has said he sees addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue. With less than two years left in his presidency, he wants to finalize U.S. rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, and marshal support for a global deal to limit climate-changing carbon pollution.

The Everglades will give Obama a vivid backdrop for talking about his goals, the White House said, noting rising sea levels and shrinking freshwater in the unique ecosystem are killing grasses and threatening groundwater supplies for a third of the people who live in the state.

"This is really ground zero," said Christy Goldfuss, a top environmental adviser to Obama, in a briefing with reporters.

The day trip also gives Obama a chance to draw a contrast with Republicans fighting his plans.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has warned other countries that a future Republican president could reverse Obama's regulations.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who has entered the race to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2016, has said humans are not responsible for climate change.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who also is considering a 2016 run, has said his concerns about the economy outweigh his concerns about climate.

Many Americans are "psychologically distant" from climate change, seeing it as a far-off problem affecting distant lands, and do not share Obama's sense of urgency, 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.

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To try to bring the issue closer, the White House has started a social media campaign, encouraging people to post photos of parks and nature they care about.

The idea could be effective, Leiserowitz said, noting only four percent of Americans say they hear people they know talking about climate change.

"We don't talk about it. No wonder it's a low priority," he said, explaining people place more trust in what they hear from family and friends than what politicians say.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Bernard Orr)