Obama Spends Earth Day In The Everglades, Taunting Republicans On Climate Change

04/22/2015 10:56 am ET | Updated Apr 22, 2015
Mark Wilson via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama made an Earth Day visit to Florida's Everglades on Wednesday, where he called out those who would deny climate change.

"2014 was the planet's warmest year on record. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century," Obama said. "Yes, this winter was cold in parts of our country, including Washington. Some people in Washington helpfully used a snowball to illustrate that fact. But around the world, in the aggregate, it was the warmest winter ever recorded."

It's of course a huge coincidence that the visit is in the backyard of two Republican presidential hopefuls who have been squishy on the subject of climate change, and a Republican governor who reportedly told state employees they can't even use the words "climate change."

"Climate change can no longer be denied," Obama said. "It can't be edited out. It can't be omitted from the conversation. And action can no longer be delayed."

Ahead of the visit, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on a call that Obama would "use the occasion of Earth Day to highlight his commitment to fighting to protect public health and to fighting the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change." And the president picked Florida, Earnest said, because it's a place "where these kinds of issues have traditionally been bipartisan."

The Everglades, part of the National Park System, is flat, close to sea level and particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Earnest was coy about the fact that Florida also happens to be the home of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, two likely Republican presidential contenders who haven't been as enthusiastic about climate action. Bush has said he's a "skeptic" when it comes to climate change, while Rubio says he doesn't believe human activity is causing the planet to heat up.

The president, Earnest said on the call, hopes the visit "will prompt an elevated political debate about making climate change a priority." However, he added, the trip is "not an effort to go to anyone's home state, but to raise the debate."

Earnest maintained that Obama's visit "isn't about campaigns, this is about making progress on a priority." But he also noted that "the Republicans who choose to deny the reality of climate change, they do that to the detriment of the people they're elected to represent."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), also no big fan of the concept of climate change, has taken to Twitter to criticize Obama's Everglades visit. Scott argued that the president should do more to get federal funding for Everglades restoration, because, he said, "Our environment is too important to neglect."

Earnest fired back against Scott on Wednesday. "It's a little tough to take criticism from someone who has banned the words 'climate change' for the accusation that the president has been insufficiently committed to fighting climate change," he said, referring to reports that Florida officials were forbidden from using the terms "global warming" and "climate change" in official communications. "That's a tough case to make, but it sounds like that didn't stop him."

The White House also used the occasion to tout the benefits of the National Park Service, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year. A new report from the NPS released Wednesday finds that every dollar invested in the parks returns $10 to the U.S. economy through tourism and other related industries. The NPS reported a record 293 million visitors in 2014.

In addition, the White House announced on Wednesday a $26 million investment in restoration projects for parks, pulling together both federal and non-governmental funding ahead of the centennial.

The administration also named a new national historic landmark in Miami on Wednesday, at the former home of Florida conservationist and author Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

This post has been updated with Obama's remarks in Florida.

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