Obama highlights climate agenda on tiny Midway island

midway atoll dead bird plastic
Every bird on this island eats plastic
01:58 - Source: CNN

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Obama hopes his stop will prompt more Americans to take climate change seriously

Obama looks to boost his climate agenda when he travels on to the Group of 20 summit in China

CNN  — 

President Barack Obama ventured to the tiny Pacific speck of Midway Atoll on Thursday, taking in the newly expanded wildlife refuge in an attempt to burnish his environmental legacy.

It’s a remote destination for Air Force One – the tiny dot of an island is a three-hour flight northwest of Honolulu, surrounded by a vast expanse of ocean. But the President hopes the trek will help underscore the efforts he’s taken to preserve some of the world’s threatened ecosystems.

The White House announced last week that Obama was quadrupling the size of the Papahanaumokuakea marine sanctuary, which includes Midway.

Upon arriving Thursday shortly before noon, the President emerged from Air Force One and was met by Midway residents.

“Let me start by saying that this is hallowed ground,” Obama said, noting that this was the site of the 1942 Battle of Midway, where “a number of young men lost their lives here … For us to be able to visit this monument and remind ourselves of the sailors and airmen and everyone involved who were able to rebuff the Japanese force, that was vastly outnumbered, is a testament to their courage and their perseverance.”

“It is also spectacular as an ecosystem, and our ability to not just designate but build on this incredible natural beauty that is home to 7,000 marine species, that sees millions of birds, many of them endangered, sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, black coral, all sorts of species that in many other places we no longer see, we’ll extend that 550,000 miles in ways that ensure not only that Midway itself is protected, that the entire ecosystem will be able to generate the kind of biodiversity that allows us to study it, research and understand our oceans better than we ever have before.”

The President was also planning to snorkel off the coast of the atoll, according to a pool report.

Obama was going to “interact directly” with some of the wildlife, according to his top climate adviser Brian Deese, though he didn’t specify what that might entail.

Two-dozen bird species, including the black-footed albatross and red-footed booby, occupy the island, as well as dozens of coral reef-dwelling fish in the surrounding water.

Endangered monk seals, green turtles and tiger sharks are among the other species that share the fragile marine environment there.

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Obama isn’t the first president to visit Midway; Richard Nixon held secret talks there with the South Vietnamese president in 1969. Former first lady Laura Bush also visited Midway during her husband’s presidency.

Like his visit last year to the Alaskan wilderness, Obama hopes his stop in a remote and threatened environment will prompt more Americans to take climate change seriously.

He made his case for taking action during remarks near Lake Tahoe Wednesday, warning against electing leaders who deny warming temperatures are the result of human activity.

“The fact is it is man-made,” Obama said. “It’s not ‘we think it is man-made,’ it’s not, ‘we guess it is man-made,’ it’s not, ‘a lot of people are saying it’s man-made,’ it’s not, ‘I’m not a scientist so I don’t know.’ You don’t have to be scientist. You have to read, or listen to scientists, to know that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence shows us that climate change is caused by human activity.”

He was participating in a yearly summit organized by Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.

Obama hopes to further solidify his climate agenda when he travels onward from Midway to the Group of 20 summit in China. He sealed an historic climate accord with Beijing in 2014, and officials said they hope to further cooperation during his bilateral meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday.