(CNN) — President Barack Obama spoke in front of one of Yosemite National Park’s picturesque waterfalls on a sun-splashed Saturday touting the importance of America’s parks, but cautioning the threat of climate change is real and affecting the planet now.
The President and first family are visiting Yosemite to mark the 100th anniversary of the National Park system. The Obama’s visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico on Friday.
In a speech with a small group of onlookers in front of the falls, Obama said he wants every child to be able to experience the beauty and majesty of the parks. He talked about his first visit to a big national park when he traveled from his native Hawaii to Yellowstone National Park.
“I remember being an 11-year-old kid, the first time I saw a moose in lake. The first time we drove over a hill and suddenly there was a field full of deer. The first time I saw a bear and her cub. That changes you. You’re not the same after that. And I want to make sure every kid feels that,” Obama said.
Obama remarked not just on the beauty of the parks but also the threats they’re under from climate change. He said officials at Yosemite told him climate change has already forced some bird habitats to move further north and long-standing wetlands have begun to dry up. Across the country, Obama said rising seas threaten everywhere from the Everglades to New York’s iconic State of Liberty.
“That’s not the America I want to pass on to the next generation. That’s not the legacy I think any of us want to leave behind. The idea that these places that sear themselves into your memory could be marred or lost to history, that’s to be taken seriously. We can’t treat these things as something that we deal with later,” Obama said. “On this issue, unlike a lot of issues, there’s such a thing as being too late.”
To that end, the Obama Administration helped forge the way in helping pass the Paris Agreement, a treaty where countries from around the globe have agreed to reduce greenhouse gases over time. Obama has also protected over 260 million acres of land and water, more than any other president. But those protections don’t always come without controversy, as local residents and politicians frequently become leery of federal interference with their lands.
The President also touted the economic benefits of the national parks, saying over 305 million people visited the parks in 2015 and for every one dollar the tourists spent, a further six dollars was generated in the area’s economy, supporting millions of jobs.
Despite economic and climate change talk, there was no denying Obama was enjoying his time with family on Father’s Day weekend in one of America’s most famous national parks, remarking several times about the beauty of where he was standing during the speech.
“The parks belong to all of us,” Obama said. “This planet belongs to all of us. It’s the only one we’ve got.”