Obama at M.I.T.: 'Pessimism' Holding Country Back From Addressing Climate Change

ABC News' Rachel Martin and Jordyn Phelps report:

President Obama paid a visit to one of the country's top research universities today to highlight his clean energy agenda. He toured the M.I.T. campus in Cambridge, Mass. and got a first-hand look at two research laboratories working on cutting edge energy technology and personal explanations from some of the school's top scientists.

After seeing a demonstration of a biological battery created without chemicals, the president turned to reporters and said, "Goodness, this is remarkable stuff!" After the tour, President Obama addressed a crowd of about 750 students, staff and faculty in the Kresge Auditorium. He used the address to praise the stimulus bill passed last spring which he said created the largest investment in clean energy and research and development in American history. And he talked about the need for the country to distinguish itself as the leading developer of global energy solutions.

"From China to India, from Japan to Germany, nations everywhere are racing to develop new ways to producing and use energy," the president told the crowd. "The nation that wins this competition will be the nation that leads the global economy. I am convinced of that. And I want America to be that nation."

That investment, he said, is funding innovation at M.I.T. on clean energy -- including the development of a new testing facility for wind turbines, slated to open in the next couple weeks.

"For the first time, researchers in the United States will be able to test the world's newest and largest wind turbine blades -- blades roughly the length of a football field -- and that, in turn, will make it possible for American businesses to develop more efficient and effective turbines, and to lead a market estimated at more than $2 trillion over the next two decades," President Obama said. Development of clean energy sources like wind and solar are crucial for America's independence from oil, said the president. While there's widespread agreement on that goal, the president pointed out that there are decidedly different opinions in Washington about how to get there.

"There may be plenty of room for debate as to how we transition from fossil fuels to renewable fuels; we all understand there's no silver bullet to do it,” President Obama said. “There's going to be a lot of debate about how we move from an economy that's importing oil to one that's exporting clean energy technology; how we harness the innovative potential on display here at M.I.T. to create millions of new jobs; and how we will lead the world to prevent the worst consequences of climate change." The president praised the House passage of a climate change bill and said the Senate is getting closer.

"And all of this must culminate in the passage of comprehensive legislation that will finally make renewable energy the profitable kind of energy in America,” the president said.

He pointed to Republicans who are playing a role.

“We're now seeing prominent Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham joining forces with longtime leaders [such as Democratic Sen.] John Kerry on this issue to swiftly pass a bill through the Senate, as well," the president said. He also warned that "pessimism" about America's ability to take on challenges and innovate global solutions is standing in the way of progress on climate change.

"There are those who will suggest that moving toward clean energy will destroy our economy -- when it's the system we currently have that endangers our prosperity and prevents us from creating millions of new jobs,” Obama said. “There are going to be those who ... make cynical claims that contradict the overwhelming scientific evidence when it comes to climate change, claims whose only purpose is to defeat or delay the change that we know is necessary."

The president’s speech was not all policy-driven. There was laughter among the audience when the President joked about the brainy reputation of M.I.T.

“This tells you something about M.I.T.: Everybody hands out periodic tables,” the president joked. “What's up with that?” From the M.I.T. event, the president moved on to a downtown Boston hotel where he spoke at two separate fundraising events for Democratic Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Tickets for the first event cost $6,000 each. Despite the presidential headliner, the event hall was only half full. About 150 people attended. A couple dozen protesters gathered outside the hotel where the event was taking place. Most carried signs calling for equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Others demanded that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan come home. From M.I.T., the president was planning to travel to Connecticut where he'll continue stumping for Democratic allies -- this time for Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., at an event in Stamford, Conn.

--Rachel Martin and Jordyn Phelps

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