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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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June 25th, 2013
06:25 PM ET

Director James Cameron on climate change: We don't want to end up like China

President Barack Obama unveiled an aggressive new climate change strategy on Tuesday that would limit pollution from existing coal-fired power plants, and he made clear that approval of the Keystone XL pipeline depended on the project not increasing overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama  also pledged global leadership on climate change and to redouble U.S. efforts to fight it.

Former vice president Al Gore said Obama's speech was "by far the best address on climate by any president ever."

"I thought it was a very strong speech. I think it was as far as he can go at this stage," Oscar-winning director James Cameron told CNN.

Cameron has been an outspoken environmental activist, making documentaries and even using his blockbuster movie "Avatar" to take on the issue of climate change.

"Obviously there's going to be a huge backlash from the right and from special interests. And it's going to be a battle just to accomplish what he set forth, but it's a great opening round," said Cameron.

One of those special interests is coal, and there are a lot of blue collar, working Americans who depend on coal.

"Coal is a pretty serious problem because it's our dirtiest source of power and we're going to have to change," said Cameron. "There was nothing in this speech about pricing carbon but essentially you are pricing carbon if you're going to go after emissions from dirty coal plants."

"There's always going to be a temptation to use coal because it's the cheapest power out there," said Cameron. "But look at China. We don't want to wind up like this with absolutely unbreathable air. I was in Beijing just recently and it's literally unbreathable air. And a lot of it is particulate pollution from coal."

Many Americans do not find the issue of climate change compelling, especially given the more pressing issues of the economy right now.

"People want to pay the mortgage or the rent. You know, they want a job. You know, I used to be a blue collar guy. I was a truck driver before I was a filmmaker so I can relate to that," said Cameron.

"But I think people have to appreciate that you can't have a healthy economy, you know, in an overheated world, the world that our kids are going to live in," said Cameron. "You're going to have a very high food prices, you're going to have low crop yields because of higher temperatures and extreme weather changing precipitation patterns."

"I think the president is showing some pretty strong leadership here in taking on this problem, which is an unpopular problem amongst, obviously, the business interest in the country," said Cameron.

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