With the sad news that former President Jimmy Carter has entered hospice care, it’s time to take a look back at a man who was a visionary leader decades ahead of his time.
This is the story of the Greenest President in American history.
The First To Acknowledge The Seriousness Of Climate Change At The Presidential Level
Jimmy Carter was the first president to acknowledge that we have a climate crisis. And this was back in the 1970s!
It wasn’t until the twenty-first century, over forty years after Jimmy Carter left office, that another Democratic president was willing to admit there was a problem and actually take legislative action to address it.
More Than Just Parks is going to give you fourteen reasons why Jimmy Carter is the greenest president America has ever had.
America’s Greenest President
1. A Reverence For Nature From An Early Age
From an early age, Jimmy Carter developed a reverence for nature.
“I have never been happier, more exhilarated, at peace, rested, inspired, and aware of the grandeur of the universe and the greatness of God,” Carter writes, “than when I find myself in a natural setting not much changed from the way He made it.”
– An Outdoor Journal: Adventures And Reflections, Jimmy Carter
The Influence of Rachel Clark
Award winning journalist and Carter biographer Jonathan Alter (author of His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life) attributes Carter’s love of the land to his friendship with an African-American sharecropper named Rachel Clark.
“The real connection to a spiritual life and to a life of appreciation of nature he attributes to a woman named Rachel Clark, an illiterate sharecropper whose husband was the foreman on the Carter farm.
Rachel would take Little Jimmy fishing. She taught him all about wildlife and the flora and fauna of Southwest Georgia.
She imbued in him a connection between spiritual life and nature that helped to power his passion for the environment.” (Source: Carterland)
2. Protecting Georgia’s Natural Resources
Before being elected to the presidency, Jimmy Carter worked to protect Georgia’s natural resources. He did this first as a state senator and later as a governor.
In 1967, alongside leaders in business, government, and academia, Carter, who had recently served in the Georgia State Senate, lent his guidance and support to the creation of the Georgia Conservancy.
“I honestly believe that our greatest potential force for meeting challenges to our environment is in the several thousand highly-motivated and well-educated Georgians who are members of the Georgia Conservancy,” said Carter in his remarks at the 1968 Georgia Conservancy Conference.
Establishing The Georgia Heritage Trust
As Governor, with the strong support of the Georgia Conservancy, Carter established the Georgia Heritage Trust, which identified key areas in Georgia for conservation and protection by the State.
The Georgia Heritage Trust would prove to be instrumental working with the state to preserve, protect and restore public lands and historic sites.
3. Canceling the Sprewell Bluff Dam (in 1973!)
Phil Wise was a neighbor and friend who grew up with Jimmy Carter. He noted in an interview for the documentary, CARTERLAND, that, as governor, Jimmy Carter was the first to stop a dam project.
According to the Georgia Conservancy:
The proposed dam at Sprewell Bluff would have flooded one of the most scenic river valleys in the state and would have posed a significant threat to native species such as the shoals spider-lily and shoal bass.
Carter knew those waters, as he had spent time canoeing the river before making this bold decision to cancel the project.
Carter was way ahead of the curve on dam removal, something America is just coming around to now.
America’s Greenest President
4. Jimmy Carter Created the Nation’s First Comprehensive National Energy Strategy
In 1977, President Carter signed legislation creating the Department of Energy. This agency would centralize existing government programs focusing on energy. The DOE would also implement Carter’s comprehensive national energy strategy.
An engineer by training, his approach was to seek comprehensive and far-reaching solutions to problems.
When it came to energy policy, Jimmy Carter was thinking about the next generation rather than the next election.
How many leaders since Carter have put the welfare of the public ahead of their own political ambitions?
5. Jimmy Carter Tripled the Size of the Wild & Scenic River System
Jimmy Carter designated 39 new Wild and Scenic Rivers as President, more than tripling the size of the existing Wild & Scenic River System.
On his last day in office alone, he protected over 1,300 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers across the country which represents nearly 10% of our current Wild and Scenic inventory.
America’s Greenest President
6. Jimmy Carter Doubled the Size of the National Park System
When it comes to public lands protections, Jimmy Carter set a new standard of excellence which has not been matched since he left office.
With the stroke of his pen (and an unbelievable amount of bipartisan work with Congress), Carter created 11 National Parks (doubling the size of the national park system).
National Parks Created by Jimmy Carter:
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Channel Islands National Park
- Biscayne National Park
- Gates of the Artic National Park
- Glacier Bay National Park
- Katmai National Park
- Kenai Fjords National Park
- Kobuk Valley National Park
- Lake Clark National Park
- Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
- Denali National Park
7. Creation of the Endangered American Wilderness Act
In 1978, President Carter signed the Endangered American Wilderness Act. In his remarks at the bill signing, he said:
“This act will add about 1.3 million acres in 10 Western States to the wilderness areas of our country, expanding 4 existing wilderness areas and adding 13 new areas at this time.
This represents the largest single addition to the wilderness areas of our country since the original enactment of the wilderness act in 1964, and it brings the total acreage in this system now to 15.7 million acres.”
8. The Alaska Lands Act
During Carter’s presidency, America’s most trusted newsman was legendary CBS News Anchor, Walter Cronkite.
After the historic passage of one of Carter’s most important environmental actions, called the Alaska Lands National Interest Conservation Act (ANILCA), Cronkite had this to say:
“President Carter today more than doubled the size of the National Park System by invoking his executive authority to protect 56 millions acres of Alaskan Wilderness.“
“Environmental groups said Carter has now replaced Teddy Roosevelt as the greatest conservation president of all time.”
America’s Greenest President
9. Raising the Fuel Efficiency Standards
Jimmy Carter understood that energy was finite not limitless. One of the actions he took as president was to confront Americans wasteful energy habits.
He imposed the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards on automotive fleets to ensure that vehicles being produced by Detroit would become more energy efficient.
Carter’s CAFE standards, that were later revised downward by the Reagan administration, called for 48 miles per gallon by 1995.
10. Creation of Superfund Legislation
Love Canal was a public health catastrophe waiting to happen. In the 1950s, the Hooker Chemical & Plastics Corporation deeded the site to the Niagara Falls Board of Education. They did this so an elementary school could be built on the site to serve the growing community.
An unselfish act of corporate largess? Not so fast! Unbeknownst to the residents, Hooker Chemical had been dumping toxic wastes into the canal making the site unsuitable for human occupation.
During the 1970s, a growing number of complaints to the public health department led to the realization that the area was extremely unsafe. Not only was Love Canal unsafe, it turned out, but so were a number of sites across the United States.
He Was More Interested In Doing The Right Thing Than The Political Thing
President Carter was more interested in creating comprehensive solutions than scoring political points. Simply put, he was more interested in doing the right thing than the political thing.
He didn’t want to merely fix the problem at Love Canal. President Carter wanted to fix the problem at all of the hazardous waste sites across America.
On June 13, 1979, he asked Congress for legislation establishing a $1.6 billion fund to enable the Government to respond to Love Canal and similar hazards.
Unlike the more recent Wall Street bailouts, Carter believed that those responsible should pay the costs for their misdeeds. The financial burden for solving this problem would fall on the shoulders of those who had created it. What a novel idea!
Special legislation was enacted that became known as the Superfund and, on December 11, 1980, shortly before he left office, President Carter approved the Superfund to control toxic wastes at sites throughout the United States.
America’s Greenest President
11. Putting Solar Panels On The White House Roof
More than four decades ago, President Carter said the U.S. could harness “the power of the sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.”
President Jimmy Carter fought for clean energy using renewable sources. As a symbol of his faith in “the power of the sun,” Carter had 32 solar panels installed on the White House West Wing roof in the summer of 1979.
An Example Of The Road Not Taken
In his speech, Carter prophetically stated:
“A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people: harnessing the power of the Sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.”
Regrettably, during the 1980s, Ronald Reagan, who beat Carter in the 1980 election and served two terms as president, gutted the research and development budgets for renewable energy at the then-fledgling separate Department of Energy (DOE) and eliminated tax breaks for the installation of wind turbines and solar technologies.
President Carter’s solar heater proved to be an example of the road not taken. It also proved to be another example of how he was decades ahead of his time when it came to trying break America of its addiction to fossil fuels and, in doing so, help to save our planet.
12. Carter Was The First President To Acknowledge The Seriousness Of Climate Change
Gus Speth, who was the co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, also served as Jimmy Carter’s Council on Environmental Quality Chairman.
Speth, who appears in CARTERLAND, notes that “Carter was really the first one to acknowledge the seriousness of the climate threat at the presidential level.”
President Carter was the first leader to provide a comprehensive assessment of the environmental challenges confronting humankind.
The Global 2000 Report
Speth states, “We asked the President to do a big report on what the country might look like in the year 2000, twenty years down the road, if we didn’t respond to global scale challenges in environment and resources and population.”
“So it took us much of the administration to do it, but we finally produced what became known as the Global 2000 Report.“
“In 1980, we released the Global 2000 Report and it was a an eyeopener and it really gave birth to this international environmental agenda.” – Gus Speth
13. Managing The Three Mile Island Crisis
The Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor, near Middletown, Pa., partially melted down on March 28, 1979. This represented the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history.
Given the lax regulatory standards put in place before Jimmy Carter became president, the crisis tested his leadership. Once again, he sought a comprehensive solution to the problem.
His administration was the first to rewrite the regulations which governed the nuclear power industry. More stringent standards meant a reduced likelihood that future accidents would occur as subsequent history has demonstrated.
Why Not the Best?
As President, Carter was uniquely qualified to manage the Three Mile Island crisis. He had campaigned for the presidency by telling people he had served as a nuclear physicist and nuclear engineer in the navy.
He had written in his autobiography, “Why Not the Best?” about his role with an early Navy crisis team that had helped disassemble a damaged reactor core at a plant in Canada.
Unprecedented Crisis Management
Carter traveled to the site of the damaged nuclear facility to reassure a frightened public. He followed his visit with the establishment of a presidential commission which recommended stringent standards for the future operations of any nuclear power plant in the United States.
Carter’s leadership in reassuring the public and pushing for more stringent safety standards meant that the nuclear power industry in the United States would be the safest in the world.
The subsequent nuclear disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima demonstrate the wisdom of Carter’s actions.
14. A Lifetime Environmental Champion
Jimmy Carter continued to live the values and champion the causes in which he believed long after leaving the presidency. Since that time, he has lived in his $167,000 home in Plains, Georgia.
Carter, unlike all of his successors, has refused to be paid for giving speeches. Nor has he been paid for sitting on corporate boards. The only income he receives, outside of his government pension, is through the sales of his books.
Like other presidents, Carter uses his particular type of celebrity to raise money. Unlike other presidents, he donates it to the Carter Center where it is used to wage peace, fight disease and build hope.
When it comes to the environment, America’s greenest president is America’s greenest ex-president. Long out of elected office, he continues to lead by example.
In 2017, Carter Family land in the heart of Plains became home to more than 3800 solar panels, which produce enough electricity to power half the town.
The values Jimmy Carter preached while president are still the values he practices today. And, he continues to live these values whether anyone is paying attention or not.
But Wait, There’s More – Jimmy Carter’s Presidency Was Not What You Think
Regrettably, the political narrative surrounding President Carter in the aftermath of his 1980 defeat to Ronald Reagan has largely been shaped by his political adversaries. The reality, however, is quite different.
Kai Bird is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist. He is the author of The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter.
Bird notes in a New York Times editorial that Carter was probably the most intelligent, hard-working and decent man to have occupied the Oval Office in the 20th century.
As Bird writes, “His [Carter’s] presidency is remembered, simplistically, as a failure, yet it was more consequential than most recall. He delivered the Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel, the SALT II arms control agreement, normalization of diplomatic and trade relations with China and immigration reform.”
“He made the principle of human rights a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, planting the seeds for the unraveling of the Cold War in Eastern Europe and Russia.”
In an article which appeared in the Washington Post in February of 2023, the newspaper referred to the former president as: “Jimmy Carter, The President Who Tried To Save The Planet.”
The Post went on to note that: “Despite serving a single term, Jimmy Carter ranks as one of the most consequential U.S. presidents when it comes to environmentalism, according to historians, conservationists and several former federal officials.”
At More Than Just Parks, we believe that Carter was the most consequential U.S. President of all time.
He Accomplished More Than Any President Has Since
Carter biographer Jonathan Alter shares Bird’s assessment. He noted in an interview for CARTERLAND that Jimmy Carter actually accomplished more legislatively than any of his two-term successors. That includes: Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
And, in an era in which political scandals have become commonplace, it’s important to note, as author Kai Bird does, that “Mr. Carter’s presidency was virtually scandal free. He often spent 12 hours or more in the Oval Office reading 200 pages of memos a day. He was intent on doing the right thing and right away.”
So, Jimmy Carter wasn’t just America’s Greenest President. Despite his defeat in 1980, measured by his accomplishments – especially when compared with his successors – Jimmy Carter was one of our greatest presidents of all time.
Recapping The Extraordinary Public Service Of America’s Greenest President
- A Reverence For Nature From An Early Age
- Protected Georgia’s Natural Resources
- Cancelled The Sprewell Bluffs Dam
- A Comprehensive National Energy Strategy
- Tripled The Size Of Wild & Scenic River System
- Doubled the Size of the National Parks System
- Created the Endangered American Wilderness Act
- The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act
- Raised the Fuel Efficiency Standards
- Created the Superfund Legislation
- Putting Solar Panels On The White House Roof
- First President to Acknowledge Climate Change
- Managing The Three Mile Island Crisis
- A Lifetime Environmental Champion
Map of National Parks Created by Jimmy Carter
Learn More About CARTERLAND
Film Synopsis: In the mid 1970s a leader decades ahead of his time is locked in a struggle for the future of his country. His name is Jimmy Carter.
Why Trust Us When It Comes To Jimmy Carter?
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (or the Parks Brothers). We absolutely LOVE the national parks.
In 2019, we set out to make a documentary about a man whom we understand was one of America’s greatest conservation presidents. We intended to focus on President Carter’s achievements in this area before realizing, however, that he did far more than we ever understood.
We grew up in Georgia familiar with the conventional narrative that Mr. Carter was a failed president. We’ve since learned that nothing could be farther from the truth.
After spending two years doing research and interviewing people, including former President Jimmy Carter, former Vice President Walter Mondale, former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and many others – including experts on the Carter Presidency – we realized that the conventional narrative was not only wrong, but a great disservice to a man whom we have come to regard as one of America’s greatest presidents.
We’re proud that we made CARTERLAND, which won the Best Picture Award at the Atlanta Film Festival.
Meet The Parks Brothers
We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested in joining the adventure then please sign up below!
Summary | Leave Us a Comment!
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If you like this post you might be interested in checking out our other Jimmy Carter post – No, Theodore Roosevelt Was Not The Greatest Conservationist President. It Was Jimmy Carter.