Jimmy Carter is America’s greenest president. 13 incredible achievements plus why Carter’s policies were 45 years ago and necessary today.
With the IPCC issuing it’s most dire warnings ever, we thought we’d take a look back (about four decades or so) at Jimmy Carter’s time in office for some inspiration.
Jimmy Carter’s term in office ended over 40 years ago with the election of Ronald Reagan. That’s a long time! So, he couldn’t possibly be the greenest president in American history? Surely we’ve had a president since Carter who has done more for climate solutions?
Not so fast! Since Carter was president, America has not had someone in the Oval Office who installed (and later had reversed) so many climate solutions. As a matter of fact, most of his successors have either ignored the problem or denied its very existence.
Jimmy Carter was the first president to acknowledge we have a climate crisis. And this was back in the 1970s. It wasn’t until the twenty-first century that another president was willing to admit there was a problem and take any actions to address it.
We’re talking about solar panels on the White House roof, changing climate reports, emissions standards, and so much more.
Still not sold? Think there’s been a greener president? Well, on this Friday the 13th, we’re giving you thirteen reasons why Jimmy Carter is the greenest president America’s ever had and a worthy addition to More Than Just Parks Environmental Heroes series.
1. A Reverence For Nature From An Early Age | America’s Greenest President
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
Award winning journalist and Carter biographer Jonathan Alter (author of “His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life“) in an upcoming documentary, CARTERLAND, 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.”
2. Protecting Georgia’s Natural Resources | America’s Greenest President
Before being elected to the presidency, Jimmy Carter worked to protect Georgia’s natural resources 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!) | America’s Greenest President
Phil Wise was a neighbor and friend who grew up with Jimmy Carter. He noted in an interview for the upcoming documentary, CARTERLAND, that, as governor, Jimmy Carter was the first governor in history 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 it seems.
4. Jimmy Carter Created the Nation’s First Comprehensive National Energy Strategy | America’s Greenest President
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 | America’s Greenest President
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.
6. Jimmy Carter Doubled the Size of the National Park System | America’s Greenest President
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 | America’s Greenest President
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.”
9. Raising the Fuel Efficiency Standards, Big Time | America’s Greenest President
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 | America’s Greenest President
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.
America’s Greenest President Responds To The Crisis
President Carter was more interested in creating comprehensive solutions than scoring political points. He didn’t want to merely fix the problem at Love Canal. He wanted to fix the problem at all of the hazardous waste sites across America.
On June 13, 1979, President Carter 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.
11. 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.”
12. Managing The Three Mile Island Crisis | America’s Greenest President
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.
13. A Lifetime Environmental Champion | America’s Greenest President
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.
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
- First President to Acknowledge Climate Change
- Managing The Three Mile Island Crisis
- A Lifetime Environmental Champion
Map of National Parks Created by Jimmy Carter
Upcoming Film – CARTERLAND
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.
This article is part of our ongoing Environmental Heroes Series. So far we’ve chronicled legends like Jimmy Carter, Rachel Carson, George Bird Grinnell, Stephen Mather, & we’re only just getting started!
Summary | Leave Us a Comment!
That’s a wrap folks! Let us know what you think by leaving us a comment below. If you like this post you might be interested in checking out our other recent Jimmy Carter post – No, Theodore Roosevelt Was Not The Greatest Conservationist President. It Was Jimmy Carter.
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