6 Eco-Friendly Presidents

Green White House residents

Photo: Sim Br/Flickr [CC by SA-2.0]

As we celebrate America's current and past chief executives on President's Day, it's worth examining the environmental contributions of the 44 men who have occupied the office.

Some did not care about protecting the environment, using their powers to help corporations exploit the land and water in pursuit of higher profits, but others have effected positive change for our country and the world. U.S. presidents gave us the national parks and public lands and laid the legislative groundwork that protects the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Thomas Jefferson

cliff1066TM/Flickr.

Thomas Jefferson was president long before there was much thought given to the environment, yet he was a man deeply aware of the importance of nature. In 1806, he wrote to Edmund Bacon, "We must use a good deal of economy in our wood, never cutting down new, where we can make the old do." Besides being one of our most important political minds, he was also a brilliant writer, architect, philosopher, horticulturist, inventor and archaeologist who could think big picture over the long term. The expedition undertaken, at his behest, by Clark and Lewis was responsible for greatly increasing what we knew about American native wildlife and people.

Theodore Roosevelt

Political Graveyard/Flickr.

Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt served as president for two terms between 1901 and 1909. Growing up wealthy, but asthmatic, left him plenty of time to study nature and natural history. He eventually overcame his asthma and became a renowned sportsman, hunter, and boxer. He earned accolades on the battlefield during his time as a soldier, and when President William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, he became president at 42 — the youngest person to serve as U.S. president. Roosevelt created the first National Bird Preserve at Pelican Island, Fla., established the U.S. Forest Service, and created more than 190 million acres of new national forests, parks, and monuments. Besides being one of greenest presidents, Roosevelt was arguably the toughest — after he was shot by a would-be assassin, he surmised that the bullet didn't penetrate his lung and went on to give his speech, with blood spreading over his shirt. He went to the hospital only after collapsing.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Florence Kahn/Office of the Clerk.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, also known as FDR, is the only U.S. president elected to more than two terms. As the 32nd President of the United States, he was a central figure in some of the key events of the mid-20th century, including the Great Depression and World War II. FDR was in college when his fifth cousin, Teddy (and fellow member of this list), became president. One of FDR's greener accomplishments was the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps which provided work for millions of unemployed men who planted billions of trees, built hiking trails, cleaned up streams, and constructed more than 800 parks across the U.S., many which went on to become state parks.

Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon Johnson became the 36th President of the United States after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Johnson was re-elected to the office in 1964 and set about enacting his "Great Society" plan, a broad package of proposals and laws intended to end poverty and racial injustice. The package also had a strong environmental focus and was responsible for the creation of the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, the National Trails System Act of 1968, and the Land and Water Conservation Act of 1965.

Richard Nixon

Oliver Atkins/AP.

Though Richard Milhous Nixon is best known for the Watergate scandal that led to his resignation and defined his presidency, he was also one of the most environmental U.S. presidents. Nixon became president in 1968, eight years after losing the 1960 presidential election to John F. Kennedy. Despite his negative reputation on the left side of the political aisle, Nixon did a lot of positive things for the environment. We can thank him for creating the Environmental Protection Agency as well as signing the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Jimmy Carter

Associated Press.

Jimmy Carter was born and raised on a farm in Plains, Ga. and grew up with an appreciation for nature and the need to protect it. As the 39th President of the United States, he accomplished a great deal for the environment, including the expansion of the national parks system, the establishment of a national energy policy, and the creation of the Department of Energy. He put solar panels on the roof of the White House and encouraged Americans to put on a sweater in the winter instead of turning up the heat. In decades since his presidency, Carter has built a reputation as a humanitarian, a champion for social justice, and a peace-keeping advocate.