The man to beat—Teddy?


He’s #1, so far …

Whatever may happen over the next months and years, this has surely been a memorable past few days, and I have been as caught up in them as anyone. It makes me think of the types of policies I would hope for, particularly in terms of the natural world—how we live in it, use it, and change it.

But it will take me a while to formulate those hopes and speculations. In the meantime, I found this list of the 10 greenest presidents, compiled by the Daily Green website. It was kind of amusing and interesting, regardless of whether you buy their reasoning. Here’s the line-up in a nutshell:

10. Kennedy looked into the use of pesticides and laid the foundation for the EPA. His nephew is doing more.

9. Wilson oversaw the creation of the National Park Service.

8. Johnson was married to Lady Bird—that’s the main thing—but he signed the Wilderness Act and expanded mass transportation.

7. Lincoln set aside Yosemite as a public trust and created the USDA.

6. F.D.R. got people working on soil and wildlife conservation, creating the Civilian Conservation Corps.

5. Nixon, under great pressure, established the EPA, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

4. Considered disappointing in this regard (when you think of who was VP), Clinton did establish many national monuments, more than any other administration, and blocked offshore drilling, along with other achievements.

3. The brilliant and fascinating Jefferson was an avid botanist and naturalist, and believed small farmers were most in harmony with nature.

2. Carter had solar panels in the White House roof and championed energy conservation in ways that went beyond bundling up, establishing the Department of Energy, CAFÉ standards, and many other conservation and environmental clean-up policies and acts. He still promotes green building in his work with Habitat for Humanity.

1. Theodore Roosevelt created the U.S. Forest Service, 50 wildlife refuges and five major national parks, and was constantly after Congress to do more.

The rankings are arguable, and you could certainly point to environmental atrocities that occurred under all these administrations. Nixon and Johnson, in particular, did not seem terribly concerned about the environment of Southeast Asia. However, it’s interesting and it makes one wonder what our new president will do—and where he will wind up in such a list.


  1. Very interesting list. Thanks!

    I trust that Obama will rank very high, if not at the top…assuming that the future brings a society that keeps track of these things.

  2. Why the gratuitous slap at Nixon?
    (“Nixon, under great pressure, established the EPA, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.”) First of all: these were huge accomplishments–and Nixon also created the Legacy of Parks program,OSHA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission,and the first significant federal affirmative action program; and endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment. Second, Nixon accomplished most of these long before the shame of Watergate, when he enjoyed a huge mandate (60% of the popular vote and 49 of 50 States). Give the devil his due: Nixon was flawed, but he accomplished a lot.

  3. Nixon showed what can happen when the public puts pressure on the pols. That was an era of fervent public protest, and a time when Congress still had the b@lls to do its public duty by investigating criminal actions perpetrated by those in power.

    Real change just about never flows from above.

  4. Rick, Nixon did not initiate these measures. he did it under pressure, as I said.

    They happened, yeah, but they were not his idea.

  5. Elizabeth—what is the evidence of pressure? As PBS observed:
    “An advocate of ‘practical liberalism,’ Nixon believed in using government wisely for the benefit of all. As president, he brought affirmative action to the urban construction trades. He formed a task force on women’s rights and brought sex discrimination suits under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. He authored the Clean Air Act of 1970 and created the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency. To Nixon’s dismay, however, he failed to achieve one of his most controversial domestic goals — a reform of the welfare system which would have provided a guaranteed income for America’s poor.”

    Nixon ended the Vietnam War under pressure, and resigned under pressure. He initiated his domestic and international initiatives with huge electoral mandates, not under pressure.

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