All eyes are on this year’s presidential election, and how the candidates can improve our lives, our country, and our planet. From clean energy to gas prices, there’s no environmental topic untouched in the race to the White House. Over our short history, we’re had some of the most progressively environmental leaders in the world. Here’s a quick list at our country’s top ten eco-friendly presidents, in chronological order.
1. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)
It’s hard to create this list without including Abraham Lincoln for the simple fact that he signed the first conservation laws during his time in office. He also established the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Academy of Sciences. The Emancipation Proclamation often overshadows these accomplishments, but he worked to protect our lands and resources long before we knew how important it would be come.
2. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
One of our earliest environmentally aware presidents, Theodore Roosevelt created 50 wildlife refuges and 5 national parks during his time in office. He also personally lobbied Congress for wilderness protection, and oversaw the creation of the U.S. Forest Service. As an asthmatic youth, he was able to appreciate nature, and thus worked to popularize respect for nature, and proper use of resources.
3. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
In terms of the Progressive Era, Wilson is often revered as a leading intellectual, and one of the country’s brightest presidents of all time. In addition to overseeing the creation of the National Forest Act, he increased government oversight of corporate America, which helped align current environmental protections.
4. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1932-1945)
A commonly quoted president, one of his great lines, “The Nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself,” was written in a letter to state governors in 1933, and his New Deal did a lot to support environmentalism. Despite a tumultuous time in American history, FDR was still able to shed a serious light on wildlife management and soil protection.
5. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
It’s reported that JFK was greatly influenced by the groundbreaking book, Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, which also lead to greatly influence the founder of Earth Day a decade later. Kennedy was the first president to create a committee for investigating pesticides and their impact on health and the environment. One of the hottest eco-topics of today’s political landscape, it’s safe to say that companies such as Monsanto wouldn’t have stood a chance during JFK’s term.
6. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
Picking up where Kennedy left off, Lyndon B. Johnson is often underrated, despite his efforts for the environment. Johnson’s Great Society encouraged not only social issues, but also environmental initiatives. With a tireless advocate for the protection of natural resources by his side, Johnson was forced to follow in Lady Bird Johnson’s footsteps when it came to wilderness conservation and forms of reducing consumption. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act in 1964, and supported urban renewal, beautification, and conservation.
7. Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
Constantly rated as the country’s most disliked president, Richard Nixon is not remembered fondly. However, it’s hard to overlook the fact that he signed some of the most important environmental legislation in U.S. history into law. He signed numerous environmental acts including the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Substances Act, and the bills leading up to the Environmental Protection Act, as a response to the first ever Earth Day on April 22, 1970.
8. Jimmy Carter (1977-1987)
Most lists are willing to put Jimmy Carter on the top of the list. After the turmoil of the 1960’s, good ol’ Jimmy came in on a wave of eco-love and anti-Nixon. As the hippies of the previous decade grew up, environmental protection was a cause they still believed in, and it showed itself in Carter’s 8-year tenure in the Oval Office. In his first year in office, Carter established the Department of Energy, as his response to the OPEC oil embargo. He often called on the people to drastically ramp up energy conservation and efficiency, which was a radical idea at the time.
9. William Clinton (1993-2001)
Considering his running mate, Clinton had the potential to do a lot more for the environment during his time in office, but we all know his priorities were slightly skewed. Regardless, he still had a pretty successful term. With his right-hand man at the helm, the Clinton administration increased the EPA’s budget, and preserved almost 5 million acres of land. His eco-friendliness was certainly considered sub-par when he sold out to some of the business interests of the time, but this isn’t enough to kick him out of the top ten, considering how little so many other presidents have done.
10. Honorable Mention: Al Gore (Vice President 1993-2001, President-Elect 2000)
Although he never made it to the top, he got about as close as you can get without moving in, and he’s definitely the most eco-friendly politician to ever get that close to the core. Al Gore is personal responsible for our current awareness and understanding of climate change, global warming, and how they affect our environment. He rounds out our top ten with an honorable mention for his sheer effectiveness in affecting change among the hearts and minds of the American people.