Presidents come in many different shades of green, much like the ties they wear and broccoli they refuse to eat. Hunter green, dollar-bill green, sometimes puke green in times of national emergency, and even magenta green (commonly known as just magenta, which is actually the opposite of green). But never mind that. Let’s not focus on how America still hasn’t gotten on board with the Kyoto Protocol, or how we contribute a quarter of global CO2 emissions but make up only 5 percent of the world’s population. For once, let’s talk about some of the things our commanders in chief—from George Washington to George W.—have done right. Enjoy these choice factoids:
George Washington—first president, 1789-1797
• Washington was the only president ever to be elected unanimously. No campaign trail to speak of—imagine the carbon savings! The cancelled FOX and CNN election specials alone probably could have powered every home in the nation!
• Also, showing extreme patience and willpower, Washington had his men row him across the Delaware. Not once did he rev up the outboard engine.
• As a boy, little George (of the famous cherry tree anecdote) did not chop down his father’s prized cherry tree with his new hatchet. Rather, he merely hacked off all its bark and left it to die a slow and painful death.
Thomas Jefferson—third president, 1801-1809
• During his second term, Jefferson attempted an embargo on American shipping. His reasoning was more to do with international trade than with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but still. Unfortunately, the embargo “worked badly and was unpopular.”
• Jefferson was also known for reducing vampire power drainage by diligently unplugging his cell phone charger each morning.
James Madison—fourth president, 1809-1817
• A mere 5 feet 4 inches, 100 pounds, James Madison was the shortest American president.
• He took up very little space.
• [Martin Van Buren, 5 feet 6 inches, didn’t take up much space either.]
James Monroe—fifth president, 1758-1831
• Monroe loved the outdoors so much, he was the first president to be inaugurated… outdoors.
• Maybe that’s where Middlebury got the sporting idea to have their midyear graduates collect their diplomas on skis.
John Quincy Adams—sixth president, 1825-1829
• Adams, son of just-president John Adams, was the first president to practice patriotic recycling by reusing his father’s name in the White House.
• Also, records all but prove that he never once left his laptop computer on overnight.
Andrew Jackson—seventh president, 1829-1837
• Andrew Jackson was the first president to ride on a train.
• It probably wasn’t Amtrak though, because if you think $90 is highway robbery today that was like so much money in those days, like billions.
Abraham Lincoln—sixteenth president, 1861-1865
• That old trendsetter Abe lived off the grid in a log cabin way before that sort of thing was cool.
Ulysses S. Grant—eighteenth president, 1869-1877
• A man about town, Grant resisted the urge to splash out on a flashy red Jaguar, and instead humbly went about his business via horse and buggy.
• His noble commitment to low-carbon transport cost him dearly: Once caught buggy-speeding in the streets of DC, poor chap, he was fined $20 and forced to return on foot to the White House.
William McKinley—twenty-fifth president, 1897-1901
• At the turn of the century, ladies’ hats were often decorated with plumes from over-hunted birds. McKinley apparently either thought the hats were ugly or opposed plume hunting—the Lacey Act of 1900 banned the practice of shipping illegally-killed birds from one state to another. Plume hunters weren’t psyched.
Theodore Roosevelt—twenty-sixth president, 1901-1909
• PETA predecessor Theodore Roosevelt was an avid birder and kept a “small zoo” in his room at Harvard, “consisting of lobsters, snakes, and a huge tortoise.”
• Perhaps inspired by his reptilian roommates, Roosevelt went on to establish 194 million acres of national forests and parks as well as the first National Bird Preserve.
• He also established the Forest Service. And a few other trifles like, um, the Grand Canyon National Monument and 17 other national monuments.
• Often hailed as the conservation president, Teddy was also the first to take a public ride in an electric car.
William H. Taft—twenty-seventh president, 1909-1913
• Committed to locally-sourced milk and dairy, Taft bought Pauline Wayne (a cow) from a senator in Wisconsin, and kept her at the White House for two years.
Woodrow Wilson—twenty-eighth president, 1913-1921
• During World War I, Wilson decided he should save money on lawn-upkeep at the White House. His green solution was to bring a flock of sheep in to graze the presidential lawn. Money raised from their wool went to bolster the Red Cross war efforts.
• He also outlawed dumping anthracite coal and its refuse into streams and established mining regulations on federal lands.
Calvin Coolidge—thirtieth president, 1923-1929
• Calvin Coolidge did very little, and spoke even less, conserving both energy and clean air. Governmental records note that he had a “talent for effectively doing nothing.”
Harry Truman—thirty-third president, 1945-1953
• Taking a one-man, grass-roots approach to paper reduction, Truman read every single book in his hometown library.
• Taking a slightly less grass-roots approach to Japan during World War II, Truman dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Lyndon Johnson—thirty-sixth president, 1963-1969
• Apparently a fan of the scenic drive, Johnson introduced the Highway Beautification Act of 1965.
• Lyndon also worked on Clean Air legislation, Water Pollution Control legislation, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the Wilderness Act.
Richard Nixon—thirty-seventh president, 1969-1974
• Dirty Dick got himself into some hot water, but he also cleaned a few things up. You know that little organization called the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)? He started it—no big deal.
• Oh, and he signed the Endangered Species Act into law, created the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the 1970 Clean Air Act, the 1972 Clean Water Act, and the 1973 Endangered Species Act.
Jimmy Carter—thirty-ninth president, 1977-1981
• Jimmy and his wife Rosalynn had four children (read: probably drove a gargantuan SUV), so it's not a huge surprise that he worked to improve car fuel efficiency.
• Carter also protected 103-million acres in Alaska by expanding the National Parks system.
• And we all owe a big thanks to old Carter for passing legislation throughout the US. (Find a Superfund site are near you).
George H.W. Bush—forty-first president, 1989-1993
• Bush really liked breathing clean air, but didn’t so much like breathing toxic, dirty air. So in 1990, he amended the Clean Air Act, in hopes of making air… cleaner.
Bill Clinton—forty-second president, 1993-2001
• Instead of wasting electricity on a big fancy home audio system, Bill played his own saxophone. It was charming and soulful.
• Also, he created 17 new national monuments (4.6 million acres in total), took a whack at ratifying Kyoto, and declared road building illegal in 60 million acres of national forest.
George W. Bush—forty-forth president, 2001-current
• Acting on his commitment to conserving resources, George Bush Jr. sent troops into war without armor.
• He also dubbed 140,000 square miles of ocean near the Hawaiian Islands a marine reserve in June 2006. No, really, he did. Not joking. Look.
Story by Tobin Hack. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in February 2008.