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 talk about some of the green 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 was very unpopular.
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 College got the sporting idea to have their midyear graduates collect their diplomas on skis.
John Quincy Adams: Sixth president, 1825-1829
• Adams, eldest son of former President John Adams, was the first president to practice patriotic recycling by reusing his father's name in the White House.
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: 16th 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: 18th 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 D.C., poor chap, he was fined $20 and forced to return on foot to the White House.
William McKinley: 25th 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: 26th president, 1901-1909
• PETA predecessor Theodore Roosevelt was an avid birder and reportedly 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: 27th 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: 28th president, 1913-1921
• During World War I, Wilson decided he should save money on lawn-upkeep at the White House, as you can see in the photo at top. 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: 30th president, 1923-1929
• Calvin Coolidge did very little, and spoke even less, conserving both energy and clean air. Government records note that he had a "talent for effectively doing nothing."
Harry Truman: 33rd president, 1945-1953
• Taking a one-man, grass-roots approach to paper reduction, Truman read every single book in his hometown library.
Lyndon Johnson: 36th 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: 37th 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.
• 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. (In fact, here's a whole list of good green things Nixon accomplished.)
Jimmy Carter: 39th 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 Carter for passing legislation created the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation & Liability Act or Superfund law throughout the U.S. (Find a Superfund site near you).
George H.W. Bush: 41st 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.
Bill Clinton: 42nd 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: 44th president, 2001-current
• Acting on his commitment to conserving resources, he dubbed 140,000 square miles of ocean near the Hawaiian Islands a marine reserve in June 2006.
Story by Tobin Hack. This article originally appeared in Plenty in February 2008 and is legally published here. Copyright Environ Press 2008