Originally published on Nexus Media.
QUIZ: Which President Said It?
Do you know where recent U.S. presidents stand on climate change? The facts may surprise you. In honor of Presidents’ Day on February 20th, we created this quiz of presidential climate quotes. Test your knowledge to see how you stack up.
Presidents have been talking about the climate for almost as long as America has been a country. Thomas Jefferson was the first to mention climate in a State of the Union address. Rhapsodizing about the Louisiana Purchase, he said “the fertility of the country, its climate and extent” would provide “ample provision for our posterity.
“While the property and sovereignty of the Mississippi and its waters secure an independent outlet for the produce of the western States, and an uncontrolled navigation through their whole course, free from collision with other powers and the dangers to our peace from that source, the fertility of the country, its climate and extent, promise in due season important aids to our treasury, an ample provision for our posterity, and a widespread field for the blessings of freedom and equal laws.”
That was in 1803. Since then, the U.S. has weathered its share of climate catastrophes. In 1938, after seeing the ravages of the Dust Bowl, Franklin Roosevelt attacked the farming practices that had led to the disaster in that year’s State of the Union address. He said that abusing the land in an attempt to maximize production while failing to practice good stewardship “was not an inherent right of citizenship.”
“There are those well meaning theorists who harp on the inherent right of every free born American to do with his land what he wants — to cultivate it well — or badly… That, I assert is not an inherent right of citizenship. For if a man farms his land to the waste of the soil or the trees, he destroys not only his own assets but the Nation’s assets as well.”
Replace the specter of the Dust Bowl with the growing threat of climate change and FDR’s sentiment is even more compelling today. In recent years, severe drought has imperiled agriculture in the West and dried up the Mississippi River, causing water levels to drop so low the Army Corps of Engineers had to dredge the river to allow barges to pass. By slowing shipping and stunting crop yields, the drought cost the economy billions.
FDR might say that we have no “inherent right” to burn fossil fuels that destabilize the climate, and that, as prolific consumers of coal, oil and natural gas, Americans have a duty to tackle global warming. Roosevelt’s successors, from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton, have called for the United States to embrace renewable energy. In his 2007 State of the Union address, George W. Bush imagined what that would look like.
“America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. And these technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.”
Donald Trump is now entering his words into the annals. Will his rhetoric on climate match his predecessors? That remains to be seen, but so far, it looks very unlikely.
Reprinted with permission.