Who was the greenest president?

Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, in Yosemite

Most environmentalists this fall will vote for Barack Obama, and for good reason. But when a dozen of America’s environmental leaders were asked to select our nation’s greenest president, they put two Republicans — Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon — atop the list.

Roosevelt, of course, was a conservationist and champion of what became America’s national parks. It was on Nixon’s watch that the EPA was created, along with landmark legislation protecting air, water and endangered species. When Russell Train, a moderate Republican who chaired the White House Council on Environmental Quality under Nixon, died the other day, he was lauded by environmentalists.

“Conservative environmentalist is not an oxymoron,” says Theodore Roosevelt IV, an investment banker and the great-grandson of Teddy Roosevelt. Unhappily, Republican environmentalists like TR IV have become an endangered species.

The survey to identify America’s greenest presidents was conducted by Corporate Knights, a Toronto-based publication that calls itself “the magazine for clean capitalism.” It was released this moring [Sept. 18] at the National Press Club in Washington, where several of the voters — Ralph Nader of Public Citizen, Joe Romm of Climate Progress and Robert Engelman of The Worldwatch Institute — talked about the results. Others who participated in survey include Mike Brune of the Sierra Club, Phil Radford of Greenpeace, Frances Beinecke of NRDC, Mark Tercek of The Nature Conservancy, Carter Roberts of WWF, as well as Van Jones and Bill McKibben. [click to continue…]

Shattered Sky: How Republicans saved the ozone layer

Here’s a surprise: An environmental story with a happy ending whose heroes include Ronald Reagan, his secretary of state George Schultz and a now-forgotten bureaucrat named Lee Thomas, the EPA administration during Reagan’s second term.

These men helped bring us the Montreal Protocol, a international treaty that took effect in 1989 and since then has protected the earth’s fragile ozone lawyer by phasing out the production of chemicals including chlorofluorocarbons, which were commonly found in spray cans and refrigeratants. The NRDC’s David Doniger calls the Montreal Protocol “the world’s most effective environmental treaty.”

The story of the Montreal Protocol is told in a new documentary film called Shattered Sky by directors Steve Dorst and Dan Evans. It had its premiere on Sunday at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington.  The hour-long film cuts back and forth between the story of the ozone layer, and the (so far) unsuccessful efforts by US environmentalists to enact legislation to curb climate change, most recently in 2010, when a comprehensive cap-and-trade scheme to regulate carbon pollution failed in the Senate.

“Why aren’t we as Americans stepping up?” asked Dan Evans, during a panel discussion that followed the Shattered Sky screening at the Carnegie Institution. The film takes a decidedly middle-of-the-road position, avoiding, for the most part, the polarizing rhetoric that characterizes so much talk about climate. “We hope this film will appeal to folks, regardless of their political stripes,” Dan said.

While I buy into the basic message of Shattered Sky–that if we solved the ozone problem by pushing for an international treaty, we can do the same with climate–I can’t say that I loved the film. It lacks a compelling narrative, and none of the characters get enough screen time to really come to life. Film is an emotional medium, but there’s not much emotion here. The filmmakers might have done better by digging deeper into the ozone story: describing the roles of scientists Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina, who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work on ozone chemistry, the work of crusaders at NRDC who brought a lawsuit compelling EPA to act and the dilemmas facing the business people at DuPont who first opposed any action but later came around when they sensed business opportunity.

What’s more, the parallels between the climate crisis and the ozone problem are imperfect at best, as the film notes. Climate and energy are at the heart of the economy; spray cans and refrigerants are a sideshow. Consumers can’t easily express a preference for clean energy over fossil fuels; they can, and did, stop buying aerosol cans after they were warned of the environmental harms. People quickly understood the risks created by a hole in the ozone layer–sunburn!–but for reasons that remain unclear to me, they don’t worry about the peril of climate change.

He helped save the ozone layer

Having said that, this film is valuable and well worth seeing because it reminds us that, until very recently,  the environment was not a partisan issue. Republicans have often led important environmental initiatives. Teddy Roosevelt gave us the National Park Service. Richard Nixon created the EPA. Reagan backed the Montreal Protocol. George H.W. Bush helped solve the acid rain problem through a cap-and-trade system to regulate coal plants. Conservation is a conservative idea. [click to continue…]

Ted Roosevelt is lonely

I was headed out for a run one morning in April during FORTUNE’s Brainstorm Green conference in Laguna Niguel, CA, when I spotted Theodore Roosevelt IV jogging on the beach. Having a good run? I asked him. Yes, he told me, and he’d been swimming, too, in the big waves that crash onto the beach and draw hordes of surfers every day.

Legacy matters, I guess. Ted Roosevelt, as he’s known, is the great-grandson of our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt, who was famous for his love of what he called “the strenuous life“—he boxed, rode horses, fought in the Spanish-American war, went big-game hunting and explored the Amazon. Ted Roosevelt, who is 68, played football at Groton, played ice hockey and rugby and rowed on the lightweight crew at Harvard; after graduation, he served two tours of duty as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam.

Like TR, Ted is a Republican, a conservationist and an independent thinker–which makes him part of a dying breed of moderate WASPy Republicans who are fiscally conservative and socially progressive.

Ted argues that environmental protection is good for America’s economic growth and strength. He describes climate change is “this century’s greatest challenge.” He believes that nature is worth preserving, not just because of its usefulness to humans but for its own sake. [click to continue…]