5 Acts of Environmental Leadership to Celebrate This Presidents Day
Today, the U.S. celebrates Presidents Day, a day to commemorate the leadership and legacy of the so-far only men who have governed the country since its founding.
Here at EcoWatch, we think some of the most amazing things about the U.S. are its unique and beautiful landscapes and wildlife. So this Presidents Day, we would like to celebrate actions taken by past presidents to protect America's environment.
1. Abraham Lincoln Protects Yosemite
On June 30, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act, giving Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the state of California. It marked the first time in U.S. history that the government set land aside specifically to protect it and preserve it for public enjoyment, according to POLITICO.
"In its scope and in its avowed preservation purpose the Yosemite Valley undertaking was truly precedent-setting," author Ney C. Landrum wrote in The State Park Movement in America: A Critical Review, according to The Smithsonian Magazine. "Not only were there no real state parks in 1864, there were no national parks, either. California's experiment pioneered a new field of public land management and provided valuable lessons–positive as well as negative–for other park advocates who would soon follow."
The Yosemite Grant was used to justify the establishment of Yellowstone as the nation's first official national park in 1872. Yosemite became a national park the same year.
On this day in 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act. This legislation gave Yosemite Valley… https://t.co/5bQR9bZNTe— Yosemite National Park (@Yosemite National Park)1530390947.0
2. Theodore Roosevelt Protects 10 Percent of the U.S. Land Area
When the magazine Corporate Knights asked 12 top environmentalist individuals and groups to name the greenest president in U.S. history, Theodore Roosevelt came out 28 points ahead of the rest. During his presidency, he protected 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reservations, 18 national monuments and five national parks to a total of 230 million acres, or 10 percent of the U.S. land area.
It wasn't an easy task, either; he faced opposition from logging and mining interests. Congress even wanted to let industry mine the Grand Canyon. But Roosevelt was ahead of his time in realizing that the country's natural resources were not infinitely renewable without protection.
"We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources," he wrote, according to the National Park Service. "But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation."
Theodore Roosevelt - 26th President of the United States, lover of wilderness and creator of National Parks - was b… https://t.co/9izQFgciCA— The Ice Age (@The Ice Age)1540595254.0
3. Richard Nixon Creates the EPA
Richard Nixon was not a committed conservationist like Roosevelt, but he came in second place in Corporate Knights' poll because he responded to an emerging environmental crisis, and a growing environmental movement, by signing key legislation like the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act. He also created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In 1969, incidents like the Cuyahoga River catching fire and the Santa Barbara oil spill made it clear that America's environment was in trouble. Nixon responded in part by issuing Reorganization Plan 3 in the summer of 1970, which created the EPA, according to Time.
"Our national government today is not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants which debase the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that grows our food," he told Congress, according to Time. "Indeed, the present governmental structure for dealing with environmental pollution often defies effective and concerted action. Despite its complexity, for pollution control purposes the environment must be perceived as a single, interrelated system. Present assignments of departmental responsibilities do not reflect this interrelatedness."
President Richard Nixon signed an executive order formally creating the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) on th… https://t.co/mQQtFNFVdr— Matt Johnson (@Matt Johnson)1543760160.0
4. Carter Installs Solar Panels at the White House
Jimmy Carter became the first U.S. president to install solar panels at the White House when he dedicated a solar water heater as part of his bid to encourage energy independence. Since his time in office coincided with an energy crisis, Carter was the first U.S. president to emphasize the importance of transitioning away from foreign, non-renewable energy and signed legislation to support renewable energy alternatives like wind and solar, according to Corporate Knights.
"In the year 2000 this solar water heater behind me, which is being dedicated today, will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy," Carter said when the panels were dedicated on June 20, 1979, according to Scientific American. "A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people."
Carter wanted the U.S. to get 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by the turn of the century, but his successor Ronald Reagan slashed the Department of Energy's renewable research budget. The percentage of U.S. electricity generated by renewable sources finally reached 18 in 2017, Fortune reported.
Did you know Jimmy Carter was the first President to introduce solar panels to the White House in 1979? They were… https://t.co/kfM9l5LqCQ— O3 Energy (@O3 Energy)1550506399.0
5. Obama Puts the First National Limits on No. 1 Source of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
In August of 2015, President Barack Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever government plan to limit U.S. carbon pollution from its leading source: the nation's power plants, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Obama specifically framed it as an attempt to limit catastrophic climate change.
"I am convinced that no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate. And that's what brings us here today," Obama said during remarks announcing the plan.
The Clean Power Plan is one of the biggest steps forward in the fight to #ActOnClimate. https://t.co/UBXPe98NUF— Barack Obama (@Barack Obama)1470327772.0
Unfortunately, the EPA under President Donald Trump has released a replacement plan that would actually increase carbon pollution from power plants. We will now have to wait until 2020 to see what the environmental legacy of the next U.S president will be.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>