The Environmental Legacy of the 41st President

Today, the nation celebrated the life of President George Herbert Walker Bush with a state funeral at the National Cathedral.

My friend Dave, who works for the U.S. Geological Survey as a Research Hydrologist in Helena, Montana, sent me an article of a 1989 speech by the 41st President at the Montana capitol. Beyond the Clean Air Act Amendments mentioned in my previous blog, I had forgotten that President George H.W. Bush spoke out strongly for the U.S. to lead the world to defend the environment, promote conservation, plant trees, and combat global warming (climate change). He directed EPA to provide training to Peace Corps volunteers.

Here is an excerpt from the speech:

“The single most significant word today in the language of all environmentalists is interdependence. That’s a fact all Montanans should find it easy to appreciate. Not so many miles from where we stand is a spot called the Triple Divide, where the waters begin their separate journeys to the Pacific, to the Gulf of Mexico, to the Hudson Bay and the Arctic beyond — the Earth’s own geography lesson in global interdependence. The plain fact is this: Pollution can’t be contained by lines drawn on a map.

The actions we take can have consequences felt the world over. The destruction of the rain forests in Brazil. The ravages of acid rain that threaten not just our country, but our neighbors to the north and not just the east but the lakes and forests of the west as well. The millions of tons of airborne pollutants carried across the continents and the threat of global warming. We know now that protecting the environment is a global issue. The nations of the world must make common cause in defense of our environment. And I promise you this: This nation, the United States of America, will take the lead internationally. (Applause.)

Here in this great state, you’re already taking the lead with your commitment to the environment, led by every schoolchild in this state who’s planted a Ponderosa Pine to commemorate 100 years of history. In just a few minutes I’ll be planting a tree of my own, and let me say from the heart, there’s no finer symbol of the love each one of us feels for this land than a tree growing up in Montana’s good earth. We’re working hard to clean up America, but we can’t stop there. We’ve got to work with the rest of the world to preserve the planet.

We’re already taking action. To preserve the ozone layer, we’re going to ban all release of CFCs into the atmosphere by the year 2000. To prevent pollution of the world’s oceans we’re going to end virtually all ocean dumping of sewage and industrial wastes by 1991. (Applause.) And after that, anyone who continues to pollute is going to pay for it with stiff fines. And we’re going to join forces with other nations.

In February, the United States will host the plenary meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In July when I visited Poland and Hungary, I pledged America’s help in tackling the increasingly serious pollution problems those two nations face. At the Paris economic summit, we helped the environment achieve the status that it deserves at the top of the agenda for the seven major industrial democracies. And I mean to keep it right there at the top of the agenda. (Applause.)

America spends more than any other nation in the world on environmental research, and we’re going to continue this pioneering effort to protect the environment and put that environmental expertise to work in the developing world as well. We cannot pollute today and postpone the cleanup until tomorrow. We have got to make pollution prevention our aim. And sharing our expertise with the world is one way to do exactly that. Today, I want to announce a new environmental initiative — one that will bring the Environmental Protection Agency and the Peace Corps together in a joint venture in the service of the global environment.

Beginning in 1990, as part of their standard preparation for duty, Peace Corps volunteers will be trained by the EPA to deal with the full range of environmental challenges water pollution, prevention, waste disposal, reforestation, pesticide management. Armed with greater knowledge about our environment, our Peace Corps volunteers are going to help spread the word in the developing world. They’ll work to stop pollution before it starts and ensure that economic development and environmental stewardship go hand in hand. And Montanans know more than most how much that means, how vital it is for us to accept our responsibilities, our stewardship — the environment in Montana, across America, and around the world. We hold this land in trust for the generations that come after. The air and the Earth are riches we simply cannot squander.”