Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks to the National Wildlife Federation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

March 15, 1975

Thank you very much.

I might first say that I came in from New York this morning on TWA and for the last hour or so we had been stuck on the runway of the airport. Fortunately, however, the 4 feet of snow that had accumulated in front of our plane's wheels was finally shoveled out of the way, and I arrived here just in the nick of time to hear one of the finest congressmen in Washington give you his talk.

You know, if every Member of Congress had the same understanding, sensitivity and capability and motivations as Congressman Heinz, you would not have to be concerned about the future of our nation.

Insofar as I am concerned, let me first say that I do appreciate the introduction given. You know, sometimes an introduction can separate a speaker from his audience. This happened on an occasion, not too long ago, with me.

Some 4 or 5 years ago I was visiting a college campus, the campus of the oldest women's college in the nation. Each summer we bring to that campus the 400 brightest high school students in the state, as determined by comparative examinations. They spend 8 weeks there studying various subjects, advanced subjects, such as new teaching techniques and the like.

There is 1 day, out of that 8 week session, that we set aside for career training, and we spend that full day bringing onto the college campus professionals—doctors, dentists, nurses, businessmen, scientists, engineers, teachers, et cetera—so that students in small groups can study what they want to do in the future with their own brilliant young lives in order to plan their careers in an orderly fashion.

I was invited at that time to make the main banquet speech and the individual, in introducing me, said, "Tonight we are happy to have at this time, Jimmy Carter to come and tell us how to plan our life careers?' He then pointed out that I was born and raised in Georgia, had gone to college there and then he said, "Senator Carter went to Georgia Tech where he studied engineering and then he went to the Naval Academy at Annapolis where he got a degree in naval science and then he went to Union College in New York, where he did his graduate work in nuclear physics and now he grows peanuts for a living and is now going to tell us how to plan our life's careers." [laughter] Well, by the time I got my speech done, I had finally gotten that audience back.

I do want to talk to you today, however, about some concepts that are important to us all.

You know, God has given us a great heritage to take cafe of, which sometimes we don't appreciate adequately.

I have tried to think of a story to illustrate this point, and the only one I could think of was about the old gentleman who lived in the mountains and he, his father, his grandfather, and his great grandfather before him had owned the same little tiny plot of land—50 acres—and they were very proud of that and every time, during those four generations, that they made a nickel or a dime, they had put it back in the beautification of this little plot of land. The trees were beautifully pruned; the stream was absolutely pure; the rose garden was beautiful; the fences were all straight; the little house setting on the southern part of the farm was whitewashed, and the old gentleman was very proud of what he had, the beauty of it and the like.

He had a new nephew who one day visited him coming from a far western area and that first night they were standing on the porch, and the old gentleman said, "I want you to see the beautiful place we have. Just over there beyond the rose bushes you see the western boundary of our farm. Just beyond that little creek on the hill is the northern boundary and over there, just beyond those pine trees, is the eastern boundary of the farm and then my house here happens to be located in the southern comer. What do you think about our place?"

Well, the young man was very bright and replied, "By golly, do you call this a farm? Where I come from they have really got farms. My house also happens to be on the southern comer, and I get into my pickup truck early in the morning, drive as hard as that truck will go until 10 o'clock in the morning, and I have to stop and rest and put some oil in the truck, and it takes me until noon to get to the northern comer of my farm. I then stop and eat lunch and by midafternoon I am back at the eastern comer and then it is nightfall before I get back to my house in the southern comer. What do you think about that?"

Well, the old gentleman thought awhile and then replied, "Well, son, I sympathize with you. I used to have a pickup truck like that myself."

Well, sometimes we do have different perspectives of beauty and different perspectives of our responsibilities and that is important to us.

I am an engineer, I am a conservationist, and I am a scientist, an environmentalist, I am a nuclear engineer, I am an outdoors man, I am a Christian, and I don't see any conflict among these things, but when I was elected governor, I approached the office with a great deal of anticipation, not as a politician but as a businessman, an outdoors man, as a planner, as a farmer, and I found a terrible bureaucratic mess.

For example, we had 300 agencies and departments in the Georgia government. We abolished 278 of them. We set up a simple structure, one that you could understand and that could deal with comprehensive problems of the people of the state in an effective, aggressive, comprehensive, and understandable way.

We established a new kind of budgeting technique called zero-based budgeting, where every year we stripped down the Georgia budget to zero, and we analyzed every single program that delivered services to the Georgia people. If it was doing a good job, we kept it. Sometimes we even enhanced it. If it was ineffective, then we eliminated it.

We carefully put together each year a proper priority of the delivery of services to the Georgia people and a proper allocation of funds paid in by taxes of the people served.

We have long-range plans in every parameter of Georgia's life—mental health, physical health, transportation, education, environmental quality, recreation, parks, game and fish management, coastal plains, preservation of marshlands, et cetera—so that the majority of people know ahead of time what is going to happen 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, and sometimes even 25 years in the future.

We have a very economical, efficient government and I am proud of it, and I would put it up against the efficiency and economy of many corporations, such as Delta Airlines, Sears Roebuck, Coca-Cola, General Motors, or IBM.

However, I would also like to remind you that nowhere in the Constitution of the United States or Declaration of Independence, nor the Bill of Rights, nor the Old Testament, nor the New Testament, do you find the words "economy or efficiency." However, you find other words that are much more important—words like self-reliance, words like beauty, and words like appreciation, and words like foresight, and words like stewardship, brotherhood, tenacity, commitment, compassion, and love, that describe what a human being ought to be and also describe what the government of those human beings ought to be.

The title of my speech, as I noted it when I got here this morning, comes from the Bible, "For if the trumpet be given an uncertain sound, then who shall prepare themselves for the battle?"

I tell you that this is no time for those of us who love God's earth and the beauty of it, the purity of the air and water, to compromise or to retreat or to yield in any possible measure to the devastation or deterioration of the quality of our lives or our environment.

If the members of the environmental and conservation group of this nation are willing to compromise ahead of time on tough decisions relating to the quality of the lives of the American people, then who in God's world is going to maintain a staunch position from which we can make proper decisions?

Not long ago, I noted that one of the Cabinet members made a statement, "Earth Day is over," and then another prominent official in Washington said, in referring to people like you and me, that we were green bigots.

Well, I think this is inevitable. I helped, for example, to organize the Georgia Conservancy, and I have grown up in the swamps, rivers, fields, and woods of southwest Georgia.

I started with my game and fish conservation programs when I was a 12-year-old child and I never had an electric light until I was 15 years old. I know how important it is to stand fast when problems get serious and when challenges get great and when public opinion swings back and forth in a time of crisis.

Environmentalists now are under attack for one basic reason and that is because we accurately predicted what would happen in our modem, fast-changing, technological world if we did not make long-range plans concerning the population explosion, food shortages, pollution control, depletion of commodities, natural resources, energy supplies, and now with those predictions having come true, in some strange ways those of us who made the accurate predictions several years ago are being blamed for the consequences of a lack of planning.

There is no incompatibility between careful planning and economic progress on the one hand and environmental quality on the other hand.

Our present economic distress, in a major degree, has come from waste and from the lack of planning to correlate the disparate elements that affect our modem world.

Now, I happen to be a scientist and I have seen the almost complete severance or separation in the last few years of the scientific community from the decision making center of our nation, which is in the White House.

You know, in times past, when the world was slowly changing, it was possible for political leaders to make predictions and judgments and then call on scientists and say, "This is what we have decided, now you help us achieve the goal we have established."

However, that time is gone. Now, the inexorable forces of nature which cannot be changed on a worldwide basis, concerning food, population, pollution, energy resources, are so complicated that a full-time President, a full-time congressman or a full-time governor or a full-time Mayor has not the time nor most often the competence to predict what is going to happen and to design what the alternatives are—to make careful correlated planning for the future and use the best alternatives.

Now is the time when professionals, like many of you, and scientists like me, need to be in the most enviable possible posture in our government.

Now, what is our nation's policy on energy?

Well, there is none.

What is our nation's policy on comprehensive transportation programs? There is none.

What is our nation's policy on mental health, physical health, education, welfare, and tax reform?

There are none.

How can we hope to inspire the American people to reach for greatness and to make sacrifices when they don't know the purpose of their sacrifice and don't know the consequences of selfish actions and have no way to look toward a common goal so that we can work in harmony and with a mutual support for realizing the potential of our great society?

The safety and good health of workers, for example, is not incompatible with the proper utilization of energy resources.

The destruction of the surface of our lands with uncontrolled strip mining is certainly not a logical approach to meeting energy requirements.

The unrestrained and profuse off-shore leasing of scarce and very lightly understood oil reserves is in no way protecting the public's interest and the public's oil deposits.

The right of private businesses, in conjunction with the federal government, to condemn lands over the opposition of state and local governments, farmers and ranchers, is no proper procedure in a free and democratic society.

The right to establish, arbitrarily, sites which might be derogatory to the environment of a beautiful area is no proper procedure for our government to espouse.

One of the most frequent questions I get in my travels around this country is, "What are we going to do about energy?"

Other nations have a comprehensive energy policy—we do not

We have, in the entire world, about 60 cubic miles of oil, total reserves, and the best estimates are then that we can expect from the ground about 75 percent of that oil. We use about 1.3 cubic miles per year and the rate of that use is increasing year by year, not particularly in this country now but in the areas of the world which are becoming more industrialized—which means, in turn, we have enough oil to last about 35 years; we have enough uranium to last 40 or 50 years; and we have enough coal to last 600 years.

Among the nuclear physicists of this country, there is a 50-50 judgment about whether or not we will have electricity from fusion in this century. We are now seeing a struggle going on, an economic struggle, about how to use what we do have.

There is a great pressure to make synthetic fuels out of coal, to take coal and change it into oil or gas.

This is probably counter-productive because it takes a lot of energy just to change the form of coal, but we do need research and development to make sure that when coal is used that the environment is less adversely affected.

Shale also has tremendous potential but enormous amounts of water and energy are required to extract oil from shale, and to get 4 or 5 percent of our total energy resources from shale would require us to dig a Panama Canal everyday.

The federal government has an integral role to play in every aspect of environmental life that I have mentioned to you this morning.

The total budget allocated to conservation and wildlife is about 1 percent of our total budget but that includes, in a major degree, two types of expenditures which quite often are counter-productive.

One involves the building of unnecessary dams by the Corps of Engineers and the other one is a channelization of our streams by the Soil Conservation Service.

Not too long ago, in Georgia, I vetoed a major dam project because it would have been destructive to the quality of Georgia's wildlife in the future and also a gross waste of money, and the computations used to economically justify that particular dam were false.

A great reduction must be made in the construction of dams and channelization of streams in this country. We need to enhance recreation and park expenditures, utilization of our forests, both privately and publicly owned, and accentuate good wildlife habitat production for our wildlife. We have to become involved in the protection of natural areas, historic areas and sites that are important, and the property management of public lands, not for the oil companies, not for the coal companies, but for the people of the country.

In closing, I would briefly like to indicate to you two incidents that happened to me.

One of these occurred when I was campaigning for Governor of Georgia. Late one afternoon, I was tired and I was leaving one of our major cultural cities and as I was driving on the interstate highway, 1-16, I looked into my rearview mirror and was very, very saddened to see a haze of black smoke over that major city and remembered a conversation which I had with some fisherman on the banks of the Savannah River, who formerly could catch fish in the mouth of that river but who could no longer do so.

I could see the haze in my rearview mirror and at about that same time, overhead, over the interstate highway, which was used to transport hundreds of cars to and from the city, I saw a flash of bronze in the air and then about 20 yards in front of my car, as I drove westward, there was a turkey gobbler. Then, just in front of my car, he set his wings and he sailed into the Georgian swamp on the right.

I then thought to myself, would my 3-year-old child ever see a wild turkey gobbler in Georgia? Will the natural areas of our state be preserved? Will the quality of our air improve? Will our land and water be protected?

Well, as Governor of Georgia, I tried to keep all of those factors in mind and never yielded an inch on the quality of our lives.

The people of this country are very deeply concerned about two basic things. One is the integrity and the purpose of our federal government Does it represent accurately the character and quality of our people?

The second basic concern about the government is—is it accountable and able to deal with the complicated factors that will face our lives and which are going to get more complicated in the future?

As we approach the 200th birthday of our country, it is important for us to stop and see whether or not we as Americans in a leadership capacity, representing perhaps a minority view, can compromise our principles.

You know, during my last 2 years in the Navy, I worked for a remarkable man by the name of Rickover. He is probably the greatest engineer this nation ever produced. He is a great scientist and is completely dedicated. He works very, very hard. He will be 75 years old this year.

In years gone by he has been responsible for all the nuclear and power generation for the Navy atomic submarines and the Atomic Energy Commission. Further, he has absolutely no tact—doesn't care for anything. As a matter of fact, all the time I worked for him he never said a decent word to me. However, he did change my life because he had one characteristic, and still has it, which has always been unique. He would never accept mediocrity or low average achievement in relation to anything he did or anyone under him did.

I helped him and a few others develop the first two atomic submarines and I worked at the General Electric Company at that time and whenever the admiral would come around to inspect my work, if I had done a perfect job, which wasn't too often, but every now and then I did, he never said a word—never once did he say, "Good job, Jimmy" or "Well done, Carter." If he found no fault, he simply looked, turned around, and walked away.

However, if I made the slightest mistake, in one of the loudest and most obnoxious voices I ever heard, he would turn around and tell the other people in the area what a horrible disgrace I was to the Navy, and that I ought to be back in the oldest and slowest and smallest submarine from which I had come.

Further, I remember the first time I met the admiral. We were in a room almost a quarter as large as this one. There was one table in the room and a chair on each side. I was being interviewed for a job and that interview lasted 3J4 hours. He looked right between my eyes the whole time. He never smiled. He let me choose any subject I wanted to talk about and, of course, I carefully chose a subject about which I knew the most at the time, navigation, seamanship, foreign affairs, music, art, drama, whatever it was, and then with questions of increasing difficulty, in each instance, he proved that I did not know anything about the subject I had chosen.

Toward the end of our interview I was sitting there in a cold sweat and he asked me a question in relation to which I could finally redeem myself.

He asked, "How did you stand in your class at Annapolis?"

Well, I had done very well and so my chest swelled up with pride and I replied, "Sir, I stood so and so in a class of 765."

Well, I sat back to wait for a favorable reaction, and the congratulations never came. I found out later, for example, he had stood No. 1 in his class.

He then asked me another question. He said, "Did you do your best?"

I started to say yes but then I remembered for a part of the time when I was there, there were times when I could have learned a little bit more about things, weapons, seamanship, navigation and so I gulped a couple of times and I said, "No sir, I did not always do my best."

Well, he sat there for a long time looking at me and then he turned his chair around to end the interview and asked me one final question, something which I have never been able to forget and to which I have never been able to think of a good answer to. He asked, "Why not?" Well, after awhile, I got up and walked out of the room.

Well, this room is filled with people who love God's world, who love the grass and the trees and the mountains and the wildlife; who are concerned about the future; who consider themselves stewards; who have natural leadership capabilities, who are trusted by their fellow Americans, neighbors; who have seen firsthand some of the problems that we personally face; who have been tempted to compromise our principles because of public pressure or political pressure. However, let's not do it.

I think that it is incumbent upon us, on the cutting edge of the preservation of the quality of life, to ask ourselves the question that Admiral Rickover asked every single officer who goes into an atomic submarine—for the people of this country, for the future of it, for our nation and for ourselves individually—and a question we should ask ourselves, "Why not the best?"

Thank you very much.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks to the National Wildlife Federation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347656

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