I try to do my part to be green. I recycle. I’ve got a tote bag for my groceries. I know about composting and rainwater collection. I keep my house at 78 degrees in the Summer. And while you may not have noticed it amongst all the hyper-green focus associated with this week’s Live Earth concert and the larger hot topic of climate change, the US actually could be doing worse. Sure we aren’t environmental saints where greenhouse gases are concerned but we, Democrats and Republicans alike, do actually care for this beautiful nation and planet of ours. We do care and have cared for a long time due in no small part to Lady Bird Johnson. The Associated Press quotes Harry Middleton, retired director of the LBJ Library and Museum, as saying, “Had it not been for her, I think that the whole subject of the environment might not have been introduced to the public stage in just the way it was and just the time it was. So she figures mightily, I think, in the history of the country if for no other reason than that alone.” Her passing today at the age of 94 underscores an American tradition first popularized at the White House level by President Teddy Roosevelt of working to preserve our collective natural wonders.
Lady Bird Johnson took the more radical step of–and I would argue a step now deeply embedded in efforts to go green–that conservation and preservation were not just things to be championed in nature preserves or national parks and forests, but in the spaces of our daily lives. Her legacy includes not only the passage of the Highway Beautification Bill in 1965, but the co-founding of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in 1982. The “Lady Bird Bill” as it was known sought to clear the US highway system of junkyards and billboards and the Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas was way ahead of the curve at its founding and remains a leader in its efforts to preserve native plants and landscapes. A Texan myself, I always thought of Lady Bird Johnson every spring as I made the four-and-a-half-hour drive home from college for the Easter holiday as I traveled mile upon mile of wildflower-lined highways. It is truly a sight to see.
Lady Bird Johnson also made her mark as a strong Washington women during a time when true women power players were harder to find in the nation’s capital. She helped ensure passage of the beautification bill, spoke out on issues like poverty and Johnson Administration policies such as Head Start and was a successful, private businesswoman to boot. She has indeed left us a proud legacy of environmental protection and should be praised as a worthy role model for generations to come.