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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the President's Environmental Youth Awards


Well, this is a big day at the White House. I'm glad to see you all here. And I heard those kind comments by our outstanding head of EPA, Bill Reilly. And let me just say to all of you environmentalists, we are very blessed in this country to have a man like Bill Reilly taking on this extraordinarily complicated task and doing such a great job. I want to welcome Mike Deland, head of our Council [on Environmental Quality] here, who's also doing a superb job on the environment; Ted Sanders, from the Education Department, our Under Secretary; and Frank Bracken, the Under Secretary of the Department of the Interior -- both so interested in this work -- and of course, our hardworking EPA youth coordinators and our regional administrators. And especially, I'm pleased to come over to welcome the young champions for the environment, all of you.

And all of you know that protecting the environment is not a spectator sport; we all have to be a part of the solution. And that's why the past year has been so encouraging. So many people, in so many ways, are getting involved -- even the Simpsons.

You know, Bart Simpson dropped me a line the other day when I told him you were coming -- true story -- and he wrote me saying: ``When I mess up my bedroom, my mom comes in and yells, but eventually she cleans it up and everything's cool. But when we mess up the environment, we're the ones who are going to be yelling, and it definitely won't be cool.'' Well, this is one of those rare moments when Bart makes sense. [Laughter] Wise beyond his years, just as all of you are wise beyond yours.

Just yesterday, here at the White House, I had the honor, the pleasure of awarding the Medal of Science and the Medal of Technology to some distinguished American scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. But the awards that we're making today are no less significant. In fact, when I heard about the projects for this year's awards, I was struck by the sophistication of these projects. Some have grown to national, even international stature. Others have changed the way whole communities operate. But all have made permanent improvements to our natural environment.

Today, in the middle of American Education Week, it's a pleasure to recognize the efforts of students who represent citizenship at its most responsible and the adult sponsors who worked so hard with them. Together, they've proved something too many tend to forget, and that is that in this country it's the individual that counts. It's the individual who makes a difference.

I think of one young man, in particular, who won this award last year for launching a recycling program. He stood on this stage and asked me if the White House did any recycling. You talk about pressure. [Laughter] This guy came in here -- it's not often that lobbyists come disguised as high school kids. [Laughter] Well, I told him that I didn't think we had a recycling program, but that we'd sure be working on it. And you know, if anyone can teach old dogs new tricks, kids can. And so, now I can say to this year's award winners: We learned something from people like you, and now we've a recycling program in the White House.

And if it's true, as some say, that we're all borrowing the Earth from future generations, it's also true that the Earth will be preserved by millions of small decisions made every day by every one of us. And they're the kind of small decisions that make a world of difference, whether it's recycling aluminum cans, conserving water, turning off a lightbulb, even just keeping the refrigerator door closed.

Like that scene in the ``Teenage Mutant -- bear with me -- Ninja Turtles.'' [Laughter] They're standing in front of the refrigerator, deciding what to have for dinner. And one of them is standing there with the door open. So, another one says, ``Think with the door closed, then get what you want.'' ``Okay,'' the first one says, ``I'm thinking. Tonight we'll have broccoli.'' [Laughter] And fortunately, he pulls out a pizza. So, there's a happy ending to this story. [Laughter]

And if more of us think with the door closed and our minds open, we can all bring environmental ignorance to a happy ending. Because, to quote one of those Mutant Turtle characters, ``There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth, only crew.''

So, with those words of wisdom, let me go on now to the highlight of the day, and that is to the awards for the distinguished crew that is with us today. And let me say, in advance, congratulations to each and every one of you.

[At this point, the awards were presented.]

Well done, everybody. What a great day. What an inspiring day here at the White House. Thank you all very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:28 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. Bart Simpson is a character in the television show ``The Simpsons.''

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