This is America's highest civilian honor, and it is a fitting tribute to a man who has done so much to safeguard the health and natural riches of the American people.
In order to grasp all that John has accomplished, you have to remember what America was like 40 years ago. When John and a handful of young visionaries opened NRDC in 1970 -- raw sewage floated through our cities, waterways were so polluted they caught on fire, and smog hung so heavily that skyscrapers and nearby mountains were routinely obscured.
John knew this had to change. As he describes in A Force for Nature, the new book he wrote with his wife Patricia, he watched with alarm as his young son woke every morning with soot on his forehead after sleeping next to an open window, and he knew America could do better. He believed we could grow and prosper without degrading the environment or risking our children's well being.
He also believed that those responsible for endangering the environment must be stopped. He and his NRDC colleagues set out to do something that had never been done before: They held polluters accountable in court on behalf of ordinary citizens.
And they won. They took on giant corporations and the federal government, and they secured the victories that got lead out of gasoline, made cities build sewage treatment plants, helped reduce acid rain, prompted cars to become 90 percent cleaner than they were in the 1970s, and much, much more.
These victories have made a concrete difference in all our lives, and we have John to thank for them. John has the tenacity and fighting spirit to pursue a case or legislation for decades. He has the vision to tackle not just today's problems, but to look toward the future -- to confront climate change and the collapse of the world's oceans long before others grasped the urgency.
But more than anything, John has the faith that America can become a cleaner, healthier nation.
And he has inspired us to continue realizing that potential. John has been a mentor to several generations of advocates. His high standards and his genuine warmth bring out the best in those around him. I feel very lucky to have learned not only from John's leadership, but also from his loyalty and friendship.
President Obama's announcement recognizes that John had the vision and fortitude to launch the modern environmental movement and to build one of the world's most prominent and effective advocacy organizations.
On behalf of NRDC's Board, our staff and the more than 1.3 million members and activists, congratulations to John for a lifetime of service to the planet. Thank you to a man who truly is a force for nature.
This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.