A person who recognizes a good idea and has the courage to wield – and risk – his power to make it reality is a leader in the best sense of the word. President Obama is such a person, and the world is a better place under his leadership, despite the challenges he has confronted.

Staring down congressional gridlock in the face of economic instability and ominous environmental signs, Obama made a solemn vow to Americans yearning for progress in his State of the Union address in January 2014.

“Whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” Obama promised then, and Thursday, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, he kept his word by designating the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Our new national public space – which will be managed by the National Park Service and supported financially by a generous philanthropic Maine family – will protect approximately 87,500 acres, including the East Branch of the Penobscot River and a big enough chunk of Maine woods to make a positive difference in the quality of life here in the Pine Tree State as well as move the needle in the urgent effort to resist the impact of climate change.

On Friday, Obama went a step further to expand the public domain, conserve our national heritage and safeguard the planet. With a stroke of his pen, the 44th president of the United States created the largest protected area on Earth. By expanding a national marine monument off the coast of Hawaii designated a decade ago by President George W. Bush, Obama sheltered 582,578 square miles of land and sea – one of the most biologically diverse areas of the world, where over 14 million birds from 22 species gather. It’s also home to endangered Hawaiian monk seals, Hawaiian green sea turtles and Laysan albatrosses.

In fact, Obama has used his executive authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect more than 548 million acres of federal land and water – more than double any other president – and that’s in addition to rolling out a series of regulatory schemes intended to fight global warming.

Fighting climate change expands opportunities for families by creating new market incentives and jobs for the future; reducing rampant illness and devastation caused by bad air and ocean acidification; and improving the quality of our most basic sustenance: food and water.

Creating a public space in the woods where all are welcome to partake in pristine and peaceful energy also will improve community morale and increase creativity.

To do nothing would be to succumb to the status quo – or worse – and allow heat accumulation from human emissions roughly equal to the heat of 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs explode across the planet every day. Without action to reduce emissions, scientists say the Earth’s ability to sustain its growing population is severely threatened. The Katahdin woods – in addition to being a wonderful place to explore and escape to – are some of the much-needed lungs our congested planet needs to cool down.

Maine’s big, healthy trees breathe in carbon and exhale much-needed oxygen, but not only will a national monument be a plus for the environment, it will be good for the economy, too. Look at what a national monument that later became Maine’s biggest national park does for Bar Harbor.

Acadia National Park began as a national monument, designated by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. It became a park three years later. Last year Acadia was the nation’s ninth most visited national park and attracted close to 3 million visitors, who spent an estimated $247.9 million in the local community, supporting thousands of local jobs.

Obama’s push to preserve and protect public space comes on top of his bold creation of new fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks and regulations to reduce toxic emissions from power plants. Relentless political attacks and court challenges have not stopped our president from moving the country forward toward solutions and good ideas.

Despite protests from businesses that profit from pollution and people with their heads buried in the sand – and notwithstanding a Congress that is broken – our president pulls the levers of power available to him to do good, and for that Obama will go down as one of the greatest presidents in American history. He is not perfect, but Obama’s mark on the White House of placing the quality and dignity of human life and Mother Earth over the financial greed and willful ignorance of naysayers is epic and wonderful, if not yet fully appreciated.

Cynthia Dill is a civil rights lawyer and former state senator. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: dillesquire

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