Going Green Jimmy Carter

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Carolyn Kaster / AP

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter

After leaving the Oval Office he started the humanitarian Carter Center and now reflects on the nonprofit's 25th anniversary in a new book, Beyond the White House. Jimmy Carter will now take your questions

What does the Carter Center do? And how is it related to Habitat for Humanity?
Ruth Bennett, Sterling Heights, Mich.
The Carter Center is completely separate. We put in 51 weeks a year on the center and one week on Habitat. The center is designed to meet the needs of the poorest and most forgotten people in the world. We deal with neglected diseases. We mediate disputes. The thing that gets the most publicity is Habitat. Last year we built 100 homes in India in just four days because Brad Pitt showed up and we were inundated with unanticipated volunteers.

Did you ever envision becoming so prolific a builder of latrines?Ricardo Fernandez, Orland Park, Ill.
[Laughs.] Ethiopia has one of the highest incidences of blind­ness on earth because of trachoma, which is caused by filthy eyes. To eliminate flies, we taught people how to build very simple latrines. Women have adopted building them as a kind of liberation movement — there had been a rigid taboo against a woman relieving herself in the daytime — so although we thought we'd have about 10,000 latrines, we've passed 340,000. Now instead of my being famous for negotiating peace between Israel and Egypt, I'm famous in Ethiopia for being the No. 1 latrine builder.

What are your feelings about the Bush Administration's claim that negotiating with our enemies weakens America's power?Jeff Rogers, Portland, Ore.
It's a terrible and tragic and counterproductive policy to avoid communicating with people who disagree with us.

What is your opinion of the current Middle East situation?Antony Mylonas, Perth, Australia
Since President Clinton left office, there hasn't been a single day of good-faith peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians orchestrated or supported by Washington.

During your presidency, your energy policies were not very popular. Would the country be in better shape if we had adopted the policies you endorsed?Ronald McGee, Anchorage
Yes, of course. When I was elected, we were importing 9 million bbl. of oil per day. Within just a few years, we ­reduced that to 7 million bbl. per day. Now we're back up to 13 million bbl. a day.

What one regret do you have about your presidency?Nyamisi Muindi, Buffalo, N.Y.
I wish I had known then what I have learned since I left the White House. We could have had a much more effective policy on alleviating the suffering of people from unnecessary diseases and abject poverty.

Will you endorse any presidential candidate in the primaries?Howard Guralnick, Seaford, N.Y.
My plan is to wait until the choice is made and then — enthusiastically support the Democratic nominee.

To what degree did your faith affect your public policy?Jeffrey Barnes, Massillon, Ohio
Well, I've never found any real conflict between my religious faith and my political posture. But I do think the realm of religion and the realm of politics should be completely separated. A President ought not take any action that would promote a certain religion over others, and that unfortunately has been violated in recent years.

What's next for you?Randall Ford, Houston
We're completing our eradication of guinea worm — we've reduced that horrible disease from 3.5 million cases to 8,000 cases so far this year — and are looking at additional diseases to undertake. In the meantime, we continue to help with elections in troubled countries.

You had Charles Mingus play when you were in the White House. Are you still a jazz fan?Gary Robinson, Moreno Valley, Calif.
That was the best jazz concert the White House has ever seen. Whenever we visit New Orleans or St. Louis or Chicago, we go out of our way to attend a jazz concert or nightclub.

Online bonus: Two extra questions from Jimmy Carter:

What have you done to help relations with China?Mandy Deng in China
I normalized diplomatic relations with China in 1979. Immediately after that, Deng Xiaoping, who was the premier of China, asked if the Carter Center would help him in the democratization of these little villages—there are about 650,000 of them and they are not part of the Communist party structure. So he and subsequent governments have ordained that those villages can have a democratic election. The Carter Center has had a contract with the government of China now for roughly 10 years to monitor the compliance of those laws in the villages.

You were one of the first presidents to talk openly about your own personal faith. How do you think that changed how we view candidates and think about their religiosity as part of their political platform and agenda?Jeffrey Barnes in Massillon, Ohio
I really tried to separate the two in the campaign. I never had any religious services in the White House. The first time that religion was injected seriously into the political game was when John Kennedy ran back in 1960. I think that candidates can say, 'Yes I do have faith. This is my belief, but when I get into office I will treat all Americans exactly the same whether they have my religion or no religion at all.'

To read more interviews and to subscribe to the 10 Questions podcast on iTunes, go to time.com/10questions.