Carter, speaking to the American Renwable Energy Day Summit in Aspen, Colo., said a tax on carbon emissions was the "only reasonable approach" to combat climate change.
The 39th president chastised the U.S. for falling to the bottom of the pack of countries who create renewables, generating just 10 percent of its energy that way, compared to worldwide leader Canada's 64 percent. Even countries not considered to be particularly modern are far outpacing the U.S. -- 62 percent of North Korea's energy comes from renewable sources, as does 18 percent of China's.
"The United States is right at the bottom, with only 10 percent of our energy coming from renewable sources. So we still have a tremendous opportunity to do what we haven't done," he said.
Carter, who created the Department of Energy and was the first president to install solar panels on the White House roof, blamed the "nut cases in our country who don't believe in global warming" for holding up progress.
"I think that they are going to change their position because the evidence of the ravages of global warming is coming or is already there," he said.
"I think now the opportunity is even greater for us to take action. But we had very good support [in the 1970s] from Republicans, almost as much from Republicans as Democrats," he said. "The country was not divided into red and blue states then. Money didn't completely control the campaigns for Congress and president."
The Obama administration announced consideration for new rules to require states to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Carter said Congressional action would be more effective, but he wasn't optimistic anything could happen.
"I believe almost anything President Obama advocates, Congress is going to oppose," he said.
The answer, Carter said, would be in the international community coming together, "for the U.S. and China to agree on anything."
"I think we are going to begin to realize that a superpower is not just who dominates economics and military, but I would say that one of the characteristics of a superpower is to take the leadership or make a pledge to the rest of the world to [address] climate change," he said.
Carter accepted a lifetime achievement award on Tuesday, the final day of the Aspen summit.