Why I Hate Your Lawn
A neighbor flagged me down recently and caught me quite off guard when he launched into a very angry tirade about my not bagging my (mulched) grass clippings. I was too flabbergasted to launch into my well-rehearsed environmental arguments about mulching vs. bagging, so I walked away looking like a slob who’s too lazy to bag. Well, too lazy to bag, water and cut the grass until it’s within a millimeter of violating the village ordinance, to be fair.
This got me to thinking about why I hate lawns. Let’s start with the concept. The only reason we have lawns in this country is because the more elite of my English/Irish/Scottish ancestors thought it would be nice to turn the new world into some sort of sportsman’s paradise, where you can play golf, cricket and lawn bowling everywhere you go. A wonderful concept when you’re talking about a handful of noblemen (and ladies), not when you’re talking about the entire population of the country. Centuries later, our nation has 128,000 square kilometers of lawn that really serve no useful purpose, but yet the environmental cost is astronomical.
Let’s take water, for instance. I like water—it’s great for drinking, bathing, cooking—we kind of need it to survive. It’s also a resource, a semi-renewable resource that we are using much faster than the earth can renew it. One has to think that part of the reason we’re using it so fast is that lawn upkeep in this country requires an estimated 200 gallons of water per person, per day during the summer, according to a study conducted by NASA (I know, right, NASA?)*.
Now, on to gasoline. Even with the growing popularity of electric and manual mowers, we use at least 600 million gallons of gasoline a year on mowing the lawn (and this figure doesn’t include the estimated 17 million gallons that are spilled during refueling to seep down and contaminate the groundwater). I wonder what an extra 617 million gallons of gas each year would do for gas prices?**
A byproduct of burning gasoline is, of course, carbon. When it comes to carbon and greenhouse effect and global warming and all that, there are basically two kinds of people in the world: those who believe it’s really a problem that is getting worse by the day, and those who have not left their air conditioned home for the last decade and don’t get any news broadcasts on their tv, radio or computer. In my opinion, the weather patterns of good old planet earth have become just a bit screwy and I’m guessing carbon emission just might have something to do with it. Well, when we talk about carbon emissions, the first thoughts are always of the cars, but at least cars have emission control systems. Lawn mowers, as a general rule, do not. The average lawn mower, in its lifespan, will produce as much pollution as 43 new cars driving 12,000 miles each. In terms of carbon, that includes 87 pounds of carbon dioxide and 48 pounds of carbon monoxide per mower per year.
Speaking of carbon, lawns actually do have one slight environmental benefit—they trap (or sequester) carbon. As a matter of fact the total lawn surface of the United States is capable of sequestering 37 billion pounds of carbon each year—if you don’t bag. By bagging those grass clippings, you’re removing 24 billion pounds of that carbon-trapping potential. Thanks a lot, neighbor.
There are other things that we do to our lawns that have a global impact, like fertilizing it with precious nitrogen that could be used for food crops (in case you haven’t heard, we’re due to run out of that in a couple decades, so enjoy your food now—it may not be here for your children) and dumping pesticides and herbicides all over it to keep it looking green and “Natural.”
So, in conclusion, I hate your lawn (and my lawn, and everybody else’s lawn). I try to be a good neighbor and do the bare minimum required to keep it sort of looking like everyone else’s, but every time I water or mow I feel myself stabbing that dagger a little deeper into mother earth’s heart. Maybe it’s time to go prairie. Maybe we can all do it together. Maybe we should all just pick a day to tear out our lawns and let the prairie grasses grow. Until that day comes, I promise you this—I will not bag, regardless of what my neighbor says.
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