I know I post about landscaping issues a lot, but the choices we make in our yards (and urban parks, and road medians, and commercial property grounds) are a major leverage point for climate resilience and the restoration of healthy ecosystems.
Leslie Nelson Inman, the highly knowledgeable & dedicated admin of Pollinator-Friendly Yards on Facebook, just posted a great quote:
“… our grass addiction comes at an environmental cost. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, maintaining those lawns also consumes nearly 3 trillion gallons of water a year as well as 59 million pounds of pesticides, which can seep into our land and waterways. Department of Transportation data shows that in 2018, Americans used nearly 3 billion gallons of gasoline running lawn and garden equipment. That’s the equivalent of 6 million passenger cars running for a year. … The Washington Post’s garden correspondent Adrian Higgins has covered everything from using organic fertilizers (or making your own from compost) to avoiding pesticides. The transition to electric lawn maintenance equipment is also well underway. But how we care for our lawns is secondary to the amount of lawn we have in the first place, experts say. Having less grass and more plants is among the most important factors in keeping a yard eco-friendly.”
(From “Ditching Grass Could Help Your Backyard Thrive“; by Tik Root in Washington Post, June 30, 2021.)
In related news, I learned that some landscaping contractors in my region have been spraying, on public lands, herbicides and pesticides known to be deadly to pollinators and aquatic/marine life. In addition, some violations of the rainy-season fertilizer ban have occurred. It’s digusting to me that these companies are allowed to earn tons of our hard-earned tax dollars to poison us.
Even if it weren’t massively destructive, it makes no fiscal sense. As I wrote in my ongoing correspondence with city officials, “Besides the fact that fertilizer runoff is a prime culprit in environmental crises including toxic algal blooms and the deaths of fish and wildlife (such as manatees), it makes no financial sense to be fertilizing an empty lot when we could be allowing native plants to grow there for free; or else using the land to grow fruits and vegetables organically.”
I will keep up my efforts to persuade officials and fellow citizens to change our landscaping emphasis to growing trees and other plants rather than buzzcut turfgrass. The other day I took a 7-mile walk through the midsection of my city. It was a blistering hot sunny day, and there were many long stretches of sidewalk with no shade. Meanwhile I passed the usual armies of landscaping employees on City or university properties, noisily barbering the endless flat swathes of grass. Imagine if we directed that energy toward planting and caring for trees and shrubs. Our city would be much cooler on a hot day (and also much less beset by gas fumes and gratuitous industrial noise).
But really, when it comes right down to it, there is no “us” and no “them.” We have all participated in this sodgrass-idolatry culture to some degree, even if it’s by not speaking out loudly enough against the mass biocide going on all around us day-in and day-out. I’m doing what I can do right now, which is working with fellow citizens and government people to reform our public landscaping practices. It’s harder to control such practices on private property, but
1) at the very least, we can stop using our tax dollars to poison ourselves, reduce our resilience, murder other species, and desecrate the natural beauty of our bioregions; and
2) cities and counties, through their official landscaping practices, can set the tone for private land-owners in a region. By de-normalizing sodgrass idolatry in the public sphere, we set an example and give homeowners and businesses more support for doing the same.
• “The Record-Breaking Heat Wave That’s Scorching the Pacific Northwest” (Josie Fischels, npr.org, 6/29/21). “In some places, the heat is so intense it has even melted power cables. In downtown Portland, the Portland Streetcar service shut down on Sunday, posting a picture on Twitter of a power cable with a hole burnt into it. … Drought has created a vicious dry cycle
Widespread drought extending from the West and all the way into the Great Plains has only worsened under the heat dome. In the Northwest, a typically wet area, abnormally dry and drought conditions have expanded in a matter of weeks. … Scientists say the warming climate is making both heat waves and droughts more frequent and intense.”
• “The World Speeds Up–And We Slow Down” (Bill McKibben, from 6/30/21 edition of The Climate Crisis (email newsletter of The New Yorker magazine): “Last week, we discussed how the new heat affects human bodies. This week, we need to remind ourselves how these novel temperatures are affecting the planet itself. … during the past seven decades, as it’s got hotter in the Southwest, it’s also got less humid. In most places, the warming air leads to more humidity—hot air can carry more water vapor than cold air can. But evaporation off the sea surface provides much of the moisture, and the desert Southwest is nowhere near an ocean. In the Southwest, and in many other continental interiors, the extra heat is evaporating moisture straight out of the soil, desiccating the landscape and making huge fires all but inevitable. And, as the Times reported, citing Park Williams, a U.C.L.A. climate scientist, it’s very much a vicious circle: ‘Lower soil moisture should also cause temperatures to rise, Dr. Williams said, because there is little or no moisture left to evaporate, and evaporation has a cooling effect.’ The speed with which this happens is remarkable. And it is dramatically outpacing the speed at which humans—our governments, our economies, our habits, our mind-sets—seem able to adapt. AZCentral reports that some golf-course managers near Phoenix are ‘pushing back’ against a plan that would cut their water use by just three per cent.”
• “Ditching Grass Could Help Your Backyard Thrive” (Tik Root, The Washington Post, 6/30/21). The Washington Post’s garden correspondent Adrian Higgins has covered everything from using organic fertilizers (or making your own from compost) to avoiding pesticides. The transition to electric lawn maintenance equipment is also well underway. But how we care for our lawns is secondary to the amount of lawn we have in the first place, experts say. Having less grass and more plants is among the most important factors in keeping a yard eco-friendly.”
• (Added 7/4/21): “Deaths Spike as Heat Wave Broils Canada and the Pacific Northwest” (Vjosa Isai, Dan Bilefsky and Shawn Hubler, New York Times, 6/30/21). “Hyperthermia claimed nearly a dozen lives in one day in one Washington county. A small town in British Columbia set Canada’s heat record at just over 121 degrees Fahrenheit. … In Canada, John Horgan, the premier of British Columbia, said on Tuesday that ‘the big lesson coming out of the past number of days is that the climate crisis is not a fiction.’ … The sizzling temperatures have also imperiled the crops of farmers in British Columbia, wilting lettuce and searing raspberries. … While police usually attend to three to four sudden deaths a day, on average, the department said it has responded to more than 98 such calls since Friday, with 53 of those on Tuesday.”