The Problem with Lawns

The Problem with Lawns

It seems like it’s been about half a year since my last post; so I’m pleasantly surprised to see it’s only been about two and a half months. Since there’s been so much I’ve been wanting to post about, and it’s all been piling up, maybe that’s why it seems like it’s been so much longer. But before I get to what I had planned to write about today, as a brief aside, let me first go in another direction entirely.

As I’ve stated on the Solutions page, some of my really big ideas (concerning solutions), I intend to share only with like-minded, potential backers (and therefore, have refrained from disclosing any details about them on this website). For a variety of reasons, I think that’s best. And while it’s not very often that I think of new additional material that I feel rises to the level of being worthy of being included in what I have labeled my “talking points” folders (containing those ideas I wish to share with potential backers), recently, I came up with two more really big ideas that I feel super charged-up about. One has to do with a brilliantly simple way to transform our government, in a very big way, while keeping the entire infrastructure completely intact and not changing a thing in that respect. It’s a very interesting idea and would make a fertile topic for a book (bestseller?). While it’s an exhilarating idea and one that I feel holds tremendous promise, I would also be the first to admit that there are some significant caveats that would need to be taken into consideration as well.

But the other idea, I’m maybe even more excited about. There is enormous potential concerning what it can accomplish (in the long run), it can be implemented almost immediately (relatively speaking), and it is something that can be duplicated all across the country (and the world). It will absolutely require philanthropic backing to get this off the ground; but I love this idea, I really do!

But wait … there’s even more! Because fast on the heels of those two big ideas, I’ve also added (to my “talking points” folders) two more. One concerns a great idea for a book (simple concept, but immensely substantive), which wouldn’t take long to write — I completed the rough draft outline in about two or three hours, and I believe I can probably write the book itself in as little as two months. I can’t recall ever seeing anything quite like it. But the idea I’m far more interested in seeing come to fruition, of these two, is the other idea. That one is much more complex, it will take quite a bit of work, and funding, but I see it as something very important and something we’re going to need to be doing a lot more of, in the future. Anyhow, without further ado, let me get to what I actually wanted to write about today …

The New York Times, last week, had an article in its main news section, about an aspect of the severe drought situation in California (Ian Lovett, “Stingy Users Fined in Drought, While the Rich Soak / Uneven Enforcement Angers Californians” Nov. 22, 2015, p. 22). While not getting into the specificity of what the title of the piece refers to, I’ll mention some of the facts that are uncovered in the story. The article reports that “The top 10 residential water users [households] in Los Angeles collectively used more than 80 million gallons of water in the year that ended April 1.” The piece mentions one home has 12 bathrooms and two pools, and another home that is in the construction phase, has been issued permits for five pools. In the San Francisco area, the story reports, a retired Chevron executive had been averaging 12,578 gallons a day. But here’s the point I wanted to make. The piece quotes one Bel Air resident as stating “Someone has to say, ‘You can’t have five pools — you can have one pool.'” After reading that sentence, I circled it and wrote in the margin “Why should someone be permitted to have even one pool on their property?”

Consider, for example, what Marilyn vos Savant points out in her May 3rd, 2015, “Ask Marilyn” column, in Parade magazine (Parade is distributed in more than 700 newspapers, throughout the United States), in answer to a question sent in by a reader from Emmaus, Pennsylvania. The submitted question states that for the past century “humans have been pumping water from the underground water table,” and then asks “How much has this contributed to the rising oceans?” Vos Savant states that a “team of researchers has reported that the increasing human population and its demands for drinking water, irrigation of crops, etc., could account for as much as 42 percent of the rise, surprising even experts. Much of this water evaporates or runs off into rivers and winds up in the oceans. Also, when water gets warmer, it expands. About half the rise is due to warmer oceans simply occupying more space.” And keep in mind, too, that we are currently adding an additional 1,000,000 people to the planet, every 110 hours.

Lawns, are another big way in which we waste a lot of water, unnecessarily. In fact, in a special section included in the Sunday, September 26, 2010, edition of The New York Times — titled “Op-ed at 40 / Four Decades of Argument and Illustration” — the Times reprinted a piece by author Michael Pollan (“Lawn Care”), which they had first published on May 5, 1991. Michael Pollan had a brilliant suggestion back then, and it is just as relevant today. He starts by pointing out that “three years after George Bush told us he wanted to be remembered as the ‘environmental president,’ he has done little to earn that distinction …” Then, further along, he states “Still, I’m inclined to take the president at his word when he voices his concern for the planet. So I want to offer him a suggestion — a simple, constructive step that would save the Treasury money. I propose that President Bush issue an executive order to the Park Service to rip out the White House lawn.”

In the next and last paragraph in the piece, Pollan explains: “I imagine that, at first blush, most Americans will be as disturbed by this idea as I was. We are great lovers of lawn. But the lawn is a symbol of everything that’s wrong with our relationship to the land. Lawns require pampering because we ask them to thrive where they do not belong.”

I wasn’t “disturbed” by this idea at all. Far from it. In fact, I can even envision how this might be accomplished in such a way that the White House lawn would be transformed into something nothing less than breathtaking.

From time to time, people have voiced concerns about how it is so unhealthy (to us, the planet, and future generations), to treat our property in the ways that we do. Back in July of 2007, in a letter published in Consumer Reports magazine, a Paul Cadman, of Northborough, MA, shared some thoughts about “Your Greatest Lawn,” an article published in the magazine’s May issue. Right off, Cadman takes issue with the term “Great,” when used in reference to our lawns, stating that it’s not a good idea to “promote the American obsession with lawn care as an ideal,” or to suggest “that somehow these chemically fed, expensive and expansive, resource-reducing” portions of our property, “equate with ‘greatness.'”

He continues: “One can easily argue that in today’s climate of fragile ecosystems, dwindling resources, and health concerns, the ‘new’ ideal should be to reduce lawn size or replace lawns with low-maintenance and attractive native species or to simply do as nature intended: Keep it wild.” Those are great suggestions, but I am also perturbed by the fact that so many of us will have gone from cradle to grave, without ever having grown so much as a single calorie’s worth of the food that we will have consumed, while we were alive. Not only is what we are doing often so wasteful in terms of how we are using the land, it is wasteful, also, in terms of how we aren’t.

As I sometimes say, on the one hand, the problems (concerning what we are doing to the planet), in aggregate, rated on a scale of 1-10, we can rate a hundred, but concerning what we are effectively doing about these problems — similarly, rated on a scale of 1-10 — can we really rate that at even a one? If, for example, in terms of solutions, on a scale of 1-10, transforming the White House lawn into something sensible and ecologically sustainable, isn’t even a one (in terms of what it actually accomplishes, in real terms, considering the size of that real estate), and yet we’re not even willing to do that, then what does that say about our prospects for saving the planet?