The State of Lawns

The State of Lawns

Can you imagine a lawn the size of Georgia?

In a June 17, 2017, New York Times op-ed (“Beyond Blades of Grass”), Paul Bogard wrote that if you combined all the lawns in this country, it would be equivalent in size to the state of Georgia. (I believe he made a mistake, when converting 40 million acres to 60 “million square miles” — he probably meant “thousand square miles”; but in comparing it to the size of Georgia, he was right on target!) But it might even be larger than that. One scientist told me she suspects that is a very conservative estimate and that it’s actually probably more equivalent to the size of Montana.

Bogard writes that we spend $40 billion annually on all these lawns. (Think of all the ways that money could be better spent!) Lawns gobble up tremendous amounts of water. Millions of pounds of pesticides, weed killers and fungicides are used to keep them looking healthy and lush. They occupy space that could’ve been used to help preserve indigenous plant species. And, as Bogard notes, our high-maintenance lawns contribute to our reliance upon synthetic, fossil fuel-based fertilizers (which are synthesized using the energy intense Haber-Bosch process.)

Four years ago, Writer Ferris Jabr wrote a blog article (“Outgrowing the Traditional Grass Lawn,” July 29, 2013) that appeared on Scientific American magazine’s website, in which he describes how ecologically destructive lawns can be. In the article, Jabr uses the same “40 million acres” figure Bogard refers to in his New York Times piece (according to Jabr, this figure represents only residential and commercial lawns found in the continental united states). We learn from Jabr that this figure was “calculated for the first time in the early 2000s by Christina Milesi of NASA and her colleagues using satellite data and aerial photos.” Jabr also writes that “Milesi’s computer simulation revealed that all the nation’s lawns demand about 200 gallons of potable water per person per day.” That’s a lot of water!  Jabr states too that according to the E.P.A.,  gas-powered lawnmowers “emit 11 times more air pollution than a  new car for every hour of operation,” and every summer “Americans spill 17,000,000 gallons of gasoline when refueling  mowers and other garden equipment.” That’s significantly more than the tanker Exxon Valdez spilled off the coast of Alaska back in 1989. And we do that every year, simply out of carelessness (not using a funnel or spout).

Jabr also refers to a piece Elizabeth Kolbert wrote for The New Yorker, in which Kolbert describes a variety of different approaches one can take to minimize grass cover or to even avoid having a lawn altogether.

I wrote a related blog post (on the topic of lawns), back on 11/29/15, which you are welcome to scroll down and read.

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