Cultivate Meadows Instead of Lawns, Which’s Mowing Produces 5% of America’s Greenhouse Gases

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The TED.com talk in the video below is mostly about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that has devastated the bee population in recent years. However, it had one stunning environmental fact on the side that applied to many of us where we can do something about it

5% of America’s greenhouse gases (GHGs) are produced from mowing lawns!

MeadowNow, the speaker, Dennis vanEngelsdorp did not say “America”, but the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seems to back that up. The US EPA suggests 5-10%, but includes other gardening equipment with it. However, I think Dennis was just stating the process of releasing GHGs from within the grass in cutting it! Either way, America meeting its Kyoto Protocol targets might be made a lot easier with just a stop mowing your lawn campaign.

Think about that one!

To put the 5% into context, purely in terms of percentage share and not volume because I tend to have world figures rather than American figures:

That is, on a fraction of total share basis, lawn mowing in America contributes more to its GHG output than air travel does to the world output.  Why are we worried about flying when lawns are doing so much more climate damage???

So what does Dennis suggest to replace lawns with? Meadows or a field vegetated primarily by grass and other non-woody plants (grassland). In plainer terms, just let the grass and flowers, some of which you might consider weeds, grow. It’s a lot less maintenance, although you can still do some, and can help some wildlife thrive… not the least of which would be flowers and bees. And you know what? It’d also look a lot more natural, which brings me to the puzzling questions of why North Americans like their country cottages so much but work so hard and pour so much money to make their city homes look so artificial with useless biosystems like lawns?

I’ve never figured that one out. It’s a bit like being prejudiced towards brown people but always wanting to get tanned. I’ll write about that one some time soon! Paradox or hypocrisy?

Anyhow, the thought to make meadows instead of lawns is a great one. It is also just in time for preparation of spring and summer when people come outside again and start preparing our lawns. Lose your Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) this year and work with Mother Nature for once, eh?

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 7.5

2 thoughts on “Cultivate Meadows Instead of Lawns, Which’s Mowing Produces 5% of America’s Greenhouse Gases

  1. The idea of simply growing out your lawn to create a meadow is great for a soap box but the facts and misleading statements in the article prove that this is just a soap box rant.

    First, the picture shown is NOT a lawn that has been left to grow wild. It is a landscaped meadow. A beautiful French meadow full of wildflowers, bees, etc. is a landscape installation. One of the most difficult albeit pretty landscapes to achieve.

    Second, the statement “Why are we worried about flying when lawns are doing so much more climate damage???” is great copy but irrisponsible writing. Lawns are NOT creating the pollution, gasoline powered mowers are. The lawn mower industry is never short of gasoline alternatives from push-type reel mowers to battery power and electric mowers.

    Thrid, calling a lawn a “useless biosystem” is just plain ignorant. Lawns provide erosion control, act as a filter for rainwater and runoff, convert CO2 to oxygen, and provide aesthetic beauty.

    Like I said, the whole anti-lawn rant makes a great soap box rant, but the evils of lawns are largely just not true.

    • Hi Kelly. Thank you for your detailed comments. You bring up some good points which I don’t agree with but I will address and let others decide for themselves, though I very much appreciate having opposing points of view for comments.

      The picture I picked was the first one from Google Images I found for a “meadow” search, which resembled a meadow I thought I might see. Of course, I don’t have a trained eye for this stuff, but I would defend my choice as not being as exotic as what you claim it to be. Nova Scotia, where I live, has meadows that look similar enough to this, even with the flower colours, though the flowers would not likely be the same. The other thing is I titled post “cultivate”, meaning I am encouraging some care taking of the meadow, not a free for all growth zone, if people wanted some aesthetic and want to do some work on their patch of land. I don’t doubt if I can find natural meadow landscapes similar the one in the picture in Nova Scotia, I can find people who can do small amounts of work to create it in their yard.

      Your comment about “lawns are NOT creating the pollution, gasoline powered mowers are”, in response to mine on worrying about lawns instead of flying is equally irresponsible writing, in my opinion, if you want to call it that. That’s what I call NRA (National Rifle Association) “logic” that says “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people”. That may be true to a computer processor, but see what the murder rate would be like if one had to manually hand-kill people with all the gore instead of just pulling the trigger. Same with wars if we only had primitive weapons of years ago. As for lawns, without our need to have a nice lawn, there would be no gas mowers, either… and you’d probably need a solar powered mower to avoid pollution. It is our need to have a lawn that creates the problem in gas mowers, they don’t exist on their own to pollute to fulfill their existence.

      Finally, the lawn as a “useless biosystem” is a relative term. Of course it can hold some water, stave off a little erosion and be a filter to some capacity. But relative to meadows with deeper roots, containing flowers with pollen, sustain bees, converting more CO2 to oxygen without the need for lawn mowers of any power source and huge amounts of water in times of water supplies buckling to meet demands, and even provide aesthetic beauty, it stinks! On the idea of beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder but Americans seemed to have been brainwashed into the lawn concept. Lawns—including residential and commercial lawns, golf courses, etc—could be considered the single largest irrigated crop in America in terms of surface area, covering about 128,000 square kilometers in all. There are three times more acres of lawns in the U.S. than irrigated corn, and that’s a conservative estimate (Cristina Milesi).
      http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Lawn/lawn.php

      Btw, the referenced article shows a marginal net CO2 sequestration from lawns on page 3, but without the maintenance CO2 “costs” like mowers, so that result is not to be interpreted as a net gain for lawns. Furthermore, “if the clippings decompose in a landfill, however, all bets are off, as the oxygen-poor environment increases production of carbon-containing methane, a potent greenhouse gas”, and the article doesn’t talk about the impact of water required other than listing numbers used and impact on lawns.

      So overall, I don’t think this is a soap box rant given what I’ve mentioned. I can also assure you that the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) community does NOT invite soap box rants to talk at their conferences! I didn’t just “copy” their talk, though, to blog, adding other statistics, comparisons and context, as well as spread the word in a different media than TED’s videos. But thank you very much for your perspective and taking the time to share it.

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