Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Obsession by Pat Brown

Lawns. What is this freaking obsession we have with lawns? From what I've observed over the years,  it seems to be more men than women who possess this fixation. But I've seen some women acting irrationally too. On a drive back from work years ago I passed a woman on her hands and knees using a pair of scissors to trim her lawn.

I don't have a lawn these days, which is a good thing, because I like dandelions. I don't think there's a more beautiful sight than a large lawn carpeted with brilliant yellow. Most people use the strongest herbicide the law allows to kill them and anything else but grass poking its head up. And not just any grass. It can't be the wild grasses that grow around most of the U.S. It can't be crabgrass. To achieve this unnatural monoculture. In order to keep anything living on their lawn they use the deadliest toxic insecticides that kill bugs and poisons anything else in the neighborhood.

Why? To have this mat of a special breed of grass that stretches from the front of the house to the curb. Blades all carefully cut to be the same height. And sterile. A lawn of grass is a monoculture. A single species makes it up and no other species are allowed in. If any do they are poisoned, torn out, burned.

Walk into any Home Depot or Lowes this time of year and you will be greeted by a seemingly endless array of tools big and small. Pallets stacked high with bags of fertilizer, soil, mulch, grass seed mixes and pesticides. A dedicated lawnite can spend thousands of dollars on these things, from $2-3,000 dollars on a riding lawn mower and up depending on the depth of the gardeners pocket and his obsession.

None of this is too bad in the northern, wetter states or provinces. But when you drive through Los Angeles or Scottsdale you will find the same lush, thick green lawns. Los Angeles is in what's classed as a semi-desert, minimal rainfall (20+ inches a year), with most of it coming in a short span of time – winter. Scottsdale is a full desert, with even less rainfall. (-10 inches a year). These areas are so dry they need a constant supply of water to keep anything green growing.

Do people in those southern areas recognize that and have landscapes that reflect it? Not from what I've seen. We all know that the world has a severe shortage of clean, fresh water. Anyone who lives in one of the drier parts of North America know this. Droughts show us first hand what even a short term without water can do.

We know it, but we bury the knowledge in some deep part of our mind and figure it doesn't mean us. Water is a basic human right, right? Like gasoline, it's something we assume we have the right to, for anything we want. We'll fight wars in the future to protect our water sources. As the rest of the world sinks into the permanent loss of clean and available drinking water. Sadly, the people most likely to suffer this fate are also the people who have the largest families, putting even more pressure on the already inadequate system. Does anyone seriously believe these people will accept death to let America keep its green lawns, swimming pools and massive fountains even in one of the driest places on the continent – Las Vegas?

I seriously doubt it. Facing revolution, they will launch wars. And like the war in Iraq and Afghanistan they will not be winnable wars.

The most obvious way to cut water usage is to raise prices so high people will have to cut back for practical reasons. But every time this is done, people, especially suburb dwellers complain. Hell, they scream in fury. To City Hall, to the governor, the newspapers and all over the Internet at this wrong they've been dealt. Politicians, wanting to reelected – it's their only real goal, the rest is just cupcake sparkles – will do anything they can to give their constituents what they want. Were they to explain that water is scarce, and there must be conservation, their opponent will step in and attack the incumbent on his inability to provide his people with a basic need. We're convinced there's plenty of water. We can see it all around us.

What we don't take into consideration are really prolific users of water. Agriculture uses the most, and with our growing population, this is only going to increase. Almost all industries use water at some point in their manufacturing. Both uses also pollute the water they are using. Runoff from factory farms measure in the tons worldwide, mine tailings, almost everything that drives, flies or is there to make our lives easier, uses water and pollutes it in turn.

Lawns are small potatoes against this, aren't they?  Yes, but it is one of the few places we could make a huge difference. We could stop trying to have picture perfect lawns. Use local plants that are suited for the amount of water that falls in their area. Stop thinking your lawn must be vibrant green all season long. Let your lawn do what's natural, be dormant. Recently a commercial caught my eye. It was for a special type of fertilizer and grass seed that would make grass grow even in hard to grow places. The part that caught my eye was the statement 'Every year it comes, winter, trying to kill your lawn.' The obvious solution to this lawnicide was to use their product and you beat mother nature.

Instead they put their underground water sprinklers on a timer which goes on faithfully every morning or evening and saturates the lawn. And the sidewalk. And driveway. Sometimes even the street.

And we can do it because we're in America and Americans are entitled. In a time when we are all more connected with everyone else in the world, we are surprisingly myopic when it comes to other people's problems. The folks in the rest of the world weren't smart enough to be born American. We don't even hear about the issue unless millions die. And these days with all the economic woes strangling everybody and our focus on government budgets the response is to cut things. An easy target is foreign aid. We don't know these people. We feel bad for them and wish it wasn't so but they're not my neighbor, I don't owe them anything.

The average American lifestyle is kept afloat by nearly 2,000 gallons of H2O a day—twice the global average. It takes 338 gallons of water to produce one 3 ounce serving of beef. The average American eats about 7 servings of beef each week. That's a staggering 2366 gallons of water. Poultry requires about 88 gallons per 3 ounce serving. The average person eats 7 servings of poultry a week, 616 gallons. Pork is 648 gallons.

A gallon of milk—from a cow—requires 880 gallons of water to produce. The average American consumes a cup of milk a day.

Water is used to produce the fuels that keep us moving and our planet humming. A gallon of gasoline, for example, requires nearly 13 gallons of H2O to produce it. The average American relies on nearly 670 gallons of water a day just for electricity production.

One person uses about 80-100 gallons of water per day for personal use.  In a four person household it equals out to about 300 gallons because of shared resources. Following are some links to provide more information and there are a lot more sites out there.

My conclusion? If you absolutely have to have a uniform, perfect green at the front of the house, sell your lawnmower, your fertilizer, herbicide and insecticide and get Astroturf. You'll save yourself a tone of money and leave water for the important things, like keeping people alive.


Sarah J. McNeal said...

LOL I think I went from lawns to World War III. I have noticed with irritation, that many people are not aware of or just don't care about the conservation of water and the nurturing of nature. Personally, I'm glad to have grass and I don't water the lawn. It's live or make room for grass that can around my house. Green anything is welcome no matter if it's dandelion or crab grass.
My neighbor is on another wavelength--maybe from another planet. Armed with a broom (no kidding a broom) he sweeps his yard of every scrap of debris and he has a 3 foot inroad into mine as well. If anything grows on the fence separating our yards, he's sprays it with toxic crap. My rose bushes live just to spite him. He also smokes like crazy so there's always a grey haze over there. I could go on but then my answer would be as long as your blog.
I wish you all the best, Pat.

Tina Donahue said...

I've never been into lawns, but I do like gardening. When my husband and I got our first house, we planted a gazillion flowers. Much to our surprise, they started to bloom in stages. One part of the yard was awash in blue petals, then the next part in pink, then yellow and it was just gorgeous. I was amazed it came out so well.

Rawiya said...

i'm not into Lawns at all. That's so very useful info Pat. I had no idea about some of those statistics.

Great post!

Brenda Hyde said...

It will be interesting to see how many people remain obsessive about their lawns with the price of gas what it is. I imagine even lawn services will have to up their rates. Me? If we used weed killer on our lawn, it would be bare. BAHAHAHAHAHA

Fiona McGier said...

My husband wants a bumper sticker that says, "My lawn doesn't have a chemical dependency and drinking problem, does yours?"
We have a fine crop of dandelions (the yellow flowers smell really sweet!) and creeping charlie. When the kids were little, nothing grew in the back yard. Now it's mostly green. The only part that gets watered is husband's garden, so the tomatoes will grow big and strong! Other than that, we let the weather decide when it gets watered.
Great post, but then for me, you are preaching to the choir!