One of the lovable cranks who writes to TerraPass recently suggested that perhaps we should be paying him, because his thriving lawn is pulling so much carbon out of the air. We gently explained the difference between the natural carbon cycle and manmade emissions from fossil fuels. But perhaps we should have been more blunt: American lawns are an environmental disaster.
Nearly 50,000 square miles of America is covered in lawn. Perhaps an even larger acreage of the American psyche is taken up by the quest for the perfect lawn, which rivals frontier and farmland for the title of most iconic American landscape. Home on the range? Amber waves of grain? They’ve got nothing on a white picket fence around a half-acre free of crabgrass.
The problems with lawns are many: fertilizers, pesticides, and excessive water usage, to name but a few. But we’re carbon people, so today we’re going to talk mowers.
Lawnmowers have developed in much the same way as cars. Automatic transmissions. Drinkholders. And lots and lots of emissions. The Times recently ran an article on the dirty politics of the lawnmower industry, which has fought tooth-and-nail against the proposed requirement of a catalytic converter to reduce smog-forming pollutants.
Gallon for gallon — or, given the size of lawnmower tanks, quart for quart — the 2006 lawn mower engines contribute 93 times more smog-forming emissions than 2006 cars, according to the California Air Resources Board. In California, lawn mowers provided more than 2 percent of the smog-forming pollution from all engines.
It might take a few years, but the EPA will eventually prevail. In the meantime, we’ve got a much simpler and cheaper solution that you can enact today: get yourself a push mower.
The push mower was invented in 1830 by Englishman Edwin Budding, and it’s been despised ever since. But the scorn is no longer deserved. Modern push mowers are so easy to use that the internet postively gushes over with praise.
Among their virtues: they’re quiet, require minimal maintenance, are better for your grass, emit no foul fumes, are cheaper, take up less space in the garage, and provide a pleasant form of mild exercise.
TerraBlog reader Tom Harrison provides some other eco-friendly lawn care tips, including a recommendation for some electric mowers if you absolutely can’t stand the thought of getting your back into it.