Does Your Lawn Contribute to Climate Change?
Did you know that an average homeowner dedicates up to 70 hours annually to maintain a well-manicured – albeit sterile – lawn? Currently, lawns in America cover around 40 million acres, about half as much as the nation sets aside for its crops.
These verdant expanses dictate beauty standards based on specious homogeneity. They consume our water resources, pollute our air and lands, and destroy biodiversity.
And we even pay a hefty price for it. According to a survey by IBIS World, we spend up to $82 billion annually for mowing and landscaping.
Furthermore, researchers from the Appalachian State University in the USA highlighted that lawns might actually contribute to global warming.
In a study published in the Journal of Environmental Management, Dr. Chuanhui Gu and his team demonstrated that a hectare of lawn releases up to 3.75 kg (8.26 lbs.) of nitrous oxide and between 697 and 2,443 kg (1536.62 – 5386 lbs.) of carbon dioxide a year.
Both gases are known for producing the famous greenhouse effect, so you might want to think twice before seeding that good-looking turfgrass.
How Do Lawns Damage the Environment?
Lawns have been considered carbon sinks for decades. So, how did they become harmful to the environment?
Although it seems complex, the explanation is simpler than you could imagine.
Lawns were born in Europe, more precisely in England. There, the temperate climate and fertile lands allowed for simpler maintenance of turf grasses. In fact, lawns in Europe don’t require much fertilization and needed minimal watering.
Initially, they even provided food to the sheep grazing them, as gas-powered lawn mowers didn’t exist in the 16th century.
Back then, lawns were a symbol of wealth and social status, and they only became available to the masses in the 19th century. Albeit consisting majorly of grass, lawns are an important part of the English and European gardens.
Embellished by native species of plants, trees, and flowers, lawns make sense on the Old Continent.
Things are slightly different in America, where they only began to become popular in the postwar era.
Indeed, creating and maintaining a flawless English lawn in the USA comes with important consequences at an environmental level.
Homeowners and landscapers started to replace the native species of grass, plants, and trees, with imported ones. According to some studies, lawns currently displace the native ecosystems at a rate between 5,000 and 385,000 acres per day.
This displacement comes with two important consequences.
The first one regards the extinction of the natural habitat. Lawns emerging in urban, suburban, and even rural areas create sterile, chemically-filled environments that provide no food nor shelter to the native wildlife.
A lawn may seem pretty, but at a closer look, you’ll notice the lack of life. No weeds, no bugs, no biodiversity whatsoever. Just plain green grass mowed to perfection.
The second problem regards the maintenance of the lawn. The soil in the USA can rarely provide the necessary nutrients turf grasses and imported plants need. These plants are also subject to diseases, which means the use of more fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides.
Furthermore, they can become invasive, suppressing the native species and depriving wildlife from proper nutrition.
That’s not it; according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Irvine and published in the Geophysical Research Letters, turf lawns release greenhouse effect gases through fertilization, contributing to the global warming.
Moreover, the toxic chemicals contained in herbicides and pesticides will eventually end up in the water, contaminating the fish we eat and water we drink.
Keeping turf from turning brown in areas where turf isn’t supposed to grow also contributes to wasting water.
Besides, you must also consider the noxious gasses released by the machines employed to maintain your lawn.
Indeed, keeping your lawn at a reasonable height means burning fossil fuel if you’re using gas-powered lawn maintenance tools.
All these practices not only contribute to global warming; they also damage the ecosystem as a whole and may contribute to the extinction of many native species.