In today’s polarized world, it is important to note, everyone who disagrees with us is an evil moron and everyone who supports us combines the best features of Mother Teresa and Albert Einstein. So what’s to discuss? Well, OK, a few things. Like that bit where the New York Times denounces the traditional suburban lawn and has a point far more profound than they realize. They also say some very silly things, but in the spirit of true conciliation, we’ll rubbish those assertions in a minute. First, we want to point out that to the extent that there are better, more natural things to do with the green space around your house than chemically assisted monoculture, it’s proof that as with many other problems, environmental matters are often best solved by private initiative and liberty under law not big government.
The Times piece is headlined luridly “Kill your lawn before it kills you”. But we do not think very many death certificates list Bluegrass, Zoysia or St. Augustine. Nor are we impressed by the even more lurid and less plausible start to the Times’ text: “This has been a year of extreme heat and extreme drought across much of the planet. We’ve all seen the pictures: cracked earth, roaring wildfires, rapidly draining reservoirs. Against this bleak backdrop, America’s lush green lawns offer a glorious escape from the parched brown beyond.” So, not so much cracked earth and roaring wildfire where we actually live amid flourishing green grass as in the pages of newspapers, apparently.
We could also do without the Times’ class bias that “The classic manicured lawn is a status symbol imported from long-dead European aristocrats.” Frankly we think it has more to do with a deep-seated human attraction to savannahs, and to lush pastures well-cropped by healthy livestock. And we find the New York Times an unconvincing class warrior.
On the other hand, we agree that “It is a monoculture of nonnative plants that don’t belong in America’s ecosystems and offer very little value to the birds, pollinators and other animals we love.” Rewilding is very trendy these days and often promoted with that odd combination of condescension and insider superiority that raises many hackles including our own. Indeed, in hailing “Rewilding the UK, one abandoned lot at a time” National Geographic felt compelled to note that “Once considered a cause of the very rich, managing land for the benefit of nature is now widely embraced as a way to restore biodiversity”.
Boo. Down with the rich. Now it’s a cause of the very trendy and well-off instead. But it would be as fatuous to reject a trend because it was a trend as to embrace it. So instead, in the spirit of “rewilding”, holistic agriculture and gardening and William of Baskerville’s dictum (cribbed retroactively from Francis Bacon) about learning to obey nature in order to command her, we concur with the Times’ position that “maybe it’s time to start working with our surroundings, not battling them.” Let your lawn be a meadow full of natural sounds, pollinators, colourful native plants and life.
Having thus extended the hand of intellectual friendship to the Times, we now withdraw it, at least with regard to that paper’s habitual ideological and partisan orientation, by observing that big government solutions are the economic equivalent of aggressive, inorganic monoculture. Even if you worry more about GHGs than we do, which wouldn’t be hard, there’s a lot to be said for individual consumers adopting more carbon-hungry lawn practices rather than the state mandating a peat bog in every yard or whatever they might come up with. And certainly more-biodiversity-friendly ones (and beware the local municipal authorities fining you for having unauthorized plants if you try).
It is also highly probable that if a majority of the populace really believes there’s a man-made climate breakdown crisis thingy out there, letting them make individual lifestyle changes would be more effective than banning gasoline cars at conferences you flew to in a private jet. Just saying.
As a former Rural Fire Manager, I just shake my head at this sort of proposal. Unmown vegetation, be it grass, weeds, wild flowers, or any other plant with annual growth habits, inevitably dies and dries out as the summer progresses. What you have, then, are large areas of cured fine fuels, distributed continuously throughout residential areas. Fine fuels enable the ignition and rapid spread of vegetation fires, and those ignition events are most often associated with some sort of human activity. I cant imagine a proposal more likely to result in whole towns burned down to their basements!!
Having gotten tired of mowing and watering, and not having effective weed control, I’ve started to transition my lawns to clover. There are several advantages (that have nothing to do with AGW), including deeper roots, feeding pollinators, resilience to dog urine and general toughness. Not having to mow as often means lower costs for gasoline and carbon taxes.