Lawns, the Climate Killer


The American Dream is often depicted with white-picket fences, a nuclear family, and a sprawling yard to play in. But unfortunately one of those things is terrible for the environment. Suburban lawn culture is awfully unsustainable, so today we’re going to dive into exactly why that is and what you can do instead.

Lush green lawns cover around 50 million acres of land in America. Undoubtedly there is something unique and wonderful running barefoot through a lawn, but much of this greenery was once meadows, forests, and other habitats for wildlife. One of the biggest crises of the era is biodiversity loss, meaning that we are both experiencing a loss of animal life and a loss of types of animal life, and lawn culture is a major factor in this. Typical lawn grass species such as fescue, bluegrass, and zoysia aren’t actually native to North America, and even if they were, a typical lawn can be thought of as a monocrop, and nature craves diversity. Blanketing an area with a singular crop throws the local ecosystem out of balance, as a small handful of species that likes that environment will thrive while the majority of animal and insect life get pushed out of the area. Even if it seems like there is a clear separation of human and animal habitats, animals and insects in nearby meadows and forests are affected by this wildlife imbalance. Diverse plant life means more species will have food, places to hide from predators, more species to pray on, and so on.

The other big issue with lawns is the destructive upkeep. Because they’re not native to the area, they usually require a ton of watering just to keep them alive. Lawns are a massive resource drain especially in drought prone areas like California which are already under stress from the agricultural systems. Furthermore, like all monocrops they require a ton of fertilizers and pesticides to maintain. Runoff from lawn fertilizers are a major problem for rivers and oceans as they cause toxic and oxygen sucking algae blooms which kills off water ecosystems. As for pesticides, the pesticide industry has spent a very large amount of money trying to convince the world that pesticides are perfectly safe, but more and more research is coming out saying they aren’t. Recently RoundUp, the most popular lawn pesticide, has lost several major lawsuits due to links between the main ingredient Glyphosate and Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Furthermore, pesticides are considered one of the primary culprits for colony-collapse disorder in honeybees as well as major disruptions and die-offs in frog and bat populations. 

So with all these problems with lawns, what can be done? The best solution is reducing your lawn size and planting native plant gardens. If that brings to mind images of unkempt overgrown grass, don’t worry, there are plenty of ways to reshape your yard and fill it with gorgeous plants. Unlike most traditional gardening, once the lawn is landscaped it will actually be easier to maintain as these plants will thrive in your climate. But it is important to realize that native plant gardens are preferred for more than just the upkeep though, as native plants provide much better homes and food for your local animals and pollinating insects. Classic red roses and striking Purple Loosestrifes may look nice in a garden, but planting a sterile plant or an invasive species won't exactly be doing the environment any favors. Between trees, groundcovers, wildflowers, local vegetables, and native grasses, you’ll have plenty of options for providing a beautiful customized look for your garden that will not only please the eye but help your local wildlife thrive.

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