Why Lawns Suck

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons


The turfgrass in lawns may be hard-working photosynthesizing plants that store our harmful CO2 emissions in the form of organic carbon in the soil. But the way we tend lawns actually creates four times more emissions than the grasses sequester.

This according to a new study (pdf) of southern California lawns in Geophysical Research Letters. The problems stem from using fertilizers, gasoline-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and all the other living hells of modern lawn management.

Lawn emissions also includes nitrous oxide released from soil after fertilization. Nitrous oxide is 300 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2.

Worse, partly as a result of the unexamined rush to “green” urban spaces, we’ve now covered 1.9 percent of all the land in the contiguous US with lawns.

Worst, lawns are the most common irrigated crop in our irrigated country.

The researchers analyzed grass in four parks near Irvine, California, each with two types of turf: ornamental lawns (picnic areas), left largely undisturbed; athletic fields (soccer and baseball), trampled, replanted, and aerated frequently. Findings:

  • Ornamental lawns offset only 10 to 30 percent of the nitrous oxide emissions from fertilization offset, plus fossil fuel consumption from mowers and whatnot released four times more CO2 than the plots could take up.
  • Athletic fields performed even worse, since wear and tear continually disrupted the grasses’ efforts, and because they needed constant tilling and resodding, therefore trapping way less CO2 than ornamental lawns yet requiring the same emissions-producing care.

I’ve always hated lawns. Talk about a time-and-energy suck. Now a climate suck too.
 

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate