I have done some background reading on lawns in the U.S.A., their size and scale, ecological impact and about the historic, cultural norms which have contributed to their proliferation. This research will be useful for me in defining the next stage of my project.
What defines a lawn:
- It is an area of grass or mostly grass
- It is mown, instead of allowing the plants to reach their full height
- It is maintained for the benefit of people. (USNA)
- ‘Among the dozen or so main grasses that make up the American lawn, almost none are native to America. Kentucky bluegrass comes from Europe and northern Asia, Bermuda grass from Africa, and Zoysia grass from East Asia.’ (Kolbert, 2008).
- ‘A 200 gallons of fresh, usually drinking-quality water per person per day would be required to keep up our nation’s lawn surface area.’ (Lindsey, 2005)
- ‘The average American family uses 320 gallons of water per day, about 30 percent of which is devoted to outdoor uses. More than half of that outdoor water is used for watering lawns and gardens.’ (EPA)
- ‘If people recycle the grass clippings, leaving them to decompose on the lawn, the U.S. lawn area could store up to 16.7 teragrams of carbon each year.’
- If composted offsite – 5.9 teragrams of carbon each year
- If sent to landfill – ‘all bets are off, as the oxygen-poor environment increases production of carbon-containing methane, a potent greenhouse gas.’ (Lindsey, 2005)
- Of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 17 are possible and/or known carcinogens, 18 have the potential to disrupt the endocrine (hormonal) system, 19 are linked to reproductive effects and sexual dysfunction, 11 have been linked to birth defects, 14 are neurotoxic, 24 can cause kidney or liver damage, and 25 are sensitizers and/or irritants:
- Of those same 30 lawn pesticides, 19 are detected in groundwater, 20 have the ability to leach into drinking water sources, 30 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem, 29 are toxic to bees, 14 are toxic to mammals, and 22 are toxic to birds. (Beyond Pesticides)
- ‘Mowing turfgrass quite literally cuts off the option of sexual reproduction. From the gardener’s perspective, the result is a denser, thicker mat of green. From the grasses’ point of view, the result is a perpetual state of vegetable adolescence.’ (Kolbert, 2008).
- ‘The essential trouble with the American lawn is its estrangement from place: it is not a response to the landscape so much as an idea imposed upon it—all green, all the time, everywhere.’ (Kolbert, 2008).
- ‘What began as a symbol of privilege and evolved into an expression of shared values has now come to represent expedience.’ (Kolbert, 2008).
- Rebecca Lindsey, Looking for Lawns, NASA Earth Observatory, Nov 8, 2005: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Lawn/lawn3.php
- A Brief History of Lawns, United States National Arboritum (USNA), http://www.usna.usda.gov/Education/History%20of%20Lawns.pdf
- Outdoor Water Use in the United States, EPA: https://www3.epa.gov/watersense/pubs/outdoor.html
- Elizabeth Kolbert, Turf War, The New Yorker, July 21 2008: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/07/21/turf-war-elizabeth-kolbert
- Beyond Pesticides, http://www.beyondpesticides.org/programs/lawns-and-landscapes/overview