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Attack of the GPLE

The distant buzzing starts. My skin crawls and my mouth dries, as the sound gets louder and louder. I shut the windows – despite the heat. They are close. The two cycle engine fumes manage to permeate the closed off house. My head throbs and my anxiety skyrockets. How much damage will the oncoming invaders inflict this time? Dust and debris swirls, sending every imaginable particle airborne, including feces of deceased animals. I pick up my things and dash into the basement. I am in our concrete windowless basement, yet the low frequency pulsing of the engines follows me. Finally, the sound dissipates. I climb back into the sunlight streaming through the first-floor windows to sit back at my desk. Concentration remains elusive as the fear of the next wave of GPLE (gas-powered lawn equipment) invaders lingers.

OK, a comparison to Londoners during the Battle of Britain is over the top. Still, as so many of us were quarantined at home under the COVID pandemic cloud, the analogy is not as far fetched as it once was. As it turns out the damage that GPLE is doing to our bodies and environment goes well beyond noise pollution, smelly fumes, and low-level emotional stress. Contrary to some assertions, they are not insignificant contributors to green-house gases. For example, a Washington Post article cites a study that a consumer grade leaf blower releases more hydrocarbons than a pick-up truck or a sedan[1]. 4 cycle lawn mowers are responsible for an estimated 5% of the GHGs in the US as reported in a Utah Department of Environmental Quality study[2]. Leaf blowers are notorious for spreading dust and disease to the surrounding area. By displacing healthy organic material from the soil, they also catalyze the vicious cycle of increased fertilizer usage - which in turn reduces soil’s ability to capture and retain carbon, while making life that much more inhospitable for pollinators[3][4].

Unlike the situation endured by residents of London under relentless threat of Luftwaffe bombs, there are many measures that concerned and frustrated residents in our local communities can take individually. A visit to the Quiet Communities[5] website is a great place to start. It is full useful resources. An article in the Princeton Student Climate Initiative also offers a wonderful list of actions[6].

  • Transitioning your lawn/property to a more diverse, pollinator-friendly setting is one such category of measures. The move generally consumes less water, saves money and can be much less taxing than maintaining the bright green lawns kept by the “Jones”.

  • Landscaping practices is another area. If you do your own lawn work, go back to manual or transition to electric equipment. Good quality, effective and affordable electric alternatives are plentiful. Battery life and density, product design and efficiency improvements have such products much more convenient and reliable than their gas-powered counterparts. Otherwise, seek out lawn services that are using electric equipment and employ environmentally benign landscaping practices. They are getting increasingly prevalent. Their growing success will drive competing firms to shift.

  • Individual leadership and “walking the talk” may be insufficient. The RAF (Royal Air Force) equivalent of support in the form of municipal or community or country policies may be necessary to complete the transition. Increasingly cities across the US, like Los Angeles, Palo Alto in California[7], Washington DC[8], Burlington VT[9] have instituted specific bans. Therefore, promoting or endorsing policies that facilitate a transition to “sustainable lawn care” in your community is yet another step in the right direction.

While lawn care is far from the biggest culprit by any means in the Climate Change battle, it is low hanging fruit and something that can be readily addressed at an individual level. Your ear drums, lungs and emotional state will also thank you.

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