There are more than 40 million acres of toxic, monoculture lawns in the United States. These endless swaths of green nothingness are not natural, and are thus extremely difficult and expensive to maintain. According to the EPA, monoculture lawns are responsible for a staggering 5% of US total annual CO2 emissions.
Biodiversity loss is another epic failure of our perilous lawn obsession which has placed lawns under the intense scrutiny of global leaders who are searching for various ways to restore biodiversity that’s required to maintain human life on earth.
Author Justin Gregg, and Senior Research Associate with the Dolphin Communication Project, outlines the grim lawn data in Chapter 6 of his award-winning book If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal: What Animal Intelligence Reveals About Human Stupidity. “Lawns are a monoculture wasteland. They’re almost entirely useless as a habitat for wildlife,” Gregg writes as he expounds on the US lawn folly, noting that lawns require 1.2 billion gallons of carbon emitting gasoline each year, and that one hour of a gas powered lawn mower is the equivalent of 100 miles in a car.
Further, American lawns require 9 billion gallons of water per day to keep thick and lush, which is nearly one third of all the daily water usage in the US. Gregg emphasizes that despite the massive amount of water supplied to lawns, evaporation, wind, and runoff prevent as much as 50 percent of it from reaching the grass roots.
In March 2017, the Deep Roots Project published an alarming assessment about lawn pesticides, toxic fertilizers and the health risks associated with our irresponsible lawn mania. “Homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops. Nearly 80 million pounds of pesticide active ingredients are used on US lawns annually. On top of this, 90 million pounds of chemical fertilizers are used on lawns annually. Additionally, 26.7 million tons of air pollutants from mowing are introduced annually.”
All these cancer-causing pesticides and chemicals are a serious health risk, especially for children and pets that play in the grass. Toxins vaporize in high heat that we inhale when we’re outside enjoying our beautiful lawns from the deck or patio.
In If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal: What Animal Intelligence Reveals About Human Stupidity, Gregg highlights that lawns were invented in the first half of the 18th century by Capability Brown in the UK, and were championed by several of our founding fathers, most notably George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, (two of Capability’s most ardent fans). The famous sprawling lawns of Mount Vernon, for example, and Monticello, were plastered onto postcards and sent to hundreds of millions of homes from coast to coast, spanning two centuries. This sealed our biodiversity loss /lawn crisis fate.
According to the World Economic Forum 2022 Global Risks Report, biodiversity loss is ranked number 3 on a list of the10 most severe risks humanity faces over the next 10 years. Our extinction is now a strong possibility. We must transform our lawns back to their original, most natural state. The survival of the human species depends on it.
Soil health expert Gabe Brown provided tips on the best way to transition lawns to biodiverse no mow in an interview. The 5 Steps to eliminating toxic, monoculture lawns are as follows:
- Decide how much of your lawn you’d like to convert to biodiverse no mow (50% – 100%?!).
- Deprive the section of lawn being removed of sunlight by laying down a few layers of wet newspaper or cardboard across and cover with straw or mulch.
- Cardboard and newspaper are compostable and will enrich the soil with much needed nutrients.
- Wait 4 – 8 weeks.
- Begin planting a rich diverse blend of 7 – 25 native perennial species of groundcover, flowers, and shrubs right away. Don’t forget to include pollinator species. Herbs like thyme make an excellent ground cover choice. Find a local nursery to help create a wonderful combination of companion species to help block pests.
Justin Gregg summed it up well in the closing of If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal, “Our many intellectual accomplishments are currently on track to produce our own extinction, which is exactly how evolution gets rid of adaptations that suck.” ✿