Tuesday, April 1, 2008

This Saturday I did something that many consider a rite of spring – I mowed my lawn. And just to ensure that it was done right, I edged too. While it was a bit early in the year for some, I have at least 3 kinds of grass, maybe four. That means that, if we get some warmer days and sun, the grass grows, and grows at different speeds no less. I also helped turn my compost pile, and helped the Red One transplant daffodils from under the compost pile to the flowerbed up front.

Nothing remarkable there, except that I didn’t add to my carbon footprint to do it. You see, unlike 54 million Americans, I don't fire up a lawn mower with an internal combustion engine. Nor do I start a gas and oil belching edger. And while my weed-whacker can run all day, no petroleum products were harmed in its operation. Actually, the last one may not be a completely true statement – the weed whacker is a rechargeable electric, so some fossil fuel somewhere was burned to make the electricity that charged its internal battery.

Instead of running gas into the engine of my mower, I was the engine. I have an old-fashioned push reel mower, and my edger is one of those that consist of a handle, two small rubber wheels and a couple of star shaped blades. Needless to say, I got a great workout from all that pushing, and I do every time. That’s actually part of the reason I got it this kind of mower. It’s now Tuesday, and I’m still a little sore.

The other reason is that it does reduce my carbon footprint. How much you ask? Well that figure is a bit hard to pin down, but in 2006 the New York Times published an article that said the operation of a then-new lawn mower for an hour emitted 93 times the emission of a 2006 new car run for the same time. Others approach it another way – operating a 3.5 horsepower lawnmower for an hour releases the same amount of Volatile Organic Carbon as driving a car 340 miles. Either way, it’s estimated that lawnmowers alone may contribute as much as 10% of the annual green house gas load to the U.S. atmosphere.

So, how many of those gas-guzzlers would we have to replace with push reels to get a real benefit? I have no idea. I do know that if we did, Americans would achieve three things. First, we’d be able to achieve a measurable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions without sacrificing our standard of living. After all, who doesn’t want a green, well mowed lawn? Second, we’d increase the amount of exercise Americans get, since pushing the reel or the edger is a definite workout. And third, we’d also create neighborhoods where we could still talk to each other while doing our yard work, thus increasing our sense of community. Not bad way to start a season of yard work, if you ask me.

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