A new study from the University of California at Irvine has determined that grass lawns are polluting the environment. The amount of carbon dioxide emitted from lawn-related maintenance is four times the amount of carbon naturally collected and store by the lawn itself. The study led by Amy Townsend-Small, an Earth system science postdoctoral researcher at UC Irvine, specifically looked at the gas emissions created by lawn mowing, leaf blowing, irrigation, lawn fertilizer manufacturing, and the nitrous oxide released from soil after fertilization. Those collective lawn maintenance emissions far outweighed the amount of carbon the lawns removed from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and storage of carbon in soil. “Lawns look great–they’re nice and green and healthy, and they’re photosynthesizing a lot of organic carbon. But the carbon-storing benefits of lawns are counteracted by fuel consumption,” Townsend-Small said in a statement. The researchers didn’t simply calculate statistical averages to come to this determination. At four parks in the Irvine, Calif. area, they measured soil samples for carbon sequestration, air above the lawns for nitrous oxide emissions, and fuel consumption for park maintenance. The parks included ornamental lawns, picnic areas, and athletic fields. Advocates for creating sustainable lawns seek to native flora in determining the best approach in planting. Desert communities are reverting back to native plant species instead of trying to plant green grass that draw from scarce water sources. The trend in the past was to reduce the amount of water needed for plantings. Now the need is to discover native plant species that do not require the current regimen of lawn maintenance. I’m not sure as to the type of lawns we would have in the Midwest and Eastern parts of the country if Kentucky Blue Grass were eliminated. Would that mean that we would resort to native and non native weed species? In Illinois for instance,that could mean a return to native prairie plant species for homeowners. Who knows, after that the Bison might make a return.
Photo by: John Vlahakis