Our Customs of Cutting Grass and Biodiversity

Most lawns reduce biodiversity.The video is over two years old, but it touches on a subject that popped up in science news three times this past week, here, here, and here. Scientists fear that we are losing insects at a rapid rate, and if they go, with them goes much other plant and animal life. Why are insects declining? Habitat loss, herbicides, insecticides, and climate change.  Ornithologists are equally concerned about bird loss, insect loss being one of the reasons.

This problem may seem far removed from our daily lives, but it stems from our culture and our personal habits. Our lawns, or our influence over any lawn, park, or golf course, makes us directly responsible for biodiversity. It’s not remote in the Amazon forest. It’s all around us, in our own back yards, even if we live in crowded urbanity like New York City.

Alarms about biodiversity aren’t ringing media bells as loudly as climate change — which doesn’t ding every day either. But unchecked, biodiversity loss will just as surely finish off ecologies and the human race that utterly depends on them. Eliminating all man-made CO2 emissions leaves a host of other environmental threats, loss of biodiversity among them. 

Humanity is very slow stepping up to this. Why? Because we are mesmerized by economic growth, and cutting back to live within the means provided by nature is a deep change in how we live and how we think. But we can do that. Many things we need to do may be as simple — in concept — as stop growing and cutting so much grass. 

Lawn cutting illustrates the connection between big global environmental issues and our cultural habits. In total, cutting grass is a major activity in the United States, a small industry with a million or so people employed full or part time. Lawns cover an area nearly the size of the state of Oklahoma. Watering them soaks up more water than agricultural irrigation. Use of herbicides and pesticides on lawns is a sizable hit on ecological diversity too. In the large picture of ecological health, our own lawn may seem insignificant, but each one is a little piece of a significant problem. And each of us can directly do something about that little patch of ecological diversity. 

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