People Power vs. Bp

Earlier this summer, a state agency gave a refinery permission to increase pollution in
the Great Lakes. Commentator Cameron Davis takes a look at lessons learned and
what they mean for the future of the nation’s waterways:

Transcript

Earlier this summer, a state agency gave a refinery permission to increase pollution in
the Great Lakes. Commentator Cameron Davis takes a look at lessons learned and
what they mean for the future of the nation’s waterways:


When the Indiana Department of Environmental Management gave approval for BP’s
refinery to pollute more in Lake Michigan, who would have guessed that within weeks
more than 100,000 people would sign petitions against the proposal?


The people of the region seemed to instinctively know that more pollution had to be
stopped. After all, millions of us rely on Lake Michigan for drinking water and recreation.


Of course, coverage of the pollution proposal took off, with the Chicago Sun-
Times
calling for a boycott of BP gasoline. The New York Times and CBS
Evening News ran national pieces about the pollution increases. A bi-partisan coalition
of politicians from neighboring states cried foul, including Chicago Mayor Richard Daley,
U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Barack Obama, Representatives Rahm Emanuel, Mark Kirk, Jan
Schakowsky, Vern Ehlers and the entire Michigan Congressional delegation, among
others.


But while the media, elected officials, and even those of us in the conservation
community talked about the permit, the real story wasn’t about the permit. It wasn’t
about its allowance for 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more suspended
solids from treated sludge to be discharged.


It wasn’t even an argument about jobs versus the environment. That debate was discounted long
ago by the many businesses that decided or were mandated to pollute less and then
still prospered.


The real story was what you, the public, said and what you are saying now: how we
treat the Great Lakes is emblematic of how we treat our waterways all around the
country. You’re saying that you want a new standard of care for the nation’s waters. You
don’t want the standard to be “to keep things from getting worse.” You don’t want the
status quo. You want our waters to be proactively restored. You want it better.


Like those of us who used to be in the cub scouts, inspired to leave our campsites
better than the way we found them, you want the standard for our waters to be: leave
things better for the next generation.


HOST TAG: Cameron Davis is the president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Related Links

Holiday Story – Homemade Gifts Gone Wrong

The holiday season brings with it the stress of finding the
perfect gift. For most it means crowded parking lots, long lines and
hours at a mall, but Environment Report commentator Julia King
decided to avoid some of the mass production and commercialization
of Christmas this year. Instead, she got back to “Holiday Spirit”
by trying her hand at something a bit closer to home:

Transcript

The holiday season brings with it the stress of finding the perfect gift. For most
it means crowded
parking lots, long lines and hours at a mall, but Environment Report commentator
Julia King
decided to avoid some of the mass production and commercialization of Christmas this
year.
Instead, she got back to “Holiday Spirit” by trying her hand at something a bit
closer to home:


Now, I don’t like to brag, but can I just say that I MADE my holiday gifts this
year? Let me tell you
the story of my apple butter.


In the fall, when other people were walking through crunchy leaves and carving
pumpkins and
going on hayrides, I was riding my environmentally friendly bike to the local
farmer’s market
where I bought many pounds of chemical-free Indiana apples and put them in my
backpack and
then rode home with hard, yellow delicious apples digging into my spine and under my
shoulder
blades. I had to do this many times because my family kept eating the apples. Like
snacks, instead
of future gifts. So, I had to make a lot of bike rides with a lot of apples sticking
into my back.


Oh well, holiday spirit.


But I finally stockpile all the apples and the cider – oh yeah, the cider: I had to
drive to the
farmers’ market twice in the rain to get fresh, un-pasteurized cider. Okay, so then
I have
everything I need and I boil the cider until it reduces by half – which takes a
couple of hours, then
I peel the apples (which doesn’t take as long but gives me a cramp in my right hand
and makes me
wonder if I’m developing arthritis because I could be, you know; I’m not getting any
younger).
Then I dump the apples into the reduced cider and boil and then simmer and then stir
and then
boil and then simmer and then add secret, exotic spices (okay, cinnamon), and then
boil and stir
and simmer for about thirty-nine days, during which time I can’t leave the house
because the
stove is on, and fire safety requires that I stay. Finally, when all the moisture is
gone, it’s time to
put the apple butter into jars and “process” it, which is the worst part because if
you do it wrong
you could kill people. And that’s always especially sad at the holidays.


So, you have to wash and boil the jars, but NOT the lids with the rubber — because
if you do, you
could kill people. You have to keep everything warm, and then you have to pour the
apple butter
into the clean jars while it’s still boiling and then wipe the rim with a clean
towel so that it seals
right and you don’t kill people.


Then you have to boil it in the closed jars for about fifteen minutes and then when
it comes out it’s
supposed to make a sound as it cools and that should mean it’s safe.


And when it’s all done, you look around the kitchen and see dirty pots and pans and
globs of
brown stuff all over your stove and yards of apple peels and there, in the midst of
this chaos, sit
three little four-ounce jars of apple butter.


And then you go to the store the next day and see that it only costs a dollar-fifty!
And you curse
capitalism. And now on top of making your friends and family play Russian roulette
with
botulism, they have to sit through the story of how you made their apple butter.


Oh well, holiday spirit.


Julia King lives and writes in Goshen, Indiana. She
comes to us by way of the Environment Report.

Think Globally, Drink Locally

Some people have been looking at our relationship with water from a completely different perspective. Commentator Cameron Davis suggests how we might re-define our relationship with the water around us:

Transcript

Some people have been looking at our relationship with water from a completely different perspective. Commentator Cameron Davis suggests how we might re-define our relationship with the water around us:


Something really different came across my desk not long ago. A company called H2Om was introducing and selling the world’s first “vibrationally charged” bottled water. According to the California-based company, its bottled spring water would be the first ever to be infused with the “power of intention through words, music, and thought.” Inspired by the work of Japan’s Dr. Masaru Emoto showing that water reacts positively to positive emotions, H2Om’s water from underneath the San Diego Mountains is professed to be bottled with “love” and “perfect health.”


Interesting thought for a bottled spring water company. Part of the problem with bottled water is that when you buy it, you rarely know whether your money is supporting a company that’s damaging to the source of the water.


Ecological damage aside, there’s the issue of cost. According to The Green Guide, Americans pay 240 to 10,000 times for bottled water what they’d pay for tap water. But, here in the Great Lakes region where I live, water is plentiful and consistently ranked as some of the best for drinking in the world. Bottled spring water shouldn’t be selling for those prices here, right?


Wrong. Even though bottled water is so much more expensive, and with the risk of harming the source of the water, we’re drinking just as much bottled spring water as anyone, if not more.


I have a proposition: think globally, drink locally. If you get your water from a community within a certain watershed, drink that water. You’ll be doing your part to support “homegrown” water. If you’re nervous about tap water quality, filter it and check out your municipality’s Consumer Confidence Report for water testing results.


As long as we’re drinking water from someone else’s back yard, we don’t seem to have to care for it as much. At the end of the day, maybe H2Om has a thought. But rather than paying to infuse someone else’s water with someone else’s love, let’s love and drink our own.


Cameron Davis is the president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Related Links

Protecting Water Supplies

Water is a vital resource no matter where you go. Commentator Cameron Davis recently had a first hand look at the threats to water supplies in other parts of the world. He returned from his trip with a renewed sense of the importance of protecting water supplies at home:

Transcript

Water is a vital resource no matter where you go. Commentator Cameron Davis recently had a first hand look at the threats to water supplies in other parts of the world. He returned from his trip with a renewed sense of the importance of protecting water supplies at home:


Not so long ago, my wife and I bought a couple of cheap one-direction tickets and ventured around the world to 11 countries in 11 weeks.


I couldn’t help but be reminded that we’re blessed when it comes to water where we live. My home is near the Great Lakes – with nearly 20 percent of the Earth’s fresh surface water.


Other areas of the world aren’t so fortunate. India struggles with water issues every day. The sacred Ganges River, which flows downward through the majestic upper Himalayas, is used for everything from ferrying the souls of the dead into their next life to the holy Hindu Aarti ritual in which millions of people wade annually for prayer. At the same time the Ganges is revered, it’s also used for sewage and waste disposal, to the point that if the Ganges flowed through the United States, it would violate water quality standards many times over.


In Vietnam, we learned that groundwater levels were dropping precipitously in the Bac Lieu Province. Few laws existed to protect aquifers from businesses that drilled to provide water to the aquaculture industry, namely for farm-raised shrimp. The practices were expected to have impacts on the fragile ecology of the Mekong Delta.


All of this was going on at the very same time that King Abdullah II of Jordan was convening the International Water Demand Management Conference in the Middle East and beyond.


While we’re hardly immune from water pressures and mismanagement here at home, we have some important opportunities to give something back to future generations. The Great Lakes states are contemplating policy changes that might be a model for the rest of the nation. In the coming years, the legislatures of the eight Great Lakes states must consider protections under a Great Lakes water use “Compact” that the governors of the eight states signed last December.


The only question is whether we’ll ensure these new protections are strong enough, or whether they’ll slip to the lowest common denominator of protections. After seeing how water is honored yet misused in many other parts of the world, I’m hopeful we’ll do the right thing. And in so doing, give other states and regions in the U.S. some ideas for better water conservation. After all, water is one of those rare things that bring us – all of us, from all walks of life – together to form a common regional identity. Our waters are more than a resource for us to use and protect. They’re the source of life.


Cameron Davis is the president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Related Links

Commentary – Preach Truth About Global Warming

Some Christians take issue with their conservative brothers in faith when it comes to global warming. Commentator Gary Schlueter says he’s a Christian, but he doesn’t see anything wrong with believing in the science that indicates global warming is partly caused by human activity:

Transcript

Some Christians take issue with their conservative brothers in faith when it
comes to global warming. Commentator Gary Schlueter says he’s a Christian,
but he doesn’t see anything wrong with believing in the science that
indicates global warming is partly caused by human activity:


In Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, we are warned to beware of the two
children under Father Christmas’ long red robe, this boy ignorance and this
girl want, but especially beware of this boy. Race forward a century or so and
we have Reverend Jerry Falwell concluding, “I believe that global warming is a myth.”
I repeat, beware this boy, ignorance!


Reverend Falwell, an influential evangelical Christian leader, is not alone among
his contemporaries in preaching that global warming is a myth, or worse: some clerical
leaders say to believe otherwise could jeopardize one’s salvation.


The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, the ISA, is a mixed bag of religious leaders,
scientists and policy experts who, through a dark glass, shine a Biblical light on the
issues of environment and development. According to the ISA, “most U.S. evangelicals do not
back the call for regulating greenhouse emissions.” I repeat, beware this boy!


Recently, a group of more moderate Christian evangelical leaders joined together to
form the Evangelical Climate Initiative. They say global warming is real, that humans are
causing it, and that we need to do something about it. The ISA stands firmly against them.
The question is, why?


Why, in the face of hard warnings on the cover of the conservative Time Magazine with headlines
that read to “be worried. Be very worried” about global warming? Why, when the NASA scientist who
warned us 25 years ago that human activity was changing the Earth’s climate now warns
us we have a decade before we pass the point of no return? Got that? Point of no return.
Ten years! Why, against the growing tide of public and clerical opinion that mankind’s
contribution to global warming must be stopped, do they tell their flock to be like
Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman and not to worry?


Are these Mad Magazine evangelicals antagonistic toward science because science brought
us the concept of evolution? Can they be so petty? Or do they see global warming as a way
to fulfill their direst prophecies of gloom and doom? Can they be so proud? Or is it their
sheer greed to gobble up Earth’s resources that brings them smiling sanguinely to the brink of
a disaster so profound the habititability of our entire planet is at risk? Can they be so selfish?
Selfish, proud, petty? Beware this boy!


This Earth is our only real sanctuary, it is a gift of God, how can it be of so
little concern to these anti-Earth evangelicals that they can continue to preach against it,
preach against God’s gift? I conclude, beware this boy, ignorance!


Host tag: Gary Schlueter is a former president of the Virgin Island Conservation
Society.

Related Links

Commentary – Learning From Dog Culture

  • Kyle's dog, Lucy, playing on a tennis court. (Photo by Patrick Sweeney)

For most people – meeting a stranger on the street isn’t something that conjures up the warm fuzzies, but if the stranger happens to be a cute dog that’s a little different. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator and new dog owner Kyle Norris wonders why this is:

Transcript

For most people – meeting a stranger on the street isn’t something that
conjures up the warm fuzzies, but if the stranger happens to be a cute dog
that’s a little different. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s commentator
and new dog owner Kyle Norris wonders why this is:


At age 30, I’m new to dog culture. Growing up my dad was pretty much
allergic to everything with fur. My childhood pets were goldfish, Lizzy the
lizard, and a tiny turtle we found in a neighbor’s pond. Lucy’s the first real
pet I’ve ever owned.


Lucy is 100-percent mutt. When I first saw her last year, my heart melted
into a puddle. She was this trembling little fur-ball with deep-brown,
gumdrop eyes. In the past year, she’s grown into a sweet, skinny, medium-
sized pup.


The thing that struck me the most as a new dog-owner was the way
strangers responded to her.


This summer I was walking Lucy through a campground with my girlfriend. We passed a
man in a lawn-chair, clutching a cold one. He looked up, “That’s a good-
looking dog you got there, lady.”


Compliments like that are small potatoes for Lucy. Another time, my
girlfriend and I were walking the pup downtown. We passed a fancy
restaurant with sidewalk tables. Suddenly this glamorous-looking woman
cried out-loud. “Well hell-o gorgeous!” It caught me off-guard. I thought
she was talking to me. For that frozen moment of time, I felt slick, and then I
watched her bend down and nuzzle Lucy’s face.


People pour their love on Lucy like butter. “Love” might not be the right
word. Maybe it’s adoration or a combination of warm gooey feelings.
Whatever it is, these people open a floodgate inside themselves, and they
do it in a way that they’d never do with human strangers.


Maybe it’s easier to open-up to creatures. The dog on the street wants very
little from us, and that is refreshing.


Sometimes the dog-walker can use this point to their advantage. On
weekends, my sister used to borrow Lucy with the hope of meeting guys.
They would walk into the heart of downtown, where things were buzzing
with foot traffic. They’d loop the main drag and then hit the smaller side
streets.


It didn’t take long until my sister became frustrated. Potential boyfriends
didn’t even notice the pup. Instead, sorority girls, couples, and families
threw themselves at Lucy—not exactly the crowd she was going for.


My sister has this theory about why people open-up to animals and not each
other. She says, “Animals are free love tied to the end of a string.”


At first, I felt funny when people gave Lucy their “love-fests.” I was on
the receiving end of their attention but I wasn’t really the recipient. Now I
appreciate their interactions for what they are—good intentions released
into the world.


I know the ability to open our hearts in us. I experience it through Lucy
every day. I just wonder why we can’t be this open and generous with one-
another. Or maybe we could. If we were cuter, fuzzier, and didn’t talk so
much.


Host Tag: Kyle Norris is a freelance writer, who lives with her puppy in Ann Arbor,
Michigan.

Wolf Hunting Shouldn’t Be Taboo

  • As wolf populations are increasing, an old question arises: whether or not to allow wolf hunting. (Photo courtesy of the USGS)

In 2003, federal protections for the gray wolf in many parts of the country were downgraded. But last January, a federal district court in Oregon struck down that decision. In this region, the court ruling meant that wildlife officials lost the legal authority to kill problem wolves. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Bob Butz thinks these courtroom battles are delaying the inevitable… and that hunters should have a hand in managing wolves:

Transcript

In 2003, federal protections for the gray wolf in many parts
of the country were downgraded. But last January, a federal district
court in Oregon struck down that decision. In this region, the court
ruling meant that wildlife officials lost the legal authority to kill
problem wolves. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Bob Butz thinks these courtroom battles are delaying the inevitable… and that hunters should have a hand in managing wolves:


Today over half the entire wolf population of the continental United States can be found right here in the Upper Midwest. Around 3,000 in Minnesota. Roughly 800 more split evenly between Michigan and Wisconsin.


Some biologists think that Michigan’s wolf population might actually double within the next decade.
So why are so many people acting as if wolves in these parts are still teetering on the brink of extinction? Why this push for stronger federal protection when is seems what we really should start thinking about is how we plan to keep wolf populations responsibly in check?


With every new courtroom delay, I’m beginning to understand that for some people no amount of wolves will ever be enough. But very soon some judge is also going to figure that out, and finally wolves will be taken completely off the federal list of endangered animals. Then it will be up to the states to manage them.


Yet right now no one is talking about how we’re going to do that. Or where the money to sustain a healthy management program will come from – all because of a dirty little word – hunting.


Wolves… hunting. Remember in public to duck and cover when you say that.


But for the sake of the wolf, somebody needs to start talking about managing them as a big game species. Up until the latest court ruling, some government trappers had a fulltime job killing an increasingly number of nuisance wolves.


Minnesota officials are killing an average of a hundred and fifty wolves every year. In Wisconsin and Michigan each they kill a couple dozen more. Why are these wolves dying for nothing? If biologists used hunters to control the population, each wolf taken out of the system could result in money,lots of it, necessary for managing the species.


While most state biologists sit on the sidelines apparently without a plan, some people are taking matters into their own hands… killing the wolves illegally. In the Upper Midwest, poaching has reached levels unheard of a decade ago.


The reasons for this are simple: As one biologist told me, when an animal becomes too prolific it becomes devalued. As wolves make more and more trouble for farmers, ranchers, and locals, people are starting to wonder where all this is headed.


If brought into the management loop, hunters could easily outshine courtroom environmentalists as the wolf’s biggest hero and financial benefactor. Think of the giant Canada goose, believed to be extinct in North America until their rediscovery in 1965.


And how about all those shrub-eating, bumper bending whitetail deer? Call it tough love, but if anything when hunters get behind an animal recent history proves that the species will flourish.


But first biologists need to come up with a plan that gives the public a stake in helping with the long-term survival of the wolf. Wolves might be endangered elsewhere in the U.S., but not here. It’s time for leadership, time for a vision. Time for game managers to actually get out there and manage. It’s time for biologists to stop playing wait-and-see and, in the spirit of the wolf—for the sake of the wolf—get out in front of this issue and start leading the pack.


Host tag: Bob Butz is a hunter and author of the book “Beast of Never, Cat
of God: The Search for the Eastern Puma.” He lives in northern Michigan.

Related Links

Point: Agreements Will Help Protect Great Lakes

  • The proposed Annex 2001 agreement is the subject of lively debate as to whether it will help or hinder the conservation of the Great Lakes (Photo by Jeremy Lounds)

In 1998, an Ontario company wanted to sell Lake Superior water overseas. Their proposal raised fears that Great Lakes water could be diverted with little oversight. Now, officials from the eight states and two provinces in the region have come up with two proposed agreements that would regulate new water diversion requests. The proposed agreements are known as the Annex 2001 Implementing Agreements. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Cameron Davis says the agreements are a good first step in protecting a cherished resource:

Transcript

In 1998 an Ontario company wanted to sell Lake Superior water overseas. Their
proposal raised fears that Great Lakes water could be diverted with little oversight.
Now, officials from the eight states and two provinces in the region have come up with
two proposed agreements that would regulate new water diversion requests. The proposed
agreements are known as the Annex 2001 Implementing Agreements. Great Lakes Radio Consortium
commentator Cameron Davis says the agreements are a good first step in protecting a cherished
resource:


When I was growing up, my family and I used to go to the beach every Sunday. As I stood
looking out over Lake Michigan, I was awed at how it seemed to go on forever. Today I know
better. The Great Lakes are a gift left from the glaciers thousands of years ago. That’s
because less than 1% of Great Lakes water is renewed every year from rainfall, snowmelt,
and groundwater recharge.


Two proposed agreements by the states and provinces would make diversions of Great Lakes water
to places outside of the Great Lakes a virtual impossibility.


The agreements look to be a vast improvement over current laws. First, federal law in the U.S.
allows a diversion only if every Great Lakes Governor approves. That seems like a tough standard
to meet, but in fact, it’s already allowed two diversions of Great Lakes water to take place. In
the 1990’s, diversions were approved to Pleasant Prairie in Wisconsin and another one to Akron,
Ohio. The water was used for municipal supplies.


Second, the proposed agreements are an improvement over the Boundary Waters Treaty – a pact
signed between the U.S. and Canada almost 100 years ago. The treaty doesn’t cover one very
important Great Lake: Lake Michigan. Because Lake Michigan is solely within the U.S. and not
shared with Canada, the treaty leaves the lake unprotected. This is a problem because Lake
Michigan is directly connected to Lake Huron. So water diverted out of Lake Michigan means
water diverted out of Lake Huron.


The agreements are a good first step, but they need to be stronger. For example, they require
regional approval for diversions of water that go outside of the basin of more than one million
gallons per day, but they don’t require regional approval for withdrawals of up to 5 million
gallons per day that stay in the Great Lakes. In addition, the draft agreements need to do a
better job at requiring water conservation before potential water withdrawals can be considered.


We have a choice. We can be against the agreements and keep the status quo or work to make
them even stronger. We need to work to protect our region’s water so that our kids can continue
to look out over the Great Lakes and see them for what they are: vast, magnificent, but fragile
natural treasures.


Host Tag: Cameron Davis is the executive director of the Lake Michigan Federation.

Related Links

Counterpoint: Agreements Will Invite More Diversions

  • The proposed Annex 2001 agreement is the subject of lively debate as to whether it will help or hinder the conservation of the Great Lakes (Photo by Jeremy Lounds)

Officials from the eight states and two provinces in the region have proposed two agreements that would regulate the use of Great Lakes water. They’re known as the Annex 2001 Implementing Agreements. Response to the proposed agreements has generally been positive. But for some in the region, they’re seen as a slippery slope. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne Elston is worried that the proposed agreements will lead to unlimited diversions in the future:

Transcript

Officials from the eight states and two provinces in the region have proposed two agreements
that would regulate the use of Great Lakes water. They’re known as the Annex 2001 Implementing
Agreements. Response to the proposed agreements has generally been positive. But for some in
the region, they’re seen as a slippery slope. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne
Elston is worried that the proposed agreements will lead to unlimited diversions in the future:


In theory, the proposed Agreements are supposed to provide a framework for using the water of the
Great Lakes. In reality, they’re about as leaky as a sunken lake freighter. The framework’s
there, but they fail to impose an overall limit on the volume of water that can be diverted,
or who can take it.


Not only that, but proposals to take less than a million gallons per day out of the basin won’t
require a region-wide review, several of these smaller withdrawals could eventually add up to a
whole lot of water. And whether it’s one large pipe or a lot of tiny ones, the end result is the
same.


Given that the Great Lakes basin contains 20% of all the fresh water on the planet, diverting
some of it shouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, only 1% of that water is renewed each year.
It would be a good idea to first figure out how much water can be taken without disrupting the
ecological balance of the Lakes. Only once that’s been done should we be looking at allowing
large-scale withdrawals.


And then there’s the threat of trade challenges. Each state or province that approves a water
taking permit won’t be paid directly for the water. Instead they’ll recieve a funding to upgrade
sewage treatment plants or to improve local habitats for example. Recently, a Canadian non-profit
asked for legal opinion about the Agreements. The response was that linking the approval process
to funding for public works basically means that the water is being sold, and under the terms of
NAFTA, once you’ve identified something as a commodity, you can’t restrict its sale.


Canadians should be particularly concerned about these Agreements. The Council of Great Lakes
Governors drafted them. And although the premiers of Ontario and Quebec have signed off on them,
in the end, neither province has the right to veto the decisions made by the Council. In my book,
that’s a lot like being invited to dinner and then being asked to leave before the main course.
And the reverse is true too. If Ontario or Quebec approves a withdrawal, states in the U.S.
wouldn’t have the ability to veto the decision. We share these lakes. If we are all called on
to protect the Great Lakes, then we all need to have an equal voice. That’s why our federal
representatives in Washington D.C. and Ottawa need to draw up a binding international agreement
on water withdrawals.


If nothing else, the proposed Agreements have made it clear that the Great Lakes must be
protected. And with 40 million users already relying on this irreplaceable resource, we clearly
need something better than these Agreements currently have to offer.


Host Tag: Suzanne Elston is a syndicated columnist living in Courtice, Ontario.

Related Links

The Foibles of Suburban Lawn Care

  • Although a well-manicured lawn offers certain benefits... not everyone thinks it's worth the effort. (Photo by Ed Herrmann)

One of the great rituals in suburban America is mowing the lawn. A manicured lawn seems to say that the house is well cared for, that it belongs to the neighborhood. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Ed Herrmann wonders whether this obsession for the perfect lawn is worth the effort:

Transcript

One of the great rituals in suburban America is mowing the lawn. A
manicured lawn seems to say that the house is well cared for, that it belongs
to the neighborhood. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Ed
Herrmann wonders whether this obsession with the perfect lawn is worth the
effort:


(sound of evening insects)


It’s a late summer evening and at last I can go outside and enjoy the
sounds of the neighborhood. There’s a little breeze, the air is cooler. The
chorus of insects is soothing, gentle but insistent, an ancient throbbing
resonance. Much better than during the day…


(roar of lawn machines)


Summer days in the suburbs are the time of assault, when people attack their
lawns with powerful weapons from the chemical and manufacturing
industries. Anyone who uses the words “quiet” and “suburbs” in the same
sentence has never been to a suburb, at least not in summer.


It takes a lot of noise to maintain a lawn. Besides the mower, you’ve got edgers, trimmers,
leaf blowers, weed whackers, core aerators, little tractors, big tractors, slitting
machines. I don’t know whatever happened to rakes and hand clippers. One
thing’s for sure. This quest for lawn perfection wouldn’t be possible without
the industrial revolution.


(machines stop)


So where did we get the idea that a house should be surrounded by a field of
uniform grass kept at the same height?


Well, with apologies to the Queen, I’m afraid we must blame the British. It
seems that, along with our language, our imperial ambitions and our
ambivalent morals, America also gets its notion of what a lawn should look
like from the English. Of course, the estates of the English aristocracy were
tended by a staff of gardeners. England also has a milder climate, and the
grass that looks so nice there doesn’t do as well in North America. In the
1930’s the USDA came up with a blend of imported grasses that would
tolerate our climate. Since these grasses are not native, they need help, and
that calls for fertilizers, pesticides and lots of extra water. Since normal
people can’t afford gardeners who trim by hand, that means lawn machines.
American industry to the rescue.


(mower starts up, fades under next sentence)


A quick Google tells me that today we have 40 million lawn mowers in use.
Each emits 11 times the pollution of a new car, and lawn mowers contribute
five percent of the nation’s air pollution. Plus more than 70 million pounds of
pesticides are used each year and over half of our residential water is used
for landscaping. Don’t you love those automatic sprinklers that come on in the
rain? Add to that all the time that people spend mowing and edging. Of
course the two billion dollar lawn care industry is thrilled about all this
enthusiasm, but I gotta ask, “Is it worth it?”


Call me old fashioned, but I actually prefer the looks of a meadow with mixed
wildflowers and grasses to the lawn that looks like a pool table. My own lawn
is somewhere between. It’s mowed, but it’s what you might call multicultural.


There are at least five different kinds of grass with different colors and
thicknesses, plus clover, dandelions, mushrooms, a few pinecones, and a
rabbit hole or two. There’s also some kind of nasty weed with thorns, but even
that has nice purple flowers if it gets big enough.


Clover, by the way, used to be added to grass seed because it adds nitrogen to
the soil. Now we just buy a bag of nitrogen fertilizer, so who needs clover?
And what’s wrong with
dandelions? You can eat them, some people even make wine out of them,
they have happy yellow flowers; yet to most people they indicate your yard is
out of control. So I’m down on my hands and knees pulling dandelions. I’m
not sure why, but I hope it keeps the neighbors happy.


One thing I won’t give in to, though, is the chemical spraying trucks, painted
green of course, that roll through the neighborhood.


I can only hold my breath. (sound of trucks and mowers) Try not to listen. And
wait for the evening. (evening insects)


(air conditioner starts up)


Although, with all these air conditioners, even the night’s not too quiet.


But that’s another story.


Host tag: “Ed Herrmann is an outdoor enthusiast living in the
suburbs of Detroit.”

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