Like others, I used to work for a landscaping company in high school. That in and of itself was eye-opening; people would come in with an idea of how they wanted their land to look, and it really didn’t matter what nature had put there. We had people importing trees from halfway around the world because they liked the shape of the leaf, or even worse, because they wanted to look richer than their neighbors. Anyways, a lot of the work this company did was corporate contracts. The thing about office park lawns is that they see much less traffic than your typical residential lawn, and fortunately, they aren’t typically as laden with chemicals (at least in my experience). This combination makes them more attractive to small animals, which seems like a good thing. Then they get mowed. I’ll spare the nasty details, but I was unlucky enough to witness from a short distance what happens when you combine an industrial ride-on mower and a rabbit den. Incredibly depressing.
In this chapter Robbins discusses the problems with lawn care – chemicals in particular such as pesticides. He did a survey showing that the people who use lawn chemicals in most cases having a higher income, higher house values, are better educated, and were older than the non users. Those who use lawn chemicals usually lived in non rural areas and their neighbors often also used chemicals. The people that use chemicals on their lawn were more likely to believe that lawn care has a negative effect on the local water supply than people who did not use chemicals but did it anyways.
“Common sense thinking as well as generations of good academic scholarship has tended to view landscapes like lawns as “cultural”.
“To cleanup or repair the legacy of ecological destruction from the past; monies required to invent and develop, and produce synthetics and “natural” substitutes as means and objects of production and consumption; the huge sums required to pay off oil sheiks and energy companies (ground rent and monopoly profit); the garbage disposal costs; the extra costs of congested urban space.”
What do you think Robbins means by this quote?
I think it means that it would take a lot of money to find a suitable synthetic and natural substitute for the chemicals currently used that are destroying the ecology not to mention the amount of money that would be needed to pay off the sheiks and energy companies that are currently making a ton of money with what is currently being used. Not only that there are many new and previously undreamed of hazards in life such as man made herbicides and pesticides but society has also geared themselves towards managing those hazards.
This chapter covers the history of grass across the earth. Many types of the earth’s grasses have evolved along with the domesticated livestock and their wild ancestors over the last 10,000 years. Evolutionary selection for grazing tolerance most likely produced the types of grass that we recognize in society today. These kinds of turf grass tend to grow densely, close to the surface and depend on rhizomatic growth instead of seeds for reproduction. Humans have had a relationship with several kinds of grass for a very long time. It is very interesting that out of the 15 major world crops, 10 are grasses which include wheat, maize, millet, and rice.
Robbins describes and talks about the different functions of grass in America and Europe. In American “it forms a coherent aesthetic, has never been the expression of a regional American cultural sensibility. Instead, it has at various times played a number of symbolic roles in the ecological metabolism of a shifting political economy. In it’s European roots, it was an embodiment of emerging labor and land arrangements tied to expropriation of agrarian property”.
What do you think about this?
In this chapter Robbins brings up the question of whether lawns need the chemicals and labor that it receives?
What is your view on this?
This chapter covers how Turf grass has evolved to survive and grow under conditions of grazing. For most plants and grasses, grazing causes a major challenge, reproduction and growth typically occur at the top and outmost vertical extension. By being eaten this usually means that the plants or grass have had to endure retarded growth as well as a reduction in reproduction. The grazing by wild and domesticated animals over the years has resulted in the survival and reproduction of many different qualities of grass. Then he goes on discussing the structure and growth of turf grass as well as discussing the reasons why lawns need so much care.
I don’t have a story about myself, but I do have one about my sister. When she was about 12 years old my dad had gotten a new ridding mower and against better judgement he let her cut the back yard. Now we only have one tree in the backyard and somehow she managed to hit that tree head on. My parents are still puzzled to this day on how she was able to run straight into it. I guess this story isn’t that funny to people that are reading it, but we still get a laugh out of it when we are all just sitting around and talking.
How do these People understand their behaviours in the context of their home, family, and community?
- Chemical users –> wealthy, suburban
- Green educated –> wealthy, suburban
Doesn’t make sense why the educated use chemicals, so why?
- Neighborly–> socially involved/concerned added to profile of user
- Nice lawn increase/maintain property value (civic good or civil neglect).
Not an individual choice, lawn people are residents of lawn neighborhoods.
How are such risks and benefits reconciled real life? What does such a community feel like to live in? Are such obligations seen as a burden or a joy?
Is the lawn a personal risk or environmental hazard?
Household interviews within a suburban development. View of the way a face-to-face lawn community functions in anenvironment where mutual expectations are set through simply living in a daily life in a close proximity.
This interview consisted of several parts which included:
- Personal risk or environmental risk?
- Trust in experts
- Qualified mistrust
- Hectic lives
- Moral responsibility
- Native landscape
- Large ground covers & herbaceous species
- Rain gardens
- Xeriscope designs –> rock gardens
- IPM –> tolerate it and it will go away
- Lastly, just eat the plants
- Wild Ones
Organized groups are more directed at legal action.
Elusiveness of alternatives
- Weed laws–>FL 1995, 1000 lots cited for being overgrown
- Deeds and Covenant to control home owner practice (homeowner vs community).
Signs of Change
- 50 cities banned pesticides
- experiments testing organic lawn vs chemical
- permission law (majority in community agree)
- Europe installs international ban on pesticides due to the fact manufactures couldn’t guarantee safety of product
Canada and Europe more corporatist than USA, USA favor private property.
Are lawn alternatives really an “alternative”?
- we find the lawn as a sink for surplus and risk, but also an acute location of anxiety, directing people to nervously consider and pursue alternatives.
- American turf-grasses are introduced cultivators incidentally promulgated in a larger settlement of the continent with the various species that settlers brought with them. (Chapter 2)
- producing and maintaing a landscape that matches this desirable aesthetic requires inputs of capital and labor. (chapter 3)
- The necessary inputs into the system are also by no means ecologically inert nor indisputably safe for human beings, children, wildlife, and ecosystem. (chapter 4)
- Industry produces and provides these inputs for the lawn finds itself in a situation of increasing competition, rising costs, falling revenues, debt, and consolidation. (chapter 5)
- Management of this collective good is experienced by lawn people not so much as a choice, but as an obligation, which brigns with it anxiety and mixed feelings. (chapter 6)
- Alternatives to hazardous inputs are on the rise in the form of anti-chemical activism, legal reform, and organic law care provision. (chapter 7)
How did lawn people get this way?
- many environmentally problematic behaviors people act against better judgement largely as a result of strong contextual pressures
- Social and Cultural structures are so deeply ingrained. Widely available and widely advertised lawn alternativesonly prevail where covenants and restrictions mandate them
Lawn people are anxious. Which can be a good thing as it could be a vehicle for change. Or it can be just product of the system which lawn people are subjected to. Which is more correct?
Lawn people are made anxious by the hazards generated in their homes but rarely interrogate the connection of their home ot the broader economy. Anxiety does provide a window for political action, and an opportunity that requires far more attention in political ecological research.
Lawn people choose to use chemicals but do so no on their own behalf or desires, so who’s desires are making them use chemicals?
Industries depend on the desire but don’t force it. Instead they reflect and enforce images formed in the experience of lawn ownership. The lawn makes these desires.
For a summer job I worked on a private golf course for a few years. One day the superintendent came in and said that geese were messing up the course with there poop all over the place so chase them off the course if we were to see them. So one morning my buddy started to chase one down the fairway in his golf cart. He chased it up onto the green before it flew away. So the next morning we came in and the superintendent asked my buddy why he had driven his cart up the fairway and onto the green. Needless to say my buddy tried denying it, but when we went over to the hole there was a line about a foot wide of dead grass all the way down the fairway and up onto the green. My buddy then remembered that the gas can he had with him had been on its side in the back of his car and had been spilling killing all the grass.
I found the book Lawn People interesting. During the summer I do landscaping in a very upscale community and we do some of the things that Paul Robbins talks against. There are many ways to fertilize and use pesticides that have less of an effect than what Paul talks about. I agree with what he said about how lawns have an effect on their environment. Lawns are a big part of the landscaping of a home. I think that it is kind of a part of the American dream to say you have a nice big lawn. I think that he made some good points about the harm that can be done by the chemicals used to keep lawn nice but at the same time there are ways to use them that have less of an effect.
Chapter4: Are Lawn Inputs a Hazard?
This chapter asks whether the standards we set for lawn care, which are inherently artificial, are hazardous to maintan.
- Where as prior to World War 2 lawns that met societies asthetic standards were more elusive, an increase in technology and availability led to a surge in monocultural lawns.
- From the beginning of chemical lawns, there had been warnings of potential harm chemicals could inflict other things and beings.
- DDT became a very prominent chemical solution during ww2 for its effectiveness. Its effectiveness at killing its targets allowed the damages to non-targets to be overlooked.
- Technological development allowed for ease of use, while industrial development allowed for mass production.
- By the end of the 20th century, 73% of all households used industrial fertilizers.
- As the damages done by DDT began to show, a backlash against it occurred. Rachel Carson’s Silent Springs helped open people’s eyes to the problem.
- As awareness spread, the focus shifted to finding a more ecologically sensible alternative for lawn care. This essentially changed what chemicals and techniques would be used, but did not cause the dream of a ‘perfect’ lawn to be abandoned.
- As a result, more scrutiny was applied to production and maintenance of lawns. Consequently, it facilitated the growth of the industry even more.
- While the industry attempts to make the products as safe as possible, there are still significant risks associated. Likewise, the increasing complexity of the chemicals allows greater chances of unseen effects.
- All of the risks involved are exacerbated by the fact that the chemicals and fertilizers will travel and effect areas it wasn’t intended to affect. Wind, runoff, animals, and volatization all cause them to spread. Also, they don’t exactly disappear.
- We lack the evidence to determine weather we are going to be hurt by these things in the long run, or weather certain people are more at risk, or weather the chemicals continue to be safe once they’ve been exposed to other substances in our lawns.
- “As the lawn expands, the goepgraphy of non-point source pollution is changing faster than the political forces of regulation and control”. (p. 71)
Chapter 5: Does the Industry Meet or Produce Demand?
- An industrial complex has evolved from the evolution of lawncare.
- The more people seek to have perfect lawns, the more the industry tries to supply it.
- Unitended consiquences, buisness competition, and growing consumption causes the scope of the industry to broaden. Chemical companies, manufacturers, regulatory agencies, all become closely dependant on the industry.
- The increase in complexity creates opportunities for more hazards to come up, and consequently more remedies to be created. This leads to even more growht of the industry.
- Incentives and opportunities that effect the industry can also be ecological; it has to account for variations and alterations of the environment. This leads to more innovation and complexity.
- This all produces an industry that premotes itself; while aiming for the best possible solution, it causes an increase in the scope and intracacy of the industry which can potentially facilitate more issues.