Zerofootprint: "Al Gore, you had better get rid of your lawnmower"

What has Al Gore got to do with lawnmowers? A lot. I recently discovered, to my horror, that a typical gas powered lawnmower produces as much pollution in 7 hours of operation as a modern car does in a 100,000 miles of driving! Another way of looking at this is that the two-stroke gasoline lawnmower that is ubiquitous in the suburbs of North America, pollutes (PM, NOx, etc) as much in one hour as 40 late model cars running for the same amount of time!

Why? Because the off-road engines found on lawnmowers, leaf blowers, tillers, as well as snow blowers, snowmobiles and dirt bikes don't have to have catalytic converters. These handy devices reduce gasoline emissions by about 90%, and are mandatory on cars and trucks.Actually, Al, you should probably get rid of the lawn, as well. Besides the dangers of pesticides, lawns pose a huge conservation problem. It turns out that about one third of all water used in US East Coast cities is used for watering lawns. So, between lawns and lawnmowers we use a tremendous amount of the world's resources and contribute enormously to urban smog and greenhouse gas emissions. The irony is that we water our lawns to make them grow and then we mow them! It's hard being holy, as I too am discovering. I own a soon-to-be organic farm, with a few acres of lawn that gets mowed with one of these earth destroyers. I have started searching feverishly for simple ways to fix this; the solution will soon be published on our website,

Today, we do so many stupid things because we have not been paying for their environmental cost. Modern Economics Theory is partly to blame because it makes these so called externalities seem free. Just imagine if we were to pay the true cost for offsetting our footprint. To offset the greenhouse gas emissions, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides created by mowing our lawns could cost each of us thousands of dollars if we were to purchase credits or invest in carbon sinks that absorb as much pollution as our mowing emitted. We would very quickly discover that lawnmowers are hogs and modern cars are much better. Our behavior would change. We would discover that cars that emit more cost far more to run than cars that are categorized as ultra low emission. Moreover, we would discover by how much, which could be a great surprise, as is the case with lawnmowers.

Probably the simplest (in principal) way to change our behavior is to create awareness about the true cost, including the environmental impact, of the things we buy and the way we live. If you knew that it would cost you $100 a month less to have a garden made up of local fauna than to keep your lawn looking traditionally pretty, you might change your behavior. By reevaluating what we consider beautiful and its associated cost, this "small" difference could then lead to massive reductions in urban smog, greenhouse gas emissions and water conservation.

There is so much low hanging fruit, simple things we can do to reduce our ecological footprint, that it is possible for us to make huge strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions before we ever need to feel deprived. We just need to operate more ingeniously, do the same stuff but more cleverly at a lower cost.

[Ron Dembo, CEO and Founder, Zerofootprint]

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