It may seem like hyperbole to compare growing a lawn with smoking (not combining the two, as in smoking grass), but when weighing the environmental and health effects of both rather useless activities, they may not be all that dissimilar. A lawn is purely ornamental and serves no practical purpose when it is not used as pasture for grazing animals. Deer may come out of the woods to clip parts of a suburban lawn, but for the most part keeping a lawn within the height limits deemed proper by neighbors is left up to the homeowner. Anything higher than about six inches meets with disapproval from neighbors and, in the case of a homeowners association rules, may merit a written slap on the wrist.
There was a time not long ago when most people smoked, and smoked everywhere. Movies of contemporary stories from the 1940s and 1950s showed actors portraying their characters as human chimneys. Few people thought much of it up until 1964, when the Surgeon General issued a report on the dangers of smoking. Even then, it took another generation for the momentum of social disapproval of smoking to build to a tipping point, largely because of the obstructive practices of the tobacco industry. In the matter of lawn growing, the balance is now tipped in favor of the people who dump fertilizers and broad leaf herbicides on their lawns to achieve an ideal of carpeted green perfection, and then burn up fossil fuels in order to keep that exuberant growth clipped to a manicured standard.
Sheep, goats, and a shepherd near Lake Vistonida in Thrace, Greece. Photo by Ggia.
Given the information available about the toxic effects of fertilizer and herbicide runoff, and the deleterious effects on the climate of continued burning of fossil fuels, it seems insane to idealize the perfect lawn and what it can take to achieve perfection. Yet as things stand now, the people with model lawns are the ones who look down on everyone else and appoint themselves as standard bearers. Perhaps if more people understood the destructive effects to their own health and to the environment of all their fussing over lawns, then the balance would start to tip the other way toward saner practices.
When homeowners apply fertilizers and herbicides to their lawns, there is no obvious puff of smoke to notify everyone else of the activity. It is not as obvious then as smoking, and therefore general social disapproval will take a long time to build, and may never build to a tipping point the way it did with smoking. Education will probably be the main factor in changing people’s behavior. There are state laws which require commercial herbicide or pesticide applicators to post signs on lawns they have treated. Those are the 4 inch cards on sticks stuck into lawns, and to the extent that most passersby and neighbors give them any attention, they can easily mistake them as advertisements for the lawn care company.
The opening scene of Blue Velvet, a darkly satirical 1986 film directed by David Lynch. Besides demanding large amounts of fertilizers and herbicides to look their best, lawns gulp huge amounts of water in order to stay green throughout the warmest months.
Most people are away at work when lawn care companies do their treatments, and so they aren’t around to catch a whiff of the cabbage smell of the typical broad leaf herbicide as it drifts around the neighborhood. And of course, the homeowner who does his or her own applications, usually on the weekends when neighbors are also home, does not bother with any formal notifications at all. A neighbor might ask such a homeowner “What’s that smell?” To which the enterprising amateur lawn care enthusiast might reply, without apparent knowledge of or concern about the collateral damage of his or her efforts, “That’s the smell of the green, green grass of home!”
“Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” ― the Rev. William L. Watkinson*(1838-1925)
The nonprofit organization Fight for the Future has set up a website called Comcastroturf which allows people to check if their name has been used surreptitiously to file anti net neutrality comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC had recently opened up a public comment period in anticipation of rolling back net neutrality regulations, and within a short time they were inundated with anti net neutrality comments which appeared to be generated by Internet Service Provider (ISP) astroturfers from hijacked subscriber lists. Comcast threatened Fight for the Future with a lawsuit, from which they have since backed down after it appeared obvious even to them that it was a tone deaf public relations debacle. They blamed the company they outsource their brand defenses to for excessive vigilance.
Let there be light; photo by Flickr user Arup Malakar, taken in the Kamakhya Temple, a shakti temple on the Nilachal Hill in the western part of Guwahati city in Assam, India.
It’s clear from new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s remarks on net neutrality that he does not support the FCC net neutrality regulations adopted in 2015. Since the rest of the now Republican controlled board of commissioners will most likely go along with him when they vote on the regulations in September, the public comment period appears to be a mere formality. That apparently hasn’t deterred the ISP industry from feeling the need to generate a phony campaign to support the anti net neutrality commissioners. Perhaps they were concerned about the pro net neutrality campaign of John Oliver. Now Comcast and other industry giants have egg on their faces, and Chairman Pai has not escaped squeaky clean either, as he has declined to question the validity of the astroturfed comments, while distracting the attention of the public by complaining about mean tweets.
There are customers of Comcast who complain endlessly about the company’s high prices and lackluster, even adversarial, customer service, yet those customers do little or nothing to explore alternatives to Comcast. They sit grumbling in the dark and won’t lift a finger to light a candle. Such people do a disservice to themselves, but since they seem to be satisfied with that in a masochistic way, the rest of us are left having to listen to their grousing while they do nothing to improve their situation. That shouldn’t be a problem for those of us who can get out of earshot, though in the broader perspective it is those dissatisfied but immovable customers of Comcast who grant the company its monopolistic power in the marketplace, and that’s a problem for everyone because it limits affordable options as smaller companies struggle to establish themselves when confronting the obstacles thrown at them by industry giants and the legislators and regulators they have in their pockets.
Comcast and companies like it might behave better if they started experiencing mass defections. Comcast has been losing subscription television customers, while increasing broadband customers. Cord cutting does not affect Comcast’s bottom line if the customers doing so are merely moving their dollars from one part of the service to another. City dwellers and suburbanites have more options for internet service than people in the countryside, and so they have fewer excuses for continuing with Comcast even while they dislike the company intensely. Ultimately the choice comes down to a decision about what to give up, at least in the short term. Even without streaming video, life goes on. For the majority of the Earth’s inhabitants, the whining of some Americans about how to get along without access to each and every National Football League (NFL) game over either the internet or subscription TV, or the latest “must see” TV series, must appear ingloriously obtuse and selfish. These companies have too much power because we have given it to them. It’s like being abused in a relationship and not working to free yourself because you can’t imagine life any other way. Who knows, life untethered from the Comcast umbilical cord could be better than you think.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse, south of San Francisco, California; photo by Diedresm.