Residents living in 'greener' surroundings report lower levels of fear, fewer incivilities, and less aggressive violent behavior

Lawns- Questionable for the Environment

By —— Bio and Archives--December 16, 2018

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American lawns occupy some 30 to 40 million acres of land. Lawnmowers to maintain them account for some 5 percent of the nation’s air pollution, probably more in urban areas. Each year more than 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled during the refilling of lawn and garden equipment, more than the oil that the Exxon Valdez spilled, reports Lakis Polycarpou. 1


Homeowners spend billions of dollars and typically use 10 times the amount of pesticide and fertilizers per acre on their lawns as farmers do on crops; the majority of these chemicals are wasted due to inappropriate timing and applications. These chemicals then runoff and become a major source of water pollution. Last but not least, 30 to 60 percent of urban fresh water is used on lawns. Most of this water is also wasted due to poor timing and applications. 1

Americans devote 70 hours annually to mowing lawns. And according to the EPA, we use 580 million gallons of gas each year in lawnmowers that emit as much pollution in one hour as 40 automobiles driving—accounting for roughly 10 to 19 percent of non-road gasoline emissions. Also, on the subject of mowing, 35,000 people, 4,800 of which are children are treated annually for mower-related injuries, resulting in 600 youth amputations. The Royal Statistical Society even awarded the International Statistic of the Year to the fact that nearly eight times more Americans are killed by lawnmowers than Islamic terrorists.  The $47.8 billion to $82 billion we spend annually on overcutting and landscaping (FYI: we spend about $50 billion in foreign aid) effectively amounts to trying to kill the grass while offering it life support.2

Folks who write about grass refer to it as turfgrass, so from now on I’ll use this term. Turfgrasses, occupying 1.9 percent of the surface of the continental United States, is the single largest irrigated crop in the country. Conservatively, American lawns take up three times as much space as irrigated corn.3

All America’s farmland consumes 88.5 million acre feet of water a year. Lawns, with a fraction of the land, drink an estimated two-thirds as much. Most municipalities use 30-60 percent of drinkable water on lawns. California is special; in LA prior to the big drought, 70 percent of water loss came courtesy of lawns. 2

There’s even a novel about the lawn that ate Hollywood, which has been described as the most frightening Los Angeles disaster book every written.4

The Good Side of Lawns

There are a number of good sides to lawns. Contributions of turfgrass that enhance the quality of life for humans are overlooked and seldom addressed in the scientific literature

Beard and Green divide turf grass benefits into three components, functional, recreational and aesthetic.5

Functional benefits include: excellent soil erosion control and dust stabilization; improved recharge and quality of groundwater, plus flood control; enhanced entrapment and bio-degradation of synthetic organic compounds; soil improvements that include carbon dioxide conversion; accelerated restoration of disturbed soils; and substantial urban heat dissipation-temperature moderation (think of walking on grass versus concrete or tar pavement on a hot day.)

Maximum day time temperature of green turfgrass is 88F, dry bare soil is 102F, brown dormant turfgrass is 126F, and synthetic turfgrass is a whopping 158F. James Fish says, “Astroturf totally blocks the earth and sky, and heats up so hot that it can burn children and pets.” 6

Additional benefits of turfgrass include reduced noise, glare and visual pollution problems; decreased noxious pests and allergy-related pollens; safety in vehicle operation on roadsides; and lowered fire hazard via open turfed firebreaks.

Recreational benefits include a low-cost surface for outdoor sport and leisure activities; enhanced physical health of participants, and a unique low-cost cushion against personal impact injuries (if you’ve ever walked or played sports on an artificial grass surface you can appreciate the cushion provided by natural grass). 5

Aesthetic benefits include enhanced beauty and attractiveness; a complimentary relationship to the total landscape ecosystem for flowers, trees, and shrubs; improved mental health with a positive therapeutic impact, social harmony and stability; improved work productivity; and an overall better quality of life especially in densely populated urban areas.


Green also seems to be a color we respond to deeply. A field of green grass and trees, backyard play on green grass, and school play grounds or team sports at a stadium with a green field evoke pleasant memories. 7

A study published in Science documented the psychological effect of greener cities: a patient with a view of a park from their hospital window fared better than those with a view of a wall. 8 Residents living in ‘greener’  surroundings report lower levels of fear, fewer incivilities, and less aggressive violent behavior. 9


Is it worth all the water, time, money and pollution required to keep a green patch in the front and back of our homes? For most folks the answer is probably yes, even though one poll found the four out of five homeowners were dissatisfied with their lawns 10Another poll found that for 1 in 5 Americans, mowing the lawn was their least liked chore, ranking lower than raking leaves and shoveling snow. 3


  1. Lakis Polycarpou, “The problem of lawns,” blog.ei.columbia.edu, June 4, 2010
  2. Ian Graber-Stiehl, “Lawns are an ecological disaster,” earther.com, May 18, 2018
  3. Christopher Ingraham, “Lawns are a soul-crushing time suck and most of us would be better off without them,” Washington Post, August 5, 2015
  4. Ward Moore, Greener Than You Think, (New York, Crown Publishers, 1985)
  5. J. B. Beard and R. L. Green, Journal of Environmental Quality, 23, 452, 1994
  6. James Fish, “Why I don’t mow the lawn,” The Epoch Times, New York Edition, April 10-16, 2008
  7. D. Ackerman, Deep Play, (New York, Random House, 1999)
  8. R. S. Ulrich, Science, 224, 420, April 27, 1984
  9. Francis E. Kuo and William C. Sullivan, Environment and Behavior, 33, 343, 2001
  10. D. Stewart, Smithsonian, 82, 94, February 1999


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Jack Dini -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Jack Dini is author of Challenging Environmental Mythology.  He has also written for American Council on Science and Health, Environment & Climate News, and Hawaii Reporter.

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