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The Insect Apocalypse Is Here (nytimes.com)
418 points by surbas 54 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 337 comments



I think the American suburban yard may be equally responsible with agriculture for a lot of this in the US. The use of herbicides and pesticides is completely unregulated. Additionally lawns are an unnecessary waste of time for most people and have a large carbon footprint. I had a small native plant yard that attracted hundreds of pollinators and arachnids. I was treated like and criminal forced to cut most of it down. I still get a fair amount of terrestrial arthropods but not as much.

It sickens me when I see workers with those sprayer packs or trucks that look like small chemical plants.

Before I decided to comment I submitted my write up, if you are interested you can read that you can read here:

http://www.elegantcoding.com/2018/03/reimagining-suburban-ya...

Edit: I did want to mention that I definitely seen a massive decline in butterflies and moths over the last 15 years.

Update: I quoted 40 million acres below, which is for turf grass which probably includes athletic fields. I am not against everyone having a lawn or athletic fields. I do think people should be able to cultivate their native environment on their suburban property and this should be encouraged and even incentivized. My neighbor’s kids play in their backyard, so they have a need for it. Of course a non herbicide non monoculture lawn should work ok too. That’s what I grew up with.

Also I think that gas powered devices need to be replaced with electric devices. I think something like 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled alone in relation to lawn maintenance.

The thing that scares me is the normality of spraying for mosquitoes. In my area it’s the invasive Aedes mosquito species, the native species are a lot less aggressive. Also with some of these other very scary invasive species like the marmorated stink bug, ash borer, lantern fly, that new Asian tick, etc. Are we going to end up using more and more insecticides and subsequently kill more and more of our native fauna?


Lawns are one of the most ridiculous human inventions I have ever observed. You take normal self-sufficient grass out, then reseed with some sort of crippled grass that needs constant fertilization and watering. To make things worse, you mandate it to be unnaturally short, so people have to constantly mow and use herbicides to keep the normal grass out. And all of this is made mandatory for some reason. Aside from creating grass mono-cultures, this is just a gigantic waster of time and resources that doesn't produce anything in return.


Lawns are a much more natural phenomenon in England, where the grass is native (apparently "Kentucky Bluegrass" is actually from Europe!) and they can be maintained organically. Capability Brown pre-dates the Haber process. It rains often enough that they don't need much watering if the soil is good.

Unfortunately in recent years global warming has made summers longer, hotter and drier and the natural temperate "lawn zone" is moving northwards. England will more and more see "hosepipe bans" against using clean water in gardens.

People choosing lawns in dry, unnatural areas of America are doing so to replicate some European ideal. People mandating lawns are doing so to mandate the Europeanness of their neighbours.

(A good summary: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/anthropology-in-practic... )


Granted I skimmed through it, but I could see no mention in that summary of organically maintained lawns. It does mention the English roots, but those were maintained by gardeners for upper class estates.

Lawns are historically grazed fields. That's organically maintained I guess, but no one has a lawn like that today, not even in England.


A lawn is very different to a grazed field.

Here in the UK, in an average garden, you'll have no issues you want to keep a lawn - simply mow once a month at most, and maybe water in the middle of summer. Really isn't hard to look after here - my parents even leave the cuttings where they fall as the worms will pull them into the soil pretty fast if you let them.


Not really true. Depending on rabbit population, or if you have a goat, you can fairly straightforwardly maintain a lawn without mowing. You have to be happy with random rabbit carcasses / holes though. It does take some care (in regards to what you do with fertilizer) if you don't want weeds, but if you keep the land very barren, the only 'weeds' you'll get are wild flowers.

Obviously this all depends on drainage/soil type.


Lawns are useful for standing on outdoors, given that they are not up to your knees, not concrete, and not dirt. That's why most people maintain them. If you never go outside then there is not much need for a lawn.


You know what's even better for standing on outdoors? The actual outdoors. Any park, arboretum, nature trail, beach, etc. The only people who need lawns are the ones who want to pretend they're enjoying the outdoors but can't actually stand to be more than fifty feet from their fridge at any time.


It's nice to get in the car and drive to a park, arboretum, nature trail or beach, but if you have a to-do list for the day (or have just come home from work, or are about to leave for work), then the only practical way to enjoy the outdoors is if you can fire up the grill in a small piece of it that you maintain for yourself. It is also a lot better to host social events on private land, because you will not contradict with anybody else's events, and you have the resources of your house.


You don't have to drive to find those things. Even the densest cities have parks. You can walk, you can bike, you can take public transit. I have a pretty long to-do list myself, but I can still find more natural places than my yard when I go for a run five or more days out of seven.

If you choose to host social events on your own property, that's fine. Houses are great for that. But is it really worth it to maintain a yard 365 days a year for those hypothetical three that you use it for entertaining? Is it worth it for everyone to do that, at such environmental cost? The universe is not all about your pleasure.


In my case, my hobbies preclude living in an apartment, so I do have to drive to find those things.

I'd love it if we had denser, walk-able, and affordable village style housing developments in America, but we don't.


Who said anything about an apartment? If you have a house in the 'burbs you probably have even more natural environments within walking or biking distance. Let's pull up Google Maps and see. I've been in many cities and suburbs across the US and in other parts of the world. Literally all of them had some green space within what I'd consider easy range. I'd be very surprised if it's any different where you are.


>I've been in many cities and suburbs across the US and in other parts of the world. Literally all of them had some green space within what I'd consider easy range. I'd be very surprised if it's any different where you are.

Then you haven't lived in low density suburbs/rural areas, you're very lucky, or you and I have different definitions of "easy range". There is a park about 5 miles from my house. Too far for an easy walk and even if it was, most of that is on a divided highway with no sidewalks that would be crazy to walk on.

Technically biking would work, but I'm not risking my life to drive down a divided highway with cars going 65+mph to bike to a crappy baseball park.

The closest park that is anything more than a few baseball fields is just under 15 minutes away by car, and I'm about 25 minutes from the downtown area of a major city (with no traffic).

This is normal for most of rural and suburban America.


I'm pretty skeptical about those claims. What metropolitan area is this? Let's look at a map. Are you sure you're not just being too picky about what kind of green space qualifies for you?


Atlanta. Have you spent enough time in rural and low density suburban areas to warrant your skepticism? You don't tend to see much of this kind of area when you visit because it's not near anything except houses.

Plenty of people out here (most where I'm at) live in subdivisions off of highways that would be absurd to bike on, and almost nowhere in my county has sidewalks.

>Are you sure you're not just being too picky about what kind of green space qualifies for you?

There's a cemetery that shows up as green on Google maps that's a bit closer than the park I mentioned. Still not safe to walk or bike to.

You are vastly underestimating how hostile most of the US is to biking/walking.


> Have you spent enough time in rural and low density suburban areas to warrant your skepticism?

Well, let's see. I've lived in cities of multiple sizes - Wellington, Detroit, Ann Arbor. I've lived in both inner and outer suburbs of Detroit and Boston. I've spent significant time visiting Silicon Valley and Seattle, shorter times visiting a few dozen other cities both in the US and internationally. Is that Scotsman enough for you?

My experience is that the cities have parks and (usually) mass transit. Inner suburbs also have parks, plus sports fields and playgrounds that residents can use when school's not in session. By the time you get to the outer suburbs, you can add patches and strips of undeveloped but still accessible woodland. The configuration changes, but the green's always there. Often all you need to do is find someone walking their dog and follow them, because they'll go to those places for exercise and socialization.

Maybe there's a peculiarly southern kind of sprawl in which all of the land for miles in any direction is enclosed in people's yards, but I just spot checked around Atlanta and there don't seem to be any places like that except for the airport. You don't live at the airport, do you? Sure, there aren't many green patches in a plain street view, but switch to satellite view and there's plenty. There are probably woodlands with cut trails near you that you don't even know about. At most it looks like you might have to go ~3000 feet (barely half a mile) to find something, so I think I'm going to stand by my theory that you're ruling out valid options.


>Is that Scotsman enough for you?

No it's not. With the exception of Wellington (don't know enough about it to know) those are all much higher density areas than the vast majority of the US.

As to the places you've visited, there is almost zero reason you would have spent much time in the areas I'm talking about while visiting.

>Maybe there's a peculiarly southern kind of sprawl in which all of the land for miles in any direction is enclosed in people's yards, but I just spot checked around Atlanta and there don't seem to be any places like that except for the airport. You don't live at the airport, do you? Sure, there aren't many green patches in a plain street view, but switch to satellite view and there's plenty. There are probably woodlands with cut trails near you that you don't even know about. At most it looks like you might have to go ~3000 feet (barely half a mile) to find something, so I think I'm going to stand by my theory that you're ruling out valid options.

No I don't, but this is absurd. Sure there are woods out behind my house because I own them, and there are trails through them because I made them.

All of the undeveloped land nearby is owned by someone else. We don’t have a right to roam in the US. You don’t just go walking onto someone else’s land--that’s a good way to get shot, or at the very least get a visit from the county sheriff. Just walking down the road outside of a subdivision around here will get weird looks from people (mostly because it’s not safe because the roads weren’t designed for it)--a large adult man walking through their property will definitely prompt a negative response.

When I was a kid we used to wander off into the woods behind a neighbor's house, and I used to explore the golf course nearby, but we got chased off by people, dogs, and cops as well.

Even if I did find a neighbor with land who was willing to let me use it, I couldn’t get to it without walking down divided highway unless it was in my subvision.


> those are all much higher density areas than the vast majority of the US

Don't you mean the vast majority of the tiny corner you know? You haven't even mentioned ever living anywhere else, let alone in the same variety of places I have, so I'll take your claims about vast majorities with more than one grain of salt. Maybe you really do live in a place uniquely deprived of public green space (though that's still unsubstantiated by actual maps or anything). If so, it's still your choice and you're welcome to it. It doesn't change reality for the true vast majority. Enjoy life in your self-made closet.


>Don't you mean the vast majority of the tiny corner you know?

No, I meant exactly what I said. Objectively, the vast majority of the US has a lower population density than most of the places you mentioned.

>Maybe you really do live in a place uniquely deprived of public green space (though that's still unsubstantiated by actual maps or anything)

It's not unique or unsubstantiated. Here's a study that says for people in small towns there the average distance to a park is 6.1 miles--that's consistent with my experience. Even in cities (outside of the city center--there it's 0.7 miles) the average distance is over a mile, and in the suburbs it's over 2 miles. [1]

If there are few nearby parks, what options are there? Trails on undeveloped land you mentioned? Who owns this land? Take a look at the green space on a satellite map in the metro Atlanta area. If it's not a park (or similar like a WMA), a private individual owns it. You completely ignored my point about trespassing on private land to start a pissing contest about who's lived in more cities.

The US is not a very walkable country, it shouldn't be so shocking to you that vast swaths of the country lack public greenspace that's accessible without a car.

>Enjoy life in your self-made closet.

I have plenty of green space of my own (complete with the odd deer, wild turkey, coyotes, foxes--hell I even had an escaped emu run through my back yard once) and a car (that I used to drive to the Smoky Mountains last week). Sure I'd like it if the US was more walkable, but the way development is currently done means the trade offs of living in a more walkable area aren't worth it for me.

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3590901/


Your citation uses a very narrow definition of parks - government owned, set aside for that specific use. It doesn't include things like the walkable areas often around sports fields, which are pretty much everywhere. It doesn't include private parks or areas which are implicitly - or quite often explicitly - open to the public. The vast majority of the population lives in cities or inner suburbs, and for them a walkable space is rarely even half a mile away.

And you're the one who started the pissing contest, by trying to claim that I'm unqualified to comment. Don't whine that you lost because your own horizon is so narrow.


>Your citation uses a very narrow definition of parks - government owned, set aside for that specific use.

No it doesn’t. Did you just make that up?

>It doesn't include things like the walkable areas often around sports fields, which are pretty much everywhere.

Sports fields are generally in parks, which are included in the data set. The vast majority of parks in rural and suburban areas are sports parks--definitely included in the data set.

Publically available sports fields not in parks tend to be part of schools. They aren’t always publically available, and they are never available during school hours. You certainly can’t use them to host events, grill out etc... Most of the school fields around here won’t even let you walk on the grass, and most of them keep the gates to the fields locked when school’s out.

>It doesn't include private parks or

Did you read the source? It even mentions that the dataset doesn’t different between private and public parks.

>areas which are implicitly - or quite often explicitly - open to the public.

An explicit public greenspace is a park. I’m not sure what an implicit public greenspace is. Undeveloped land that doesn’t have a no trespassing sign? Do you have any examples? Can you have a cookout on implicitly accessible land? Can you set up a volleyball net? Who’s cutting the grass? Clearing the trails? Can you even be sure you aren’t trespassing? When does it close? Will the police show up?

What implicity accessible land do you regularly use?

>The vast majority of the population lives in cities or inner suburbs,

When did we start talking about the majority of the population? I’ve specifically been talking about lower density areas throughout this entire thread.

>and for them a walkable space is rarely even half a mile away.

But while you’re on the subject... I assume you’re still talking about publicly accessible greenspace when you say “walkable space”. The median distance to a park for a person in a city center is 0.5 miles. That means that half of people live farther than that. For the suburbs the median distance is over a mile. Living farther than half a mile certainly isn’t rare.

Check out ParkScore. One of the metrics is percent of residents within a half mile of a park--it’s not rare, particularly in low income communities.

>And you're the one who started the pissing contest, by trying to claim that I'm unqualified to comment.

I never said that. You should go back and reread what I did say. Stop ignoring the topic and focusing on perceived slights and straw men.

>Don't whine that you lost…

There’s no point in declaring victory--no one else is reading.


> When did we start talking about the majority of the population?

Why wouldn't we be? If a few people choose to live in a virtual desert, that's their problem. What's important is what's available to those who lack the means to make such choices. I used to be one of those people, but even when I lived in one of the densest most blighted parts of Detroit it wasn't hard to find little pockets of green. Again, follow the dog walkers. They know.

And since you seem so determined to control the focus to what suits you, let's not forget that the original question is whether people need lawns specifically. You haven't even addressed that point. A lawn is an artificial environment, barely more natural than a wood floor or deck. Most people don't even use theirs, except occasionally during child-rearing years. They just pump them full of herbicides and insecticides, deplete often scarce water supplies with their sprinklers, waste tons of energy raking leaves, etc. Are you going to start making the case that having "a place to stand" (as whatshisface originally claimed) is worth all that?


Once again you've managed to completely avoid addressing anything I wrote, so I'll do the same.


This is a massive assertion on your part, and the quality of "green"space can vary widley in urban areas. Yards without rooty vegetation are safer for houses, they're good for warehousing children, they're nice to relax on in a private/semi-private setting, you can drink on your lawn, etc.


I rarely see anybody standing on their lawn in my neighborhood. In Florida they even warned us to not let our dog on the lawn because it was so toxic.

I think lawns are mainly for looks.


I think it was mainly a status thing, in that you could afford to have vast amounts of land that weren't producing anything, and the workforce to maintain it. Like, it's something a French king would do at a Chateau to complement their rose gardens.

It's just crazy to think that now it can be against the law (or at least against HOA rules) to not have a lawn. Like it's illegal to plant a vegetable garden in your front yard.


If you can put up with the dirty looks from neighbors and resist the peer pressure, cultivate crabgrass! it's drought-resistant, grows low so never needs to be mowed and still green. I'm quite the crabgrass cultivator - my main technique is negligence and general laziness.

If you live in a strata or HOA, all bets are off - maybe lobby for an astroturf exemption?


I live in a pretty rural part of town (off of a dirt road that leads to the main road - across the street: it's back to your usual 120,000 people city), so nothing but whatever grows naturally. Some of my neighbors raise goats and sometimes they ask us if they can graze on our yard. It's nice.


I googled it and the top 10 links are about getting rid of it!


>or at least against HOA rules

WTF!? I am from Europe, is this really a thing? Although,it wouldn't surprise me, watching American Movies, lawn and suburbia seems inseparable.


You have no idea. Many Master Planned Communities have very restrictive CC&R's (Covenants, Codes & Restrictions) that you must contractually agree to abide to in order to buy a property there. I've seen all kinds of fun rules like only being allowed to paint your house one of the approved seven shades of beige, only using one type of roofing material, only planting trees and shrubs in any publicly facing frontage/backage/sideage from an approved list, maintaining no publicly visible weeds, maintaining a green front lawn year round and even put up a minimum amount of holiday decoration (lights) during December. Little Boxes, indeed[0].

[0]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUoXtddNPAM


The homeowner's association has a lot of power in the US, so it is inevitable that it will be misused and used incompetently. However only in the most close-minded and controlling of suburbs can you not plant a vegetable garden.


Not plant a vegetable garden in the front yard?


You can't even hang your laundry out to dry. All in the name of freedom.


But what is their reasoning for this?


In some areas, tall grass becomes a habitat for snakes, which can be problematic for children.

For most areas, it's aesthetic.

Here in the south-east, a short lawn will have no mosquitoes but a grassy area will have plenty (as in you'll get 20-30 bites in one evening outdoors), so that's a strong motivation.


On the other hand, snakes eating all the rats would be good for children. Rats are reservoirs for many human diseases, but the think on the snakes!! is a common alibi for forcing your neighborg not to having shrubs, roses, grass, climbers, rocks, ponds and everything that would make your own garden look duller by comparison.


I think it's about the looks. Everything needs to be tidy and clean.


What if someone wants tidy, clean and paved, or tidy, clean with lots of interesting shrubs and trees?

Simply a case of no, a lawn it must be?


HOA's and HOA bylaws are normally mandated and created by the bank doing the construction loan. They do this to protect the value of the property while they hold interest in the remaining lots. The mortgage industry also loves this since in the end they may be stuck with a property if there is a default.


HOAs are a fascist alternative to actual community.


> protect the value of the property

... which means "protect interest of neighbors".

People like when their neighbourhood looks nice and is safe from snakes, bugs and mosquitos.


Drop in property value comes to mind if there's an adjacent stretch of untamed wild.


>WTF!? I am from Europe, is this really a thing?

In some places, particularly wealthy places built up after WW2. Some people like it because "muh property values". Just as many hate it because "muh freedom"


"Like it's illegal to plant a vegetable garden in your front yard. "

Making that illegal should be illegal.


They've made crossing the street at certain places illegal. This is the war on public spaces we've lost.


> they even warned us to not let our dog on the lawn because it was so toxic

In my area those are called the TruGreen lawns, and they dominate much of the city 3 seasons out of the year. Those little signs that tell you to keep your living creatures off of them for a week after application, or longer depending on weather. I don't, however, think that anyone bothers to notify the squirrels, rabbits, opossum, and birds about those limitations - they will all continue to frolic on doused areas, eat and drink from those areas. Not to mention the impact on insects, the impact on the soil and water.

All for what? Fewer weeds?! It's disgusting to see such callous disregard for our environment being perpetrated as a matter of routine.


> In Florida they even warned us to not let our dog on the lawn because it was so toxic.

Care to elaborate? I spent over 40 years in Florida and maintained a few lawns during that time, and I have never heard of such a thing.


That was in a wealthier neighborhood in Vero Beach. Everybody had perfect lawns and was spraying them a lot. Nobody let their children on the lawn either.


I haven't commented in over 3 years, but you're the first person I've seen mention Vero Beach on HN in the 8 years I've participated. As a Vero native, your comment resonates.


Spraying lawns with toxic chemicals so that they can't be used? What an incredible, dangerous, disgusting waste.


The grass is very hard and would be really uncomfortable to step on barefoot but it looks good.


Holy moly, what a waste! Thanks for clarifying.


Florida grass is awful. It's not even fun to walk in. Coming from the Midwest the lawns here are dramatically better and the grass is very nice for running around in. As kids we spent a lot of time on the lawn running through a sprinkler, playing football/sports, etc...


You don't need a lawn to stand outdoors if you live in a mild climate zone. You don't even need a lawn to have an open, walkable front-yard. If you regularly walk on a grassy area, it adapts. You might need to use a scythe on out-of-control patches once in a while (much more rarely than a lawnmower), but that's about it.

Source: my family has a rural house with walkable front- and backyard.


> Lawns are useful for standing on outdoors

Are they? Over here in Germany, most lawns I see, that ain't in parks, usually have "Keep off the lawn!" signs.


Even for that purpose, I'd rather have a white clover lawn than a grass lawn. Clover is great for bare feet.


Bees are not great for bare feet, and bare feet are not great for bees, but bees and clovers are great for each other.


Our apian visitors have never had a problem distinguishing petal from pedal. They always fled before I tread upon them.


Lucky you! I've not been so. ;-)


Wow just had a facepalm moment realising what you said is spot on. To make matters worse small-engined tools that pollute the environment are used weekly to keep the yard nice... what a waste


You'd think electric motor yard tools could be common by now, but instead the deafening gas-powered black-cloud-spewing machines are still ubiquitous.


"You'd think electric motor yard tools could be common by now ..."

You will be happy to learn that we are just on the cusp ...

Bosch and Dewalt have very high density battery power systems and they are using them for lawn tools - including normal push mowers. Other tool companies are quickly following suit.

Unlike past iterations, these tools really do have the power and longevity to do real work. To wit: my local volunteer fire department now carries a battery powered Dewalt chainsaw in one of our engines.

As for the embedded carbon cost in all of these new tools and batteries and the production pollution that is occurring "somewhere" ... an exercise for the reader.


I've got a set of power tools and a lawn mower from Ryobi that all use the same 36V battery pack. Works well for our small section in town.


Their hedge trimmer is quite good and still goes ok after a few years of use. Even works for edges that I would have used the whipper snipper on previously.


I'm just one data point, but we opted to go for a corded mower. Considered a battery one but they're so expensive and we knew it'd run out of juice before we finished the yard. Wrangling the power cord while mowing is a bit annoying but I still vastly prefer it to gas. It's super fast and easy to turn off and on, quieter, and I never have to bother with storing and smelling a can of gasoline in the garage/fill it up at a gas station. Plus the environmental benefits.

I told a couple people in my family about getting a corded mower once and they just scoffed at me and extolled the "virtues" of their gas-powered mowers. I was pretty annoyed at their condescending attitude about it, as if they had the moral high ground on the issue.

As for why I maintain my lawn, well I have dogs, and dogs might enjoy sniffing tall grass, but they run a lot less than they do on short grass. We had both this year because we were too busy to mow for awhile and the difference in their behavior was pretty stark.

Also when you do finally mow it again with thick grass it takes at least twice as long to mow the lawn because the mower can't handle it as easily.


While visiting Sweden this summer I saw all these little contraptions wandering around people's yards. I got really excited when I learned that they're essentially "lawn roombas": https://www.digitaltrends.com/home/robot-lawnmowers-are-maki...

They were everywhere.


One disadvantage: they wound and kill hedgehogs.

The hedgehog will curl up and (at least some of) the machines will drive into it.


In most cases you don't need a motor at all. Reel mowers are perfectly adequate for most lawns. No air pollution, no noise pollution, plus they're lighter and easier to push.


I use reel mowers too. To add to what you said, you also get a bit of free exercise and time to look around the garden and notice things while doing something useful.

Beware some reel mowers though... they can have plastic gearing inside which wears out pretty quickly.

Also you need to get the hang of adjusting the bar against the cutters "just so" and the height of the reel above the grass depending on how damp and long it is.


Price. Reliability. Performance. Confusion

Price is obvious, buying a second battery can be a hundred dollar affair and then the confusion sets in as a lot of time the spare batteries are not exactly the same as the original, most manufacturers offer spares in lower amperage to make the price lower. Confusion over volts versus amperage and how it applies to functionality. Performance system because these air cooled solutions will run down faster in tall or wet grass and battery reliability hasn't been great.

anecdotal I owned a Ryobi 40V mower. Sold with a 5Amp battery. It was around four hundred dollars. A second battery a hundred and fifty dollars. If you had anything beyond a small lawn you need two or more else you just take an hour off. Grass gets tall or wet the motor works harder and battery life takes a hit and worse it got hot. A hot battery will not charge. Needless to say I returned it. the New 56V systems use a completely different batter and the higher amperage batteries are approaching four hundred dollars just for the battery.


I've been using battery-powered yard tools for a few years now. String trimmer, blower, bush trimmer. The brand is Ego, sold at Home Depot. I haven't used their battery mower, as my TH's yard is small enough not to need a mower (just a string trimmer).

That said, I plan to remove the small bit of lawn that I do have and replace it with something of an English-style garden.


To go even more carbon neutral, try using a push mower:

https://www.scotts.com/en-us/products/tools-accessories/scot...

They are loads of fun! Your grass ends up looking better too.

(I have a small yard that was previously mowed using a string trimmer.)


In my neighborhood, 80% of the lawns are maintained by landscapers, we need battery powered lawn tools to be commercially viable in order to put a dent in the use of gas tools. I have a commercial grade gas landscaping mower myself. I tried replacing it with the ego battery powered mower, the power was adequate for single use, but the handling was awful compared to my gas mower, and I went back gas within 2 weeks.


DC is in the process of mandating electric leaf blowers... https://dcist.com/story/18/10/16/dc-gas-powered-leaf-blower-...

I've seen a few landscape crews using battery powered blowers and trimmers (not downtown, but near IAD). I have no idea how they manage the batteries.


When I bought my house last spring, I went for an electric mower. Unfortunately, my spouse's budget for yard tools made me not go for the best, and I got one that doesn't cut evenly(twin blades is a terrible design), and the batteries die too quickly for my 1/3 acre lot. I should have gone with a corded one. Since my neighbors were getting annoyed with how much I neglected my lawn, I bought a used gas mower. I look forward to when I can afford a robotic mower to deal with it, but in the meantime I'm going to turn a large portion of my lawn into garden, and build a fence so my neighbors aren't such busybodies about how long it is getting.


The performance and price of battery powered stuff like that just isn't there yet. All the cordless models are more expensive than economy brand gas equivalents and don't deliver nearly as much performance. It's like how electric cars were in the 90s. Corded stuff is a pain the butt for all non-stationary work and the price advantage isn't hit or miss depending on the tool you're looking for (small corded chainsaws are slightly cheaper than their gas equivalents but the inverse it true for lawmowers)


I once heard a broad transition to electric was tried, but they went back because people perceived the workers were just waving/pushing them around and not doing work without the gas engine noise. Electric tool companies need better sound designers.


> Electric tool companies need better sound designers.

The better alternative would be for society to realize that noise pollution can also be quite an issue, instead of insisting things need to be loud because "we like loud, it projects power!".


> doesn't produce anything in return

I get great enjoyment from my lawn, and my dog does too. In fact, I spend quite a bit of resources maintaining it so that it's a pleasure to use without getting covered in spurs. My lawn is my favorite surface on which to spend my time, and there are many, many others that get the same enjoyment from theirs.


Your neighborhood must be quite different from the one I grew up in, where people only ventured onto the grass to mow it, and those same patches were used as an excuse for dogs to be kept outside 24/7, howling through rain, snow or shine behind vinyl fences.

Myself, I quickly learned to avoid any lawn space because my skin would break out in small hives from touching it. I'm not sure if it's the grass species most commonly used, or the pesticides on it - but I know I wasn't the only one with such allergies.

I think most people here are not advocating for abolishing lawns like yours entirely. Instead, the consensus is that they should be optional, not enforced uniformly for aesthetic reasons. I'd add that what we should make mandatory is public outdoor spaces (with native species and plenty of shade) within easy walking distance of each house, so that someone might receive the kind of enjoyment you do without feeling like maintaining their own patch of green is the only way to get it. It might even help alleviate the sense of isolation acutely felt in a lot of suburbs.


My mother recently bought a new house and put in an artificial lawn. I didn't know what to think at first. It just went against "how things are supposed to be" in my mind, having grown up in northern Oregon where everything is (mostly) lush, green and "natural" looking. She's had it for 4 years now. She's never had to water it, never had to mow it and has never had to put chemicals on it. It looks great all year around. It feels nice. Not the nice "natural cool feeling" that you get with natural grass, but feels close enough. After a few minutes barefoot in it you forget it's not real. People stop their cars to get out and look. Some even get out and touch it. A few have even come up to the door to ask her about it. Needlessly to say, I've come around on this and think more people should do it. There is no need to dump hundreds of gallons of clean drinking water on a yard every year, or chemicals (which seem to be playing a part in bee population reduction), or noise from machines used by maintenance crews, or pollution from all of those machines. A lawn takes a LOT of work and resources.


I don't use a herbicide on my lawn - I didn't realise it was normal to do so

What's produced in return is a lawn that you can use - for all the purposes people use lawns. I'm not sure what's so ridiculous about this.


No snowflake blames itself on the avalanche. You may not use herbicide. You still now and create a monoculture. You probably water too. Add millions of you together and you have a problem.


No I don’t water it either. It rains in the UK often enough. It needs mowing and weeding and that’s it. The cut grass and weeds are used as compost.


Why would you water your lawn? Grass is almost impossible to kill (explicitly attacking it with herbicides aside). There is really no need.


Because there are lots of climates and many of them require constant watering to have a green lawn? Sprinkling systems are a huge business.


Sure. The grass certainly turns brown around here. But that is just a water conservation state for the grass. It doesn't mean it is dead. As soon as it does rain again, it will turn green again. That is not a reason to water a lawn. A brown lawn functions equally well as a green one. In fact better as you don't have the same need to cut it.


I imagine there are climates that are better for grass or certain species of grass that are very drought tolerant. However, in my experience, not watering a lawn will kill it. I have a few patches in my lawn that were killed this summer by lack of water due to a poorly designed sprinkler system.


The primary function of the lawn is decoration, though, and most people seem to prefer green grass.


Because in much of the world it dies and turns brown, which is considered unpleasant. Certainly lawns where I grew up (central California) needed it.

I despise lawns but there's a reason they're watered.


Remember that this is true for native grass to an area, and the first step to getting that perfect patch of green is to remove the native "weed" grass and replace it with some uniform species sold in every Lowes, from California to Kentucky.

Here in the SF Bay Area, we just went for about 7 months without a single rain drop, so one would absolutely need to water a species of grass that would never need watering in Kentucky.


That's the point. The original lawns were attached to mansions as a demonstration that the owner had fertile land that he didn't need to grow food on.


Well people enjoy their lawns. Why do they have to produce something?


People enjoyed watching criminals be torn apart by lions in ages past. That people enjoy something is hardly sufficient.

As a society we have to consider the amount of resources we put into, and damage caused by, all our pasttimes. Particularly for things which don't appear at all innate - maintaining lawns is by no means popular around the world, it's mostly a European diaspora thing. If it were stopped, it's doubtful most people would even remember them in a generation or two.


Do they?

Our whole neighborhood remained indoors 97% of the time because most days in the summer had temps of 95-100F. Every house nevertheless diligently watered their lawn, multiple times a day, to keep up a perfect shade of green. The one house that wouldn't would be shamed relentlessly until they straightened their act.

Our neighborhood did not "enjoy" its lawns. It was collectively petrified into maintaining them to avoid public scorn.


At the very least refusing to engage in wasteful and environmentally harmful activities shouldn't be illegal.


And then the exhaustion of it all urges us to take a vacation and get away to nature.


My husqvarna automower keeps me from wasting time. I haven't mowed my .3 acre lot in two years. So worth it.


I know, right? If I wanted green polygons I'd play Super Mario 64!


It's good for the economy. Creates a lot of jobs.


> I think the American suburban yard may be equally responsible with agriculture for a lot of this in the US.

There are over 900 million acres of farmland in the United States, so I'm going to guess this assertion (the "equally") is wrong.

It seems to me you're otherwise right about how we put our yards together, though. You didn't even mention how much water we often use to move our yards away from the native flora.


Good point, compared to 40 million for lawns. Maybe proportional to usefulness. ;)

And water is a huge issue too. The native plants thrive in wet and dry conditions without attention.


So there is an order of magnitude difference, but the other side of that is with farmland, pesticides are applied by professionals, trying to minimize cost. With yards, pesticides are applied (most often) by rank amateurs, who often know nearly nothing about proper application.


Calling farmers professionals as it relates to the conscious application of dangerous pesticides is a serious stretch. We're approving new pesticides at an unreal rate. These guys have no idea how this stuff works or its impact on the greater environment. They need to use it because plants and insects are becoming resistant to the old stuff and farms are in the business to make money. Externalities be damned.

Suburban lawn care has been going on for decades, using largely the same approach it always has. Mainly fertilizers applied once or twice a year if you bother to care. Broadleaf weed killers, maybe grub killer. The primary way to getting a nice lawn, though, is to overseed so often you choke out weeds. On the other side of the coin, agriculture is engaging in a broad spectrum application of herbacides, pesticides, etc with new formulas coming all the time. At an insane scale.

There is no comparison to yards. It's agriculture.


Where did that come from? Farmers are regulated, trained, and have oversight on chemical application. Most applications are done by farm service corporations that meticulously adhere to application schedules.

Whereas urban folks spray 10-100X the concentrations on a single dandelion that a farmer would be penalized for.


While I don't disagree with what you're saying, I'd like to point out that with suburban lawn maintenance, it wouldn't surprise me to see over-application of fertilizer and pesticide on the order of 10x actually needed.

I would expect that the harm to the environment per unit of area is greater for lawns than farmland. I'll have to look for studies that research this.


Farmers have strict regulation on application, and face penalties to misapply. While urban lawns have no regulation and no oversight. Its commonly believed in rural areas that urban pollution/runoff far outstrips what farms contribute


I'm curious about that definition of lawn, does it only apply to residence property or commercial spaces, athletic pitches, &c?


Most commercial buildings have extensive landscaping but try to limit huge patches of green grass as it's hard and expensive to maintain - unless they're using it as a signal for wealth and opulence (like a fancy hotel) or labour is really cheap.

If you've ever had a chance to run/play on modern artificial turf it's amazing. I think most facilities would love to switch to it but it's super expensive.


"Homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops."

- Jamie Rappaport Clark, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [circa 2000]

Source:

https://www.fws.gov/news/ShowNews.cfm?ID=1914520959


> Homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops.

That statement says a lot less than it is designed to sound like it says. I mean, it's literally true if the most pesticide happy homeowner with a postage stamp sized lawn saturates it with pesticide at a per-acre use 10 times that is typical of farms

What you want is “on average” comparison, not “up to”, which is only useful for deception.


My office window overlooks an intersection in Pleasanton CA [1] that looks like many in the city - wide streets, big grassy areas around the street, and carefully curated shrubs and trees past that. It's all very artificial. I can count maybe 10 plant species within view. Very few birds.

And it requires constant maintenance. Crews are here almost every day, driving mowers around, blowing and removing leaves and clippings, watering, spraying herbicide, etc. It strikes me as obscenely wasteful.

And for what? Nobody is picnicking on this grass. It's just an aesthetic choice that it seems like all of America has embraced - and no wonder everything is dying off. We're actively killing everything on this land that isn't the exact species of grass that was planted.

[1] https://www.google.com/maps/@37.6914552,-121.8947521,3a,75y,...


This goes hand in hand with the fact that its just ornaments around a landscape built for cars. We need to rework the land and our communities based on just humans walking about. Rip up the roads.


God, that is hideous.


Outside of the US, one thing I have trouble understanding is this idea that farmland is somehow natural. I talk to people who say they want to visit nature and then we go look at... sheep on grazing land. Not a damn thing natural about it. And then local councils destroy plants on the road verges because they're "untidy". Those verges were one of the last refuges for native insects and birds.

I think the place I live (Ireland) has been so completely denuded that people literally don't know what nature is. It looks like that will be the whole world in short order.


No offense but you're framing your situation as though you had created a garden of native plants when in reality all you did was let your yard be overrun with whatever would grow. In other words you neglected it, intentionally or otherwise.

Most of the plants in your photos are considered weeds. So by not pruning and selectively removing aggressive and invasive plants, you're actually increasing your neighbor's use of herbicides in their attempts to combat them.

Then you cried foul when local laws were used to compel you to clean up your messy yard that was a nuisance to others. You're relying on the "why can't everyone else just behave like me then we wouldn't have an issue" defense.


The fact that people consider native plants weeds is exactly the problem.


That's part of the problem but even a yard composed of "acceptable" plants can be over grown and unkempt. If you look at the OP's photos of his yard you'll see that it is just a mess of plants with no rhyme or reason.


> If you look at the OP's photos of his yard you'll see that it is just a mess of plants with no rhyme or reason.

I think it looks wonderful. 1000x better than the bland, sterile putting greens in front of boring mc mansions.


It's OP's property - why must OP's property conform to your rhyme or reason?


Believe me when I say that I have no love of my lawn but regardless of legality or fairness:

The OP agreed to the laws of the municipality when he moved into the home. If the house he purchased was part of a covenant or an HOA, then the sell was not allowed to sell to him unless he agreed to the terms of said covenant or HOA.

If the OP objected to or did not educate himself to any of those laws or rules prior to agreeing to them, that's his fault.


It seems like he took all of the photos in the link. That doesn't seem like a lazy homeowner who just can't be bothered to mow. Maybe he didn't hire a landscape designer and buy all his native plants from the local nursery, but I'm not getting the lazy hippie vibe (and I've seen those properties)


> It seems like he took all of the photos in the link. That doesn't seem like a lazy homeowner who just can't be bothered to mow.

Taking photos one day is not the equivalent to maintaining a yard for a day let alone a season. If you look at the three photos of the yard, not the close ups of flora and fauna, you'll see there's no plan or layout. The yard was just allowed to overgrow with plants.

https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Rv-0OmSiXcQ/WQdXlCWQNNI/AAAAAAAAA... https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-mX3B1jfVxkk/WQdevm0hYRI/AAAAAAAAA... https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-9olV716pCOI/WQdXOc14CYI/AAAAAAAAA...

Additionally having plants growing that close to the house traps moisture and doesn't allow the house to dry which can lead to issues with foundation and siding.

If the OP were truly maintaining the yard then he'd have pruned back the plants form the house.


In the midwest 20 years ago, we'd regularly see butterflies, bees, and many other insects. After I planted butterfly bushes there more came with dozens of butterflies and bees on them each day. Every year, though, the numbers decreased. I don't used any chemicals in my property.

A few years ago, the city started spraying everywhere for mosquitoes. The day after spraying, people frequently find a couple dead birds in their yard. One neighbor's bee hives were killed as well.

Lately, seeing one single butterfly a year is a rare event.


I have similar experiences.

In some European countries the government is pushing for softer herbicides and pesticides usage by public agencies. Where I live it's met with resistance all the way from 70 years old who use bleach on plants to get rid of slugs to workers who prefer splattering herbicides all over the walkway and in the gutter to burning herbs with some kind of small flame throwers.

People are completely mad here, spending most of their saturdays or sundays circling their garden on their huge lawnmower truck. It's a valley so there's a constant whirring noise from April to early November. There's a lot of education to do and frankly.. I believe it's getting way too late :/.


>In some European countries the government is pushing for softer herbicides and pesticides usage by public agencies. Where I live it's met with resistance all the way from 70 years old who use bleach on plants to get rid of slugs to workers who prefer splattering herbicides all over the walkway and in the gutter to burning herbs with some kind of small flame throwers.

This raises a curious question for me. My grandfather is from Ireland (Meaford, Canada now) and still an avid gardener. He swears by Murphy's Oil Soap (diluted, 2-4%) to deal with harmful insects like Spider Mites.

Does anybody have any more scientific insight on that? Mind, he uses it on a far smaller scale, mainly spraying his flowers, vegetables, and other garden plants with a small spray bottle. Not much of a lawn guy.


Hens will happily eat all your slugs, bleach will kill your plants instead.

Soap is used sometimes to get rid of some plagues (because many plages use wax to avoid dessication or deter predators and soap distroys this upper layer) but remains in the soil aren't good at long term. Of course you can't use any common insecticide, because spider mites aren't insects, but you can use (or support) mite predators that will munch on spider mites.

Spider mites hate the moisture and, if is in a pot, just spraying water repeatedly can help a lot, or even solve the problem.

In a non sprayed garden with enough access to water and welcomed predators, spider mites aren't so much trouble.


>Additionally lawns are an unnecessary waste of time for most people and have a large carbon footprint.

I made a serious attempt to do ANYTHING but a lawn. Here are the issues-

No grass= erosion. This + weeds makes a dirt yard impossible.

If you want to 'farm' there is tremendous maintenance involved

Turf is expensive, but might have been a solution.

More concrete= hotter. This is bad for the environment.

---

So is the solution to let native plants grow all over your yard? We did this for 1 year, but my wife ended this.


> So is the solution to let native plants grow all over your yard?

Yes, but that doesn't mean you have no discretion or control over what is growing and how. The key is that you want to choose things that require no supplemental watering or nutrients like most non-native lawn grasses do.

Choose native grasses that are well-adapted to your climate. This may mean dormant / brown periods of the year, but this is perfectly natural. There is a mental hurdle to clear about an aesthetic that isn't going to be achieved.

There are many native ground covers that are also available, and many that flower to provide habitat and support for animals. Both these and grasses can be mowed to an acceptable height.

Wherever possible, put in native wildflowers or shrubs/trees. These sustain other life and they look amazing.


I'm compromising with my wife and only mowing a small portion of the yard we have and I won't touch the rest. I might try and introduce some native wildflowers, like milkweed, though. We live in a more rural part of the country though so it's maybe easier to do such a thing here compared to a subdivision or something.


You could introduce all kinds of edible plants on your yard; some berry bushes, a small apple tree, raspberries. Don't garden, just rip out the stuff you don't want. Let the remaining plants find their place and time.

You'll have a nice little garden in a few seasons.


> So is the solution to let native plants grow all over your yard?

We're currently planting berry bushes, nuts and clover in large parts of our yard. It's fairly low-maintenance and as a bonus the clover is and excellent food source for our rabbits and chickens.


I used aggressive native plants from my area. These included Jerusalem artichokes, Indian Hemp, Joe Pye Weed, etc. in the sunny areas. Virginia knot weed, etc. in the shady areas. They colonized my yard very well and even kept the English Ivy at bay.

I had no issues with erosion. The plants lived for years and established rhizomes and extensive root systesms.


You can go for natural hard surfaces like stone, brick, gravel mixed with native plants and grasses. Native trees typically do a good job of crowding out the ground by consuming all the resources but will help fight erosion; trimming a tree every couple of years is less work than mowing twice a week.


Lawns are a major soil conservation and labor saving measure. They have a lot of qualities that suck but the alternative is more costly and requires quite a bit of work and skill. Any dummy can maintain a lawn or hire folks to maintain it for cheap.


That's more or less what we do. One section I seeded with grass and mow regularly. It's only around 50% grass now (after 10+ years), but it's short and green and looks like grass. Another section I cut with a scythe once a year in autumn. It looks cool in the summertime when it's in flower, in winter when it's cut down it just looks like the rest of the garden


>>The use of herbicides and pesticides is completely unregulated.

In my country(India) this is already a very big problem. Apart from the impact on insects, pests etc. Its also a big problem for Humans ourselves. There have been villages full of people with cancer. In fact there are even trains going from villages to cities, name like cancer trains.

Apparently this all had to be done, to tackle India's growing population problem.

One more thing that no body is talking about in this case. Over population of earth, and effects it's causing on resources we humans consume. That's beyond all that Carbon we venting it in the air.

How long before we see some big problems(famines, food shortages) showing up?


I’m really interested about the whole towns coming down with cancer and “cancer trains” you described as I haven’t heard about this before. Would you be willing to share some of the village names or possibly a link to local news coverage I can use to research further? Even if it’s not English-language is fine for news-stories I don’t mind machine-translating it. Thanks in advance and thanks also for adding to this conversation.


Could not agree more. History will look back on lawn maintenance as stupid and meaningless waste of space.

I live in FL and am required by my HOA to maintain my St Augustine lawn. Costs me $115 for maintenance (large corner lot), $45 a month for fertilizer and lawn pest maintenance, and another $100 every 3 months for pest control perimeter around my house. For what? A toxic lawn I barely use.

Been a big fan of reading on permaculture lately. I'm hoping shit hits the fan enough that I can just convert my lawn one day into a food forest. Considering moving further into the outskirts so I can have more freedom with my yard.


Sorry to hear that. I guess in a sense I am lucky as the ordinances only restrict height not species. I suspected HOA's were worse. I'm with you. Hopefully this madness will end.


> The use of herbicides and pesticides is completely unregulated.

Every bag of the stuff says, "It is a violation of federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling." Sounds like regulation to me. You don't have to ask permission to put it on your lawn, but you've got plenty of rope to hang yourself with a warning label like that.

> I had a small native plant yard that attracted hundreds of pollinators and arachnids. I was treated like and criminal forced to cut most of it down.

This is a shame. Native yards much more beneficial than monospecies turf everywhere.


> Every bag of the stuff says, "It is a violation of federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling." Sounds like regulation to me. You don't have to ask permission to put it on your lawn, but you've got plenty of rope to hang yourself with a warning label like that.

I meant in terms of application. I did try to find ordinances on this at the state and municipal level. They may exist, but even so is there any oversight?


But are those regulations enforced is the wuestion. Without oversight and enforcement, the regulation doesn’t exist.

What does a lawn need herbicides for anyway? You’re not trying to macimize yield ...

Another question is what does that label say. Is it “Don’t spray in eyes” or something like “Don’t use more than X per square foot” or even something cool like “Only for agricultural use where actual crops are grown”


It has all sorts of specific instructions about how much to spread, how soon before/after rain, how close to waterways & drains, sweep up any that gets on sidewalks, etc. Tons of words. Also in Spanish.


There’s more than one definition of regulation.

One being “the act of controlling or supervising”. If you define regulation as the act of making rules? Then yeah there’s not much to talk about.

But if we’re talking about controlling, throttling, or supervising, we aren’t seeing much of that.


Having some words written somewhere is hardly regulating anything. Regulation requires control.


> Additionally lawns are an unnecessary waste of time for most people and have a large carbon footprint

I'd be curious to see data and analysis on lawn carbon footprint. For my lawn, everything I've been able to find suggests it is a negative carbon footprint.

I don't put any chemicals or fertilizer on it, so no carbon impact either way there.

I do not water it, so nothing either way there, either.

I do mow during the summer, with a gas powered push mower. The total gas used per year is under 1 gallon. Let's go with 1 gallon, although it is probably actually closer to around 0.6 or 0.7. A few different results on Google tell me that this will result in about 17 pounds or 8 kg of CO2 emission per year.

I haven't found much on how much CO2 a lawn can take out. What I have found was always about "well-managed" lawns, in a context where "well-managed" meant a lawn that is heavily watered, fertilized, and mowed. Those sequester almost 1000 pounds of carbon per acre per year. Note that was carbon, not CO2. That would be around 3400 pounds of CO2.

But you'd only get 3400 pounds of CO2 a year per acre if you are keeping the lawn constantly growing (hence the "well-managed" part), and the heavy watering, fertilizing, and mowing to do that will have have a high carbon cost.

My lot is about 1/5th acre, and my lawn only covers between 1/3 and 1/2 of it. Going with 1/3, then if my lawn were a "well-managed" (e.g., heavily watered, fertilized, mowed lawn), that would be about 230 pounds a year of CO2 reduction.

But it is not "well-managed", so I'm not getting maximum growth out of it. Still, as long as I'm getting at least around 8% of the growth a "well-managed" lawn would get, it looks like I'm coming out ahead, with the lawn sequestering more CO2 than the mowing produces.


I'm guessing from your description that your lawn has probably largely reverted to less needy species. In which case, they don't need that maintenance to grow and you are probably beating that 8% pretty handily.

My front lawn right now is full of daisies. I have been purposely not mowing sections of it, because they're covered in bees and I can't bring myself to leave them nothing! Anyway, like you, I put in zero chemicals, but that stuff still grows well above 8% of the chemical-fed grass a few houses down.


Great write-up on your natural suburban yard. What other consider 'messy' I consider natural and beautiful.

Our small backyard has a section where we let native plants grow. This year a handful of thistles were growing there, which attracted a few European goldfinches (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_goldfinch). Was really pleased to see them, first time I saw them in our area!

It saddens me that people consider a garden with thistles growing as 'messy', and prefer cultivated plants that need to be bought at a garden center. Plants native to the area will provide a much better habitat for local wildlife which results in a much more interesting garden, according to my definition of interesting :P


Brief history of lawns for anyone interested.

http://www.thegameoffew.com/blog/2017/9/17/what-front-lawns-...


"I was treated like and criminal forced to cut most of it down." By the city? By the state? In what location?


what the hell, how is it legal for anybody to tell you what to do with your land?


"Your land" as your own personal little utopia is a fantasy and fiction that's never existed in civilized society and whose continued reference as some sort of ideal is naive at best.


Outside of your 100+ acre "compound" in the middle of nowhere, restrictions on the aesthetics of your property are the norm, ranging from reasonable "you can't pave your front yard and use it as a parking lot" to the extreme "you may choose from these three shades of beige for exterior colors".


"Homeowner's association": restrictive covenants that go with the property purchase.

Originally in America these were often for racial discrimination. Doing so directly was outlawed, but doing so indirectly remains a major function of them.


It's often a voluntary agreement. A developer builds a collection of houses, then sells them under the condition that the owner must join the home owner association set up for those houses. The idea is that the association forces its members to do upkeep, so that the homes don't collectively lose value for being in a "bad neighborhood".


It's very often a city ordinance. I've posted this before, here's the link to my home city's lawn gestapo:

http://www.minneapolismn.gov/inspections/report/inspections_...


That example picture looks perfectly reasonable. If there were a few more flowers it'd be even better.


Get a property in a city and start a tire fire.


>It sickens me when I see workers with those sprayer packs or trucks that look like small chemical plants.

I hate insects. They are often annoying and sometimes outright dangerous.

We live in the same Earth so we'll have to reconcile our points of view.


Quite a lot of insects are harmful, but no insects means no birds; and some insects are vital pollinators in ecosystems.


A lot of places will confiscate your property and potentially throw you in prison if you don't grow and maintain a lawn our laws were written in the 1950s when nobody heard the word carbon footprint.


This is false.


OT, but as I grow older I find it harder and harder to read those hyper-storified newspaper "stories". I don't care about the life story of all those people and their kids and how and why they were riding a bike in the forest 30 years ago.

It's supposed to be a great progress in journalism to put people first and make stories relatable, but it's gone too far -- and it always sound the same.

Bugs population is in sharp decline, here are the numbers, here are what scientists think are the causes, and the possible consequences, and the possible remedies -- is what I want to read.

Sorry for the rant.


I just immediately close the tab on any article that starts with "[person's name I don't recognize] was [doing something not directly related to the article's title]". If it's a topic of particular interest (like this one), I'll come here to see if there are comments.


Pretty much what I did. I tried skimming a bunch but it was paragraphs of narrative crap. I use to read articles in The Atlantic when I was younger, but I've grown tired of this long form journalism.

One thing I do enjoy are long form podcasts, because I can listen to them on the train or on long drives.


I do the same thing every time and I am glad to see there are so many others who feel the same way.


Same here.. i found almost all nytimes articles cited in HN are always overwhelming, if that is the correct wording.


> I don't care about the life story of all those people and their kids and how and why they were riding a bike in the forest 30 years ago.

I couldn't agree more. I find wikipedia to be the most terse and to the point way of consuming information (that is still accessible for me as a non-scientist). It's not always as current as I'd like but it's better than this. It would be nice if journalism could go back to being journalism.


"I don't care about the life story of all those people and their kids and how and why they were riding a bike in the forest 30 years ago."

Actually, the New York Times is particularly bad about this - not only about gratuitous background but also about gratuitous attribution ... very common to see an inch of column preceded by over an inch of attribution of a quote or whatever.

I also find it very distracting and difficult to read.

If you're interested, the Financial Times is the opposite - very concise, very pointed and even restricts front page stories to only their front page space. You can read more deeper in the issue, but the front page item is a self contained story with no page jumps.


I have to agree. I read 4 paragraphs and I still haven't read anything I consider pertinent. The fact is that story-telling is powerful...but done wrong it's very boring. Nothing is worse than "back story" on people we don't yet care about it and that's how modern journalists seem to think this works.

Give the facts up front. Lay out the situation. Root the people and the individuals in an important context. Then - maybe - we'll be interested in their lives.


I agree, though I'm in my early 20's.

News stories are often exhausting to read now, they require filtering out hypersensationalism and identifying what's fluff and what's not.

I personally wish more news was written like copy, and followed style guides focused on making information easy to find and consume.


Yours isn't the first time I've seen this perspective. It's definitely not just you. That said, as I grow older I find I enjoy this more and more.

To make a case for this particular instance, as others have mentioned, this is a magazine article, not a newspaper article, or a scientific publication. The article isn't _just_ about bug population in decline. There are a number of major and minor themes woven throughout. I feel like the narrative frame works to support that.


I see your point, but I disagree. I find that the narrative elements provide context to the data that helps me (and likely others) better grasp the personal impact of these changes.

Additionally, as another commenter noted, this is a magazine article, not a news story. The format is intentionally different.

That said, I think I've noticed the elements that you complain about in more traditional news stories as well. I just think that they're more acceptable in this format.


Is it context or appeal to emotion?


This is what I hate about watching the Olympics. It is 30 minutes sappily listing every tragic event in an athlete's life, and 1 minute of competition. If you didn't have anything to overcome (aside from relentlessly training for decades to become the best in the world) you probably won't be covered.


My problem is just not having the time to read such long texts. So yeah, I agree, just get to the damn point and give me the facts!

On the other hand, anecdotal evidence suggests for many people telling an emotional story about someone they can emphasize with is the most effective way to change their opinion, and as such necessary for that audience.


Thank you and I agree. It feels like New York Times authors are paid by the word. If you don't like journalists trying to turn every article into a narrative I suggest reading the WSJ and simply staying out of the opinion section.


Totally agree. I got through that first story and thought to myself “damn this is going to take way too long to get to the meat”. And like you say, these stories all have the same narrative styling so it’s not even entertaining anymore.

When and why is this a thing? And why isn’t it more compelling or dense?


> hyper-storified

I've been complaining about this for a while. I can't stand it. And thank you for giving it that name, I was looking for something to call it.


As a counterpoint, I'm in my 40s and I'm moving in the opposite direction. In my younger years, I'd be annoyed by all of the 'fluff'. These days, I rather enjoy it, at least for some kinds of stories.

It might be because it's harder for me to remember things as I get older, but if I learn something with additional context, it's more likely to stick.


It's a magazine article, not an inverted pyramid news story. Different style. It might not be your cup of tea, but you're probably the minority in terms of the overall NYTimes magazine audience. The Hacker News demographic tends to be pretty non-representative about things like this.


Exactly, then they wonder why readership is declining.


> here are what scientists think

from the article:

> For some scientists, the study created a moment of reckoning. “Scientists thought this data was too boring,” Dunn says. “But these people found it beautiful, and they loved it. They were the ones paying attention to Earth for all the rest of us.” [..] Amateurs have long provided much of the patchy knowledge we have about nature. Those bee and butterfly studies? Most depend on mass mobilizations of volunteers willing to walk transects and count insects, every two weeks or every year, year after year. [..] The Krefeld society is volunteer-run, and many members have other jobs in unrelated fields

They don't have anything pre-packaged, it's not so easy, your criticism of the article may be valid but overall your demands are unreasonable.

They are raising an alarm for people to do something. If people don't want to hear what the alarm is about because they want the thing that they need to help with to be already done for them we are in trouble. Don't just say what you want to read, ask yourself what you could write, maybe. Make the executive summary you want to see in the world, right?

As for the possible consequences and remedies:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/03/stop-bio...

> The world must thrash out a new deal for nature in the next two years or humanity could be the first species to document our own extinction, warns the United Nation’s biodiversity chief.

> Ahead of a key international conference to discuss the collapse of ecosystems, Cristiana Pașca Palmer said people in all countries need to put pressure on their governments to draw up ambitious global targets by 2020 to protect the insects, birds, plants and mammals that are vital for global food production, clean water and carbon sequestration.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07183-6

> Numerous studies are revealing that Earth’s remaining wilderness areas are increasingly important buffers against the effects of climate change and other human impacts. But, so far, the contribution of intact ecosystems has not been an explicit target in any international policy framework, such as the United Nations’ Strategic Plan for Biodiversity or the Paris climate agreement.

> This must change if we are to prevent Earth’s intact ecosystems from disappearing completely.

Another commenter posted this:

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/am...

> A new study finds that frogs, toads, salamanders and other amphibians in the U.S. are dying off so quickly that they could disappear from half of their habitats in the next 20 years. For some of the more endangered species, they could lose half of their habitats in as little as six years.

I'm no scientist, but I wouldn't be completely shocked by a connection between that and insect decline.


It just feels like indulgence on the part of the reporter. They really need to do a better job at TL;DR. I thought that the idea with reporting was that you were supposed to deliver all the information, and then iteratively peel back layers if the reader kept reading? That art seems lost.


Sounds like you're considering reading a task to be completed and not journey to enjoy?

There's nothing wrong with that of course, just different modes. It's kind of akin to the difference between reading fiction and non-fiction. Some people just don't like reading fiction and vice-versa.

I like a slow, personable, factual, article like this. I get really bored if I read too many scientific journals, and this helps me actually relate to the data as a person.


I like reading slower personable stories, but I generally get that from fiction or from an article that's _about_ a person's experience. I get really frustrated when scientific articles get too bogged down in stuff like that.


I remember being a kid in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s. Whenever we went to a pond or lake in the woods, there would be little frogs and salamanders everywhere in the water. Now there aren't and I find this mass extinction right before my eyes really, really disturbing. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/am...


I grew up on a small family farm in Virginia that was named after the frogs that resided in and around the small spring at the base of a hill. At the peak of summer, the ground would "hop to life" as frogs jumped out of your way. Now, you could go the entire summer without seeing a single one. It troubles me deeply every time I visit in the warm months.


Thanks for the link, I hadn't thought about my similar experience and that's terrifying to see in a lifetime.


Going to a Pacific Northwest beach today vs 30-40 years ago, You may also notice a lack of seagulls on beaches. I remember Kalaloch on the Olympic Peninsula used to have thousands of the vermin. Go there now, and you are lucky to see 10 in an entire day.


While I find all of this stuff totally disturbing - claiming that you'd be lucky to see 10 seagulls at Kalaloch Beach is insane.

I used to live in Olympia and would visit Kalaloch/Ruby Beach on a monthly basis - even camped there a couple weekends ago. There are seagulls(and Bald Eagles, and even Pelicans) all around there to this day. I even have photographic evidence(shot on a medium format toy camera right in front of Kalaloch Lodge earlier this year): https://i.imgur.com/hMwDuXs.jpg

I'm not sure what these birds' patterns are wrt to collecting food but a cursory dig in my photos shows that I've captured pictures of anywhere from a handful to hundreds of birds on this strip of coast on different occasions over the course of the last year and a half or so.


To elaborate on my observation: aprox 30 years ago in the summer you would see thousands of seagulls on Kalaloch. Perhaps 50-100 in eye view at all times. Over the last few years I've gone to Kalaloch in summer you are lucky to see more than 2 at a time.

Seagulls still exist obviously, but there numbers are drastically smaller. As they are basically rats with wings, perhaps it's just better trash management, but the observation still stands.


You said something far more alarming and also flat out wrong - that's what I'm refuting. This 2 or 10 or whatever tiny amount of birds at a time thing you are claiming to experience...doesn't match my experience whatsoever. I can provide more photographs if you don't believe me.

I can't speak to the pacific northwest 30 years ago so I'll take your word for it that there were more birds on the coast then.


Sorry you don't believe me.

Here's my own photo evidence from South Beach in July 2017. https://photos.app.goo.gl/JzporX8XmFFswgSu8

I didn't go in 2018, but 2016 and 2017 I was there for about a week. same empty beaches both trips.

You being there in Nov may be why you see seagulls, I never have been there in winter.

I don't have any photos handy from the 1980's to scan, but it truly is a stark difference.


In the case of seagulls, it may be better trash management since they love to strive on the stuff...


exactly what I was wondering! My hatred of them stems from being pooped on as a kid every summer. Perhaps thats why I remember them so well.


Plausibly one of the Horsemen of the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocene_extinction .

Edit: Actually, I regret being flippant with this. I find this development gravely troubling.


Biomass of mammals on Earth as of 2018 - Livestock, mostly cattle and pigs (60%) - Humans (36%) - Wild animals (4%)

Wow.


Keep in mind we are able to sustain our livestock populations beyond what a natural ecosystem for the same area could support.

What would be more interesting is to see how the natural mammal biomass has changed.


Reading this in the NYT this morning, added to other coming global disasters, it occurred to me that given there isn't a whole lot I can do, my only regret is that I won't live long enough to see the end of the movie.

Choke ourselves with CO2? Kill all the insects and the crops die off? (Maybe that was the disaster in _The Road_.) Something else even worse that we're currently fucking up, and don't even know it yet? Growing up, I thought it was going to be nuclear war, but I'm starting to think it will be not with a bang, but a whimper. But unfortunately, I can't flip to the last chapter. I just want to know how it ends. :-)


> Choke ourselves with CO2? If you look at the units of the Keeling Curvy [1] you will notice that we are around 410 ppm of CO2. The PEL is 5000 ppm [2], so no, we won't choke soon especially because plants grow faster[3] with more CO2 so there is a negative feedback loop (to some extend).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keeling_Curve

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide

[3] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ask-the-experts-d...


Your second link says that 1000ppm CO2 has significant negative effects on human cognition after only 2.5 hours exposure.

Your third link says that while increased CO2 in isolation makes plants grow faster, the negative effects that come with it would overwhelm any positive effects. Negative effects include drought, heat stress, invasive insects and disease, and increased forest fires.

It also says that for wild plants that don't get artificial fertilizer, availability of materials like nitrogen limits their growth regardless of CO2 availability.


It was more a figure of speech rather than a real concern that we will literally poison ourselves with high CO2 concentrations. A more literal statement would probably be "fry ourselves with CO2", but didn't have the same punch, IMO.


> my only regret is that I won't live long enough to see the end of the movie.

Wow, that's a new perspective! Never looked at it this way. I've been pretty depressed about the whole climate situation. This attitude is a good way to cheer yourself up.


Although, I must add, it's hard to be humorous about this when one has children.


Unfortunately this attitude is part of the reason why the old people who run the world won't do anything about it.


Easy there, young feller. I'll put my lifetime carbon footprint up against yours any day of the week. My fellow other old people won't do anything about it because money, don't fool yourself (nor absolve your own self of responsibility). Attitude has little to do with it. It just so happens that those at the top with profits to protect are primarily, well, old.


Unfortunately this attitude of assuming that old people are running the world is why young people don't do things that matter (e.g. voting).


Being chill about something is not equivalent to being apathetic. And cheering yourself up does not preclude you from doing something about the problem. I definately don’t believe the attitude of people-who-run-the-world and mine are comparable.


> my only regret is that I won't live long enough to see the end of the movie.

Unless you’re very elderly, I think there’s a good chance you will.


A good chance humans will be extinct or killed off enough for civilization to end in the next 70 years? Highly unlikely.

Even worst case global warming scenarios would just cull the population back a hundred years or so.


"Just"


Yep, scary but still nowhere near extinction.


55, and I plan to see the start of the third act (which is arguably, umm, now), but I'm confident I won't get to see the credits roll. For the sake of everyone else, OMG I hope I don't, at least.


I wonder whether there might not also be additional factors that we have not considered. For example, insect viruses. We know that when human populations mixed between continents upwards of 95% of one population vanished due to disease. Very few people study insect diseases (and are usually just happy that a 'pest' has been killed), and there are so many species it would be a nearly impossible task to study them all. Globalization is now mixing members of all species and their diseases with them. It would not surprise me if part of this drastic decline was also due to massively virulent diseases sweeping through completely unprepared populations just as European diseases did to the indigenous populations of the Americas.


Possible... But we know from a previous pesticide problem - DDT - just how disastrous a single chemical can be. And that was in the seventies: Big Ag has only gotten bigger since. I think agriculture has to be treated as the main cause unless definitive evidence to the contrary is produced. (And at the scales we're talking about, that evidence should be pretty easy to turn up, if it exists...)


this is some really weak reasoning, lol. it most likely has many causes. as others have said elsewhere, it impacts rural uncultivated areas like rainforests as well


I think we could fix this before it's too late. Anectdata, but I have my own yard, and a big chunk of it is now overgrown with strawberries (it basically looks like ivy, so the neighbors think it's fine). Insects love that patch of the yard. Combined with a handful of "wild" areas where I let the natives and wildflowers grow untended all season, my yard was swarming with fireflies, June bugs, butterflies, random pollinators I've never seen before and the occasional chipmunk.

None of my neighbor's yards are remotely close to the biodiversity I have. My neighbors all spray for weed and mosquito control. If we mandated that a certain portion of our green spaces had to be reserved for insect and bird life, if we mandated a certain portion be meadows, basically, unsprayed, untreated, untouched, I think it'd go a long way to improving things.


I forget where I was reading about this but it was a trucker commenting on this. He had been driving trucks since the 70's supposedly and everyone was saying how there are no bugs on the windshields. He said he noticed that it came in waves. Some years, tons of bugs, others none. Now I know this is some unverified person on the internet that I can't find the source to, but it was interesting to hear if true.


Well, I grew up in northern Ontario and we were talking about it at my family reunion and EVERYBODY remarked how few bugs there were these days compared to when we were kids. June Bugs, moths, grasshoppers ... every species has been hit. And this is all across Ontario; Kenora to Toronto, Sault Ste. Marie to Ottawa.


Same. I spent summers there too. Anywhere close to humans has been slammed. I used to have trouble sleeping because of how loud the frogs were at the pond by the lake. There were tens of thousands of them. Might be a hundred at the same pond today.

The Anthropocene isn't going to last.


Or crickets! I can't remember the last time I heard a cricket let alone the steady din of a field full of them.


That really is accurate to all animal (humans notwithstanding) populations.

Personal anecdote:

I live in the Great Lakes region. Every spring Fish Flys [1] would swarm over every exterior surface and especially congregate near light sources. Some years were worse then others, and one particularly bad year I had to take a snow-shovel to clear the gas-station I worked at because the cars (and us workers) were slipping on the carpet that their bodies made. The piled-mass of bodies was as big as a snow-bank.

And other years would pass and I would hardly notice that the 'season' had come & gone.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayfly


I don’t know if there’s a reason that they’re bucking the trend but I live in the Great Lakes region as well and the population of eagles is doing crazy good. I’d never seen one before the year 2000 or so and now see then probably weekly. I realize eagles are not insects but just an observation on a wild animal population that seems to be doing well.


Probably true on small enough scales, but this seems to be a much more large scale phenomenon (based on the article it's international & multi-decade)


I wonder if it has anything to do with that intense extended cold snap we had last winter? I seem to recall it was record setting and it happened near the end of the winter.


I like how the conversation here degenerated into arguments about watering your lawn; something which isn't really done in Germany, where this phenomenon was first noticed.

FWIIW I noticed the lack of bugs mostly by noticing Spain seems to still have a lot of bugs sticking to the windshield (not so in Germany). Also the total lack of lightning bugs when I moved back to New England after two decades.


There is not one mention of glyphosate (or Roundup) in this article. Why?

If I had to bet on one overriding cause of this, it's glyphosate.


The 80% insect loss is also documented in protected tropical rainforest, in a country where pesticide use has plummeted.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18222888


Glyphosate is a herbicide. Why blame it when there are dozens of insecticides used in agriculture?


There's recent reporting that Glyphosate affects insect gut bacteria.

https://cen.acs.org/environment/pesticides/Glyphosate-disrup...

I think the larger point being, the more chemicals we insert into the environment without a holistic understanding of their interactions and impact on various ecosystems, the more we run the risk of collateral damage.


...and insects have no interest in plants.


To my understanding, the best guess for tropical biomass loss is the change in temperature. Bugs can't tolerate temperatures beyond a very specific region to which they are adapted to.

That's not to say agricultural chemicals would not play a role in other geographic regions.


What is your reference that glyphosate is more toxic to insects than other pesticides? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyphosate#Glyphosate_alone


I live in northern Italy and cannot confirm this thesis and I would say even the opposite for my region. I never noticed so many insect than now and every year are coming new species. The population of this new species is multiplying rapidly!


I just drove across central Italy from Rome to the Adriatic--mostly at night on the Autostrada--and got maybe two bug strikes on my windshield. That seems pretty thin to me.


I know it because we have a farm at home and I see the diversity of insects constantly and the amout of some new species causes problems in the farms


What you are saying is literally no different than, "it's so cold outside, I thought there was supposed to be global warming!"


They specifically said that it wasn't that way for their region. Which could be useful info...if this is occurring at different rates in different areas, we might be able to more easily pinpoint the causes.


‘They’ - we ruin our language ...


Can this be explained due to changed land usage? For example [1]? Anecdotaly, I experience huge differences. The wild places seems to be humming as 20 years ago but there are less and less wild places.

[1] http://archive.is/UUgzj

Edit: Improved English.


It's a problem for sure, but it's not the problem. It's not like there's just one thing that we're changing in a way that effects ecosystems.


Strangely I've been reading the opposite should be occurring: https://www.uvm.edu/gund/news/global-warming-more-insects-hu...

Global warming should be increasing insect metabolism and their populations.

I think it's very possible that we actually don't know what's happening, or if our solutions are making things worse as we try to engineer nature back to what we believe to be the "natural state." The only thing we can do is try to be as clean as possible, but I often wonder if what we find as solutions now are just going to cause massive problems in the future. There is no way to really tell.


Global warming/climate change is, above all, one result of an experiment of unprecedented scope. "What happens to this planet when we release vast quantities of heat trapping material into the air?"

This is the very first time we've run this experiment, and the experiment is ongoing.

In other words, there are and will continue to be enormous uncertainties about the details of what's ahead of us.

> if our solutions are making things worse as we try to engineer

As what one might call a 'climate change alarmist', going back a couple of decades now, I hear you and I don't necessarily disagree. I am far less eager to push forward with, for example, geoengineering and other grand responses than my fellow climate change 'true believers', simply because of how uncertain all of this is.

Having said that, we as a civilization need to increase all manner of related research 100x or 10,000x, as soon as possible.

In the same way that we have been forced to directly manage all kinds of natural resources because of our actions (for example: deer populations), so also will we be likely required to directly manage our atmosphere in various ways.

But we need to be really fucking careful about it.


In case you were as annoyed as me by the verbosity:

"[A] 2014 review in Science tried to quantify these declines by synthesizing the findings of existing studies and found that a majority of monitored species were declining, on average by 45 percent."


Another thing that strikes me is that this 'science' comes from informal~ groups of passionated people. No market to be seen here. Yet it's the foundation of our lives..


In an ecological sense, what are the downsides of humanity killing itself off in the very near future? It seems like nothing but a net-positive for the rest of life residing on earth.


On a long enough timeline, this world will face one extinction event after another: an ice age that covers our hemisphere, world killer astroid strike, super volcano eruption, etc. It is Human ingenuity that stands a chance of preventing or mitigating some of this. Maybe it will be preserving some level of biodiversity - even it if is just DNA samples.


So what you're saying is, "in an ecological sense" you're fine with it if my children die of starvation? Well good for you.

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