I recently came across a 1997 paper called: "Producing and Consuming Chemicals: The Moral Economy of the American Lawn". They cite a higher per hectare usage for residential over agriculture. We need to get rid of our lawns they are literally destroying the planet and they are greenhouse gas emitters when you factor in gas powered mowers and leaf blowers. Fertilizer emits nitrogen oxides that are potent greenhouse gases.
The paper is interesting as it talks about how lawns are marketed. Unfortunately lawns are a multibillion dollar industry. If we are going to fight climate change and environmental degradation, we need to seriously rethink letting business needs take priority over the environment and not just for lawns.
We need to allow people to have native plant yards. I've seen great results with insects. Unfortunately it's illegal where I live and probably most non-rural places. In order to allow this would mean changing state and local ordinances across the US. I honestly don’t think that will happen until it’s too late. By then lawns will be the last thing we will care about.
I really believe that one relatively simple and cosmetic personal choices we make can have a huge impact on our local environment, and by extension the broader one.
Luckily my city's ordinances have a provision for a "natural lawn" made up of native grasses and plants that can be extra tall. I intend to turn my front yard into one to reduce how much mowing I need to do.
What the hell?
I assume simply concreting over it for more parking space would be fine though.
Most UK streets will have a property or two where the garden does whatever it is that gardens do when completely ignored for a decade. Or with meadow or wildlife friendly planting, maybe intentionally including weeds.
I love this. All over HN American folks talk now and then about how govt should keep out of things, and how that works so much better than in that terrible interfering socialist place, Europe. You regulate your front lawns and grass height. There's probably an ANSI standard for them. Sorry. ;)
It's much easier to tame a yard in a climate that's cold half the year and dark 3/4 of it.
Seattle sits right next to the only temperate rainforest in the world, though. The sheer amount of plant life there is something to behold, and it doesn't get cold there all that long.
You might be interested in the section "Global distribution".
We would have the same mess if we didn't mow. Things grow like crazy for six months here
>357,023,500 acres of cropland in the United States. - https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/land...
40 million acres for lawns in the US (2005), 357 million acres of land for crops (2007). However it is very surprising that we use significantly more land for lawns than for corn.
This reminds me of a thread in my local suburban community's Facebook group. Someone was complaining about his dog repeatedly eating some small mushrooms growing in the backyard of his newly bought home and getting sick. The backyard was wildish, had flowers and some patches of tall grass, rocks etc... It actually looked pretty good. The whole thread was about herbicide recommendations. He ended up killing most of his vegetation and finally decided on 'installing' a lawn. A sterile all-American golfcourse-like green. All so that his dog can no longer eat mushrooms. Fucking idiots.
Where I see the big problem is the standard practice of treating entire lawns with fertilizer and pesticide mixes. It's such a strange practice to me.
That stuff is nasty. It's actually intended to be nasty. And the side effect is that it kills a lot of animals and plants indiscriminately. Also, this stuff is possibly not that great for human consumption either. There seems to be a lot of lobbying around this topic and a lot of debate about what is considered OK here. But I'd say most people would probably opt out of having any of this stuff in their food, just on the off chance it might decrease their chances of getting some cancer, genetic defects in their offspring, etc.
Modern organic farming can actually get great yields by more clever use of soil and land and does not need pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides. There is a lot of high tech stuff facilitating this including drones, water management, use of herds of animals to manage soil (planned grazing), etc. And then there is hydroponic farming as well. Progress in this space is very rapid.
Phasing these out and restricting the use of poison in farming would probably be a good thing. This cannot be done over night but there are plenty of farms that have switched to being fully organic while increasing yields and profits. It can be done and it requires doing things differently. Now is a good time to start doing much more of that. And we might actually restore some arid lands to healthy condition in the process which would not hurt our planet either.
Maybe things have changed, but I suspect if they have everybody would have switched already. Obviously getting rid of poisons is a great target, but I've never heard from anyone in the business that it's even a possibility.
Monoculture tends to encourage everything we don't want. Needing fertilisers or rotation, pesticides, disease has many acres to spread easily through etc.
There's good organic and bad, and efficient and inefficient., but look into polyculture. An old mixed farm would mix crops and sometimes livestock in the same space. The yields were lower, but there were often more yields across the farm to compensate. Thus the yield difference is often not as advertised. Sympathetic planting could actively reduce likelihood of disease and pests. Not everything scales to large farms.
It's also expensive because it's expensive. People expect and treat organic as a premium product. Supermarkets charge accordingly, in no small part because they can. If less industrial approaches to agriculture became widespread, prices would fall. Though unlikely to remove the difference completely.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyculture (Doesn't consider organic polyculture)
Organic is certainly a premium product, and where there are consumers that can afford it, it will thrive. Unfortunately it seems to me that right now the cost to produce it is simply too high for it to come out of that premium category and be the norm.
You're probably right about organic right now, but before the recession, all the UK supermarkets were going crazy over organic throughout the 00s. Organic versions of most things became available and prices fell to a point where some were only 10% or 20% more. The trend was clear enough, but stopped dead by 2008.
Carrots for sale in Ireland in one of the most popular supermarkets - https://www.tesco.ie/groceries/product/search/default.aspx?s... ... organic ones are more or less the same price as non-organic
I'm sure there are many other things one could look at, but in general at the stores where I shop it's around that.
ETA: Logically, the comment doesn't make sense anyway -- farmers like money, they're not ideologically hanging on to spraying their crops with unnecessary poisons because they want to.
Things are definitely changing. 'Modern' mono-cultures are based on the state of the art fifty years ago when it was acceptable to just blindly plow, fertilize, and spray many acres of land without even bothering to measure the impact. It works, for a while, but it is not long term sustainable and there is a lot of farm land turning into barren desert world wide due to decades of mismanagement, abuse, and exploitation. The notion that you need to spend a lot on fertilizers, misc. poisons, genetically modified seeds and machines to plow (aka. destroy the soil) your land in order to farm is maybe a bit outdated.
In the US, stopping corn subsidies would do wonders. Most corn farmers would probably adapt to more profitable and less damaging crops. Less corn-syrup in the food chain would be a good thing. Outside the US this is not a common ingredient at all. Also, ethanol is a scam. Abusing farmland for fuel production is insane. Pull the subsidies on that and it that whole market will collapse.
If you are interested, a few interesting videos:
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpTHi7O66pI, Allan Savory on planned grazing as a solution to desertification and a possible new way of cattle farming to feed the planet.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC_Y1ZTZXQ4, Regreening the planet
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kV5LAXZ5HHw, Vertical Farming
- https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18262496, The rise of the Robot Farmer
You can find much more of this stuff using your favorite search engine. Not all of it is tree-hugger propaganda; though some of it obviously is. What I like is that the application of science and out of the box thinking can be seriously disruptive in terms of getting really awesome results with modest means. Assuming the way we farm today is peak human capability is both fatalistic and depressing. We can do way better; and we should.
Planned grazing in particular is a bit of a mind fuck if you like eating meat. But in a good way. No need to feed cows corn when we could be using them to turn desert back into fertile grasslands while restoring the soil and capturing more C02 that way than is produced by the cattle or the corn farming. Basically the premise of this is that planned grazing fertilizes barren lands and prunes dead vegetation suffocating it thus allowing fresh growth and soil restoration. Healthy soil captures CO2 and retains water. Barren soil releases CO2 and has poor water retention. By doing this systematically, you can turn arid lands back into healthy soil with vegetation, carbon capture, and potential for actually growing some produce. It think of this as terraforming earth. No need to go to Mars for that; we have plenty of human created desert that we can fix before going there.
And yes, we can absolutely do better. I agree that we should.
I do believe that farmers today -- and even twenty years ago or more -- are a lot more data driven than you might believe.
But probably not corn or any of the other staple crops. It's going to be hard to get the same yields of those without using modern industrial monoculture techniques.
Like with medicine, we'd expect the effects measured in lab of new pesticides on yields to be larger than their real impact in the wild. It just receives considerably less scrutiny than medicine, so really, it's hard to cut through all the bullshit.
Despite what anyone's feel good story may bring up in rebuttal, there really isn't that much talent going into the buy-side of agricultural technology.
So what if it turns out that industrial monoculture techniques are vastly oversold (they almost certainly are), and that the real math shows a slight benefit, but not one that outweighs environmental costs?
Maybe some of the more recent techniques of industrial monoculture are oversold, but the steady rise of yields since the 1940s  make me feel like you're talking up a much bigger game than is actually the case. Perhaps the cost of some of Monsantos latest GMOs and pesticides isn't worth it. But throwing out the entire industrial monoculture paradigm is absolutely not cost effective. If it was more farmers would have figured it out by now. They aren't that dumb.
This is the problem with things like climate change and ecological collapse. Science is extremely slow to measure and understand the phenomena. But the disasters can move far faster than the science, wrecking havoc as they go. Scientists are naturally cautious and skeptical and so will dismiss the kind of claims it takes to move people until those claims are overwhelmingly supported.
By the time scientists have enough data to comfortably support the claims, it's far too late to act on them.
This is absolutely not the problem with climate change. The problem is some people decided to believe a comforting fairytale instead of the scientific facts.
We've had several successes in similar matters (CFC ban and ozone layer, leaded fuel ban and crime levels), so it's clear the problems aren't impossible to solve.
We should be focusing on the place where the problems appear - on politicians and companies lobbying to ignore the warning signs. Science does its job.
Science needs better marketing to be able to sell its conclusions in a more effective manner.
Note: I'm on the scientist's side, in case it was ambiguous.
Unscientific, but unsettling nonetheless.
My parents would talk all the time about catching lightning bugs as kids. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I didn't see a single one. Now, the back yard is absolutely full of them (again, apparently.)
I'm also extremely grateful that they're smaller than us. A dog sized mantis would be the stuff of nightmares and horse sized mantises would pretty much have guaranteed our extinction long before now.
People talk about having their car totally caked in bugs at one time etc, given other environmental stressors it’s not going to help if healty populations are exterminated en masse.
I've seen mentions this phenomena floating around. I wonder if this could be attributed to a change in the aerodynamics of modern windshields.
Mainly as I have strongly experienced the same phenomena motorcycling. My head and helmet are not changed aerodynamically. A naked bike contributes little. Yet headlight and visor catch far fewer than 30 years ago. I don't expect to break the journey to clear it like I used to.
The windscreen on the car may very well catch less, but in that case it also seems like there are a lot less to catch.
I mean, think about it, for decades we've been building highways, which also have become increasingly more busy with car traffic. So not only did we increase coverage of these massive "fly swatters", we also keep increasing the rate at which they swat insects.
Doesn't need to be the only factor, but coupled with the massive use of insecticides, and the loss of natural environments, it might as well be a very contributing factor.
We are facing a food crunch in the near future- we will number 9-11 billion before population declines begin to set in at the same time climate change will be desertifying the worlds breadbasket, we are running out of fresh water, we are running out of top soil, and insect declines will threaten the angiosperms we eat. It is not clear how insect populations will respond to the 3-5 degrees of warming expected by the end of this century (based on RCP 8.5 and RCP 6.0 from the latest IPCC report).
Mid-century is shaping up to be one of the most important and tragic periods in human civilization, if it is to survive it. We should keep in mind we are always nine missed meals from anarchy.
I don't think we will ever see 5 degrees of warming if sun-reflecting particles work, and chances are they do.
The ocean is the easiest effect to prove, but then there will be other unknowns of altering the air to have more CO2 and a dimmed sun.
You’re awfully cavlier about the one inhabitable planet we have.
I agree that there are big unknowns but I don't think that detracts anything from the point I'm making.
But that still leaves us with the other symptoms (ocean acidification) and unknown side effects.
So it's not a cost benefit analysis, because it only looks at the known costs. Here the known downside of an acid ocean and the unknown cost of side effects dwarf the actually calculable financial costs.
If we could run a thousand earth simulations we could speak of cost benefit analysis. But we just have one, and we know the conditions we grew our civilization in.
We may well have to do sun shading regardless, but we shouldn't call it a mere ten billion.
Edit: I guess to more properly respond to your original point: things may get very bad even if we do sunshades. Just via other mechanisms. Having the option will likely encourage a much higher co2 level than without sunshades.
Seems to indicate most of our food would be fine without pollinators. We would lose tree fruits, berries (but not grapes), and melons. Nightshades would become more work, and everything else is pollinator optional.
I have heard that orange groves have humans pollinating them in many cases, so we might not lose all tree fruits either.
As is sometimes said, the battle is in the mind.
"Omae wa mo shinderou."
Ok, but what if it is now back at the 'norm' and there were just too many insects all those times?
Do we know what the norm is?
I must agree that the quick loss of so many insects does not sound normal. But we also know that insects can swarm very quickly and become a pest in good conditions.
With climate change we have a lot of data from even thousands of years ago, so we have some feeling about the 'norm'.
Does a norm for the total mass of flying insects exist?
I don't think we particularly care about that, though. What we care about is what the death of insects means in terms of the ability of plants to continue to propagate since we like need to eat them to survive.
I'm not saying we should not act. I'm asking if we know what we are up against.
The idea that we need more data is lazy, shortsighted, and used as a primary argument to justify doing nothing.
The neighbor's house is on fire, Sparks are falling on your roof because of a breeze and you are holding of fighting the fire because the wind might change and we might be able to do nothing except high five each other about how smart we were.
In life, you never know enough to make the perfect decision. You have act on the existing data, not wait until the choice you should have made becomes clear.
They say that 41 percent of insect species are declining and that global numbers are falling by 2.5 percent a year, but “they’re trying to quantify things that we really can’t quantify at this point,” says Michelle Trautwein from the California Academy of Sciences.
“I understand the desire to put numbers to these things to facilitate the conversation, but I would say all of those are built on mountains of unknown facts.”
"When scientists have collected long-term data on insects, they’ve usually done so in a piecemeal way. The 2017 German study, for example, collated data from traps that had been laid in different parts of the country over time, rather than from concerted attempts to systematically sample the same sites. Haphazard though such studies might be, many of them point in the same dispiriting direction. In their review, Sánchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys found 73 studies showing insect declines."
Start of next paragraph:
"But that’s what they went looking for! They searched a database using the keywords insect and decline, and so wouldn’t have considered research showing stability or increases."
In addition, bees' diets by commercial beekeepers are often supplemented by man-made sugars. To continue the analogy, imagine that there was someplace that really wanted a bunch of goats for two weeks a year to eat up a bunch of plants as a brush clearing method. People get paid a lot to have goats arrive at that location every year. The laws of the country are such that goats are allowed to roam anywhere and eat plants on people land and fences have not been invented yet. You only have to own the land where they come back to at night(the corral). The goat herders try to maximize the size of the herd by feeding the goats a cheap but nutritiously deficient food for most of their calories, but goats have to get some vital vitamins, proteins, and minerals from the stuff they eat in the wild. In fact, over the centuries the goats have evolved so that they can run fast and long away from the corral in the morning, just to get somewhere that has not already been stripped of wild food that they need, burning the calories supplied by the goat herder. The goat eats for a few hours somewhere that is not already over-grazed, and then runs back to the corral.
When the goat returns it has a way to tell the other goats where it went to find a good place to eat and the next day hundreds of goats head out to that location to strip it to dirt in one day. Other goats head out somewhat randomly on a dead run to try and find somewhere around that has something to eat.
This goat hive can only exist in one place when the grass is sprouting or in places that goats have not been in many years. The goat herders corrals are built on huge trucks so that when they need to move the goats to somewhere else, because the local area is completely stripped, they can just start up the truck and be in a new location 500 miles away in a single day.
A disease now starts spreading among the goats. They get shipped around everywhere so it spreads to other herds really fast. The goats are dying at a high rate and no one knows why or how to cure it, but the goats breed pretty fast. The goat herders can keep the number of goats high enough to meet the demand of the companies that need the annual grazing clearing, but only because of the increasing price the companies are willing to pay. This incentivizes more goat herders breeding more goats at a furious rate. The surviving herders are now searching hard for the last places that have not been completely stripped mined of wild food. Never a blade of grass springs from the Earth where a goat is not immediately there to eat it.
You can imagine what such a system would do to the wild grazing animal population. Anything wild would never find anything to eat, the predator populations would be huge, gorging on the free roaming goats that the herders don't guard. The herders have no way guarding hundreds of thousands of goats. They could not possibly watch over each one and don't even think about how that might be done.
Now add in farmers that grow plants the goats can't eat. They cover huge areas where only a small amount of the wild plants survive that the goats need. Around the farms wild plants still grow, but farms are being consolidated and those edge areas are being eliminated. Some wild animals can eat what the farmers grow, so the farmers develop chemicals that kill the animals that eat their crops. This chemical will also kill goats and gets on the few remaining wild plants the goats eat and poison them too.
Now imagine that the goats and wild animals are so small that the herders and other people in society don't really notice them at all. They only start to worry about the goats when there are not enough goats arriving every year to clear out the brush where the annual spring picnic is held. Only after that happens do a few quirky scientists start looking into the problem and notice that these wild animals that have to compete with goats have been dropping in numbers like crazy for quite awhile.
Just an analogy, but maybe some truth to it?
How are so many in the dark about the fact that it's mainly corporate PR that are behind all off the confusion about dangerous consequences from both energy-, agri-, and chemistry business?
Energy companies have known about potential catastrophic consequences for years, scientists have known, people living in nature have known.
People are "confused", doesn't get the urgency or simply ignore the issue because of PR, astroturfing and corporate campaigns.
It's all because of huge corporations hiring armies of lawyers, marketing people and greenwashing lobbyists that write both the laws and the news. (*see my sources if you doubt this )
Forget about the politicians and the consumers - they have been massively propagandized by a conglomeration of enormous agricultural and energy sector companies for half a century.
Seriously it's __well described and documented__ and has been since Exxon found out about climate change and hid its own findings in the 70's.
How do you some of you people know so little about the culprit, and instead blame mostly consumers or the politicians who are bought by corporations?
There is no debate and hasn't been for decades - the culprit is growth capitalism and the mega-corps that ruthlessly lie and distort in service of profits.
This has happened for over 100 years when US car manufacturers killed public transport in the US, and Edward Bernays created modern public PR, that apparently is working frighteningly well still.
Merchants of doubt
Toxic Sludge Is Good For You
Exxon Has Known for over 40 years:
The article says that the "insect apocalypse" is not going to happen, despite pretty strong evidence of insect decline. So Betteridge's Law does hold here.