Symbols like California Drought and Glacier Melt are powerful reminders of the grim future for our planet in the face of climate change. Powerful, but also limited by their sheer magnitude. How could I possibly make a difference? many will ask.
What is needed is a symbol that emphasizes how human activity helps produce these Armageddons, persuades individuals they can make a difference, and has a lighter, human touch.
I’d suggest Leaf-Blower Man, a normal Joe, just doing his job, but caught up in a vaudeville act of environmental stupidity perfect for The Three Stooges.
The act starts in the yard, specifically the mowing thereof, with Lawn-Mower Man (Leaf-Blower Man in his larval stage), who emerges in the spring with a machine that consumes more than its fair share of the world’s petroleum, screams louder than a Harley, and, according to the EPA, produces as much pollution in an hour as a fuel-efficient car driving from Albany to Buffalo.
The act continues with the blowing of the grass-cuttings. Rather than leave them to fertilize future generations, Lawn-Mower Man, now in his pupal form — Grass-Blower Man — disperses them, along with dust, trash, insects and the occasional small child, in a blast that contains more hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter per hour than the emissions of your average car.
Thus the summer passes, a cacophony of noise, dust, and fumes that a fleet of diesel trucks would envy. Then, lest you think it’s over, in early autumn, the full, adult form — Leaf-Blower Man — emerges.
Leaf-Blower Man is no different from his previous stages in his assault on nature and mankind. It’s just that his depredations are so much more obtrusive — great waves of leaves and assorted detritus — and so much more futile, ending up in the road or in a neighbor’s yard, only to be blown back, in innocence or revenge, whence they came.
There is a coda to all this that begins somewhere near Wichita, where rainfall diminishes and the prairie begins. There, lawn grass, which is beautiful, practical, and environmentally sound in its native habitat, is an invasive species, diverting snowmelt or underground aquifers that might have gone to wheat-producing or tooth-brushing (don’t talk to me about golf-playing).
What to do? The decisive first step, at least in areas where lawn grass is an immigrant, is to substitute native flora. Imagine sitting on your patio looking out over your blue-crested grama grass. Think of the mower- and blower-free quiet as you gambol through the baby’s breath or Russian sage, or lie peacefully amongst lamb’s ears.
If you absolutely must have a regular lawn, deal with the rainfall that nature provides. If it’s not enough, accept that brown is as natural a color as green, console yourself with needing to mow less, and use a push mower. You will be fitter and you’ll be marching in a growing phalanx that demands more efficient, environmentally-friendly, mower technology (think of the latest in bicycles and wind-turbines).
As to Grass- and Leaf-Blower Man, he too has available a reasonable alternative, constructed with a long wooden handle, to the lower end of which is attached a fan-like array of prongs, a remarkably clever device that is, to its hot-air counterpart, what the tortoise is to the hare. And, there is no reason that this, too, could not be made even more efficient and user-friendly, given sufficient demand.
As you and your neighbors push-mow your lawns, raking up the grass cuttings as you wish, and, in the fall, the leaves as you really must, the quiet should allow you to track down the remaining Grass/Leaf-Mower/Blowers and lure them to the silent majority. It won’t be the world, but it will be a step.