Living on the Earth, April 14, 2000, Little Engines
The landscape is coming alive... and so too, unfortunately are all the
droning little engines. The industry, of course, thinks we need more of
them. That's why the Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse <I>Outdoor Power
Equipment 2000 Consumer Buying Guide</I> landed in our mailbox last week,
and probably in every other mailbox from here to the company's North
This buying guide's forty-plus pages of gas-powered machines are designed
to tempt homeowners and imply that all this equipment is essential to care
properly for their yards. Garden tractors, lawn tractors, self-propelled
lawn mowers, push power mowers, specialty mowers, tillers, string trimmers,
hedge trimmers, chain saws, blowers, chippers, shredders, pressure washers,
and generators, each one capable of shattering the peace for at least a
quarter mile in every direction. Just imagine the noise these products
will create. To put all this power in perspective, we know that the vast
majority of the Earth's farmers feed their families without even one gas
engine. This catalog reinforces the specious notion that people must have
these noisy machines to care for their land.
To be fair, one of the guide's forty pages is devoted to "Environmentally
Friendly Mowers." Two push mowers and two electric mowers are available.
"No fumes," "Less noise," are the selling points. Unfortunately, in the
rest of this publication, aside from several mowers with a "30 percent
sound reduction" and one brand with a "quieter and cleaner running engine,"
there was no mention of either noise or air pollution. However, some mowers
boast about how well they filter the air that their engines "breathe." You
can see what's important here. The mower breathes clean air; the rest of us
get the fumes.
Apparently, noise is just the beginning of the serious pollution caused by
these little engines. A Long Island listener recently informed me that the
gallons of gas spilled in filling lawn mowers in this country each year
equals the gallons of oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez! The EPA reports that
in one hour, the average mower produces as much air pollution as an
automobile does driving 350 miles. All the resources used in making and
distributing these machines and their built-in obsolescence also put a
heavy load on the environment.
There's an escalating need for little engines to maintain the
artificially-manicured, nearly-unchanging landscapes they create. These
sterile environments are vigorously promoted by the little-engines industry
in a desire to swell its bottom line.
There are, however, other ways to care for the landscape. Human-powered
tools are kinder to the environment, your neighbors and to you, the
operator. In thirty years of caring for our farm, I've found that scythes,
sickles, shovels, bow saws and pruners are a pleasure to use and are all
the equipment I really need. I can hear the birds and smell the flowers.
Working with nature, these old and elegant tools can produce a landscape
that is easier to care for, contains greater diversity and changes with the
seasons. The physical effort involved keeps me from imposing my will on
too much of the land.
Let Nature be. On her own, Nature creates great beauty. About half of our
farm's six acres is simply left alone. To eliminate your need for power
tools, use and encourage native trees and plants, beautiful perennial
flowers, fruiting shrubs and brambles. Create an edible landscape or a
meadow and be sure to plant a vegetable garden. Use mulch or cover crops
to prevent unwanted vegetation. Eliminate or shrink your lawn.
Discover the pleasure of working quietly with Nature. "Just Say No" to
noisy, polluting little engines.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)2000, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "Living on the
Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill
Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $10 postpaid or from Amazon.com.
Now in its tenth year, "Living on the Earth" airs at 6:53 Friday mornings
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from 1995 to the present, and an audio version of this week's essay are
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