As youngsters, didn’t we all at one time or another experience grass stained knees at day’s end? And how much did we discover in our backyards just by lying on the natural grass and watching a miniature world of life that was all around us? Lawns are virtual jungles teeming with life when viewed at a child’s level. And who can deny that football, baseball, softball and soccer played on the soft lush grass bring back fond memories and reflections of Americana. Today, we see many fields being converted to synthetic surfaces. Even home lawns in some areas are being covered in artificial turf that has all of the comfort and nostalgia of a living room carpet.
Artificial turf, which was initially viewed as a necessity in domed sports stadiums, has become an increasingly popular ground covering for athletic fields, including Little League ballparks. However, with these synthetic fields come a big price tag. But the price is often rationalized by the perceived illusion that little or no maintenance is required and the field’s durability and longevity will justify the cost. In reality, if the money were invested in professionally installed and maintained natural grass field, it would be as easy in almost every case to provide a perfect playing surface on a daily basis. And in all cases, the total cost would be significantly less.
The decision to install synthetic turf or natural grass often boils down to “keeping up with the Joneses.” One school gets an artificial surface and its rival schools feel they need to do the same. Putting aside any environmental concerns or any sense of nostalgia associated with artificial turf, thought must be given to a variety of other considerations if artificial playing surfaces continue becoming the ground covering for lawns across America.
The virtues of natural grass, be it the environmental benefits, health benefits or lifestyle benefits are seldom publicized except in scientific journals, school text books and other credible sources of factual information. In this era of environmental awakening and involvement, it is important that we are aware natural grass has qualities that place it at the top of the environmental-friendly products list, with special emphasis on its significant anti-global warming benefits. Natural grass is a natural air conditioner that significantly lowers outside air temperatures during hot periods and, of course, that corresponds to lower cost for cooling homes and businesses. Natural grass can be seven to 14 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than concrete and up to 67 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than artificial turf.
In addition to reducing energy costs, healthy natural grass lawns also reduce the pollution and waste of resources otherwise needed to create higher levels of electricity. Few people know that it takes hundreds of gallons of water to produce a megawatt of electrical energy, with the exception of windmills. Have you ordered your windmill yet?
And since we’re addressing water, let’s consider water quality. Whether the issue is ground water or surface water, healthy natural grass lawns play a major role in keeping it clean. Natural grass slows run-off from rainwater, allowing it to soak into the soil so it can recharge our aquifers and water wells. As the water moves down through the soil, grass roots actually extract and brake down impurities, thereby increasing the quality of drinking water. In the event of heavy downpours when all of the water can not be absorbed into the soil, natural grass works as an extremely effective soil erosion control medium to keep our precious topsoil in place while cleaning the surface waters. No natural plant material works as well as healthy natural grass lawns at reducing soil erosion.
Much has been discussed lately about global warming and the increase of carbon in our atmosphere. Carbon offsets are being promoted and trees are being planted in an effort by many communities to help store carbon. Few people realize that natural grass is a great carbon storage device. According to N.A.S.A., lawn areas in the United States can store up to 37 billion pounds of carbon. It has been theorized that grass consumes up to five percent of all the carbon that we create in the United States. By increasing the area of lawns and other natural grass areas, we can increase this percentage substantially.
Another consideration is the fact grass provides an environment for many small invertebrates to thrive. Just watch the bird activity on a healthy lawn after a rainfall when insects and worms are easily removed. These invertebrates play an important role in our environment, some in breaking down decaying material and others as pollinators to help continue the life circle for many plants. If you want to see the wonder of natural grass as it relates to nature, just spend some time watching all the activity that takes place on grass from dawn to dusk.
There is no denying that as we look to the future, smarter choices must be made. We owe it to ourselves to learn from the mistakes of others. For example, back in the 1960s, The Peoples Republic of China removed much of the grass and trees throughout the country because they were viewed as symbols of capitalism (western civilization). The environmental damage resulting from that decision was extensive, increased air and noise pollution, dust clouds, pollution of surface water due to increased run-off, soil erosion, wind spread disease, etc. The decreased vegetation also led to what is termed as a “heat island” effect in many areas. A heat island is an area that has a significantly higher temperature than surrounding areas. We know today that these heat islands lead to changes in local climates and will eventually impact global climates. In early 2000, the Chinese made an incredible commitment to undertake a major reforestation of their country in hopes of undoing the environmental consequences of their past decisions.
The benefits of natural grass seem unlimited: erosion control, ground water recharge, oxygen generator, heat dissipation, soil restoration, dust prevention, air and water purifier, carbon sequestration, etc. It’s estimated that in America alone natural grass traps over 12 million tons of dust from our atmosphere every year, and 55 square feet of turfgrass provides enough oxygen for one person for each day.
Imagine a world without grass … I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not.