Little Engines

by Bill Duesing

First broadcast on WSHU/WSUF-FM, April 28, 2000

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 a chain store's Outdoor Power Equipment 2000 Consumer Buying Guide landed in our mailbox recently, and probably in every other mailbox from here to the company's North Carolina home.

This buying guide's 40-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 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 40 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% 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. 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 30 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

This page and its contents are copyright © 2000 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.