Whoever said we can’t adapt to climate change?
There used to be two kinds of homeowners in this scorching city, those with dazzling green lawns irrigated by sprinklers and those with more natural backyard expanses of rocks, cactuses and desert flora, which required no watering at all.
Now, though, the grass may be greener next door simply because of a fresh coast of paint.
This idea is almost up there with the plans of Versace, “to create the world’s first refrigerated beach.” The NY Times front-page (!) story, Spraying to Make Yards Green … but With Paint, Not Water,” continues:
Homeowners’ associations in this arid region typically have rules requiring residents to maintain either desert landscaping or green grass, with brown lawns not an option….
The grass spraying business took off here as the housing crisis escalated and real estate brokers were looking to quickly increase the curb appeal of abandoned properties on the cheap. A lawn painting, using a vegetable-based dye, can cost about $200. Vigorous homeowners’ associations, which can fine owners thousands of dollars if a dispute drags on, have also been good for business, said Klaus Lehmann of Turf-Painters Enterprise.
Let’s run through the lawn options as the Southwest turns into a Dust Bowl (see USGS on Dust-Bowlification: Drier conditions projected to accelerate dust storms in the U.S. Southwest and U.S. southwest could see a 60-year drought like that of 12th century “” only hotter “” this century).
You can paint your lawn, of course. Then there’s artificial turf:
Michael Hague, a neighbor, has a different solution, artificial turf, which has been a compromise choice in some Arizona neighborhoods for a while now. He says it helps him save time, money and confrontations with the homeowners’ association.
“It’s easier to have fake grass,” Mr. Hague said, looking over his deep green, perfectly trimmed yard. “You don’t have to worry about it. It doesn’t fade.”
So realistic is his turf, he said proudly, that a neighbor once mentioned to someone else on the street how green the Hague lawn was, not realizing it was made in a factory.
But, surprisingly, that doesn’t work for some:
But “plastic grass,” as Ed Cunningham, a firefighter who lives nearby, calls the artificial stuff, gets too hot on bare feet in the Arizona sun. He hires a landscaper to handle the painstaking process of planting Bermuda grass, which eventually goes dormant in the winter and is supplemented with rye grass, which dies out in the spring. Keeping the lawn irrigated means his water bill is higher than some of his neighbors’, but the look and feel of the real thing is worth the expense, he said.
But, surprisingly, that doesn’t work for some in the increasingly arid SW:
But do not get devotees of xeriscaped yards, as desert landscaping is known, started about the deleterious effects of all that grass planted around the desert, wastefully sapping water, a valuable and scarce commodity here….
Costs of the various approaches vary widely. Desert landscaping saves substantially on water and maintenance, and can be installed on a bare-bones budget or a high-end one, especially if towering saguaro cactuses are involved. Lawn paint lasts about three months before turning an odd shade of blue and costs only a couple of hundred dollars for a modest lawn, although the grass still needs to be watered so that it will not die out entirely.
Plastic grass, probably the costliest option at the outset, still varies in price depending on how close to natural it looks and feels. Watering and trimming costs disappear, though occasional sweeping may be necessary.
See also “Green acres: The art of xeriscaping.”
What does the future hold?
“We’re seeing a trend away from grass,” said Rodney Glassman, who got his Ph.D. in arid land resource sciences at the University of Arizona. He introduced legislation while serving on the Tucson City Council requiring new commercial buildings to collect and reuse rainwater and promoting the reuse of some water in new homes….
Marty Campisi, who runs Desert Oasis Landscape Design and Concepts in Phoenix, has desert in his backyard and promotes the natural approach, reminding customers that many municipalities offer financial incentives to those who convert from grass….
As for painting the grass, Mr. Campisi does not even bring that up. “It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s putting a Band-Aid on the situation.”
Perhaps the best term for it would be ‘maladaption.’
And speaking of putting a Band-Aid on the situation, the NY Times ran this as a front page story today, presumably as some sort of ironic human interest story.
But in this entire piece on how people are dealing with the lack of water in the arid Southwest, the NYT doesn’t see fit to provide any bigger-picture context. Yes, water is “a valuable and scarce commodity” — but how about explaining how the massive influx of people in recent decades has exacerbated the problem? And could we mention just once that the region is expected to get drier and drier thanks to human-caused climate change?
The fact is that how the Southwest (and the world) responds to Dust-Bowlification is going to be one of the biggest climate change stories in this country in the coming years (See NCAR analysis warns we risk multiple, devastating global droughts even on moderate emissions path). But you’d never know that from this context-free story.
- Signs of global warming are everywhere, but if the New York Times can’t tell the (bark beetle) story (twice!), how will the public hear it?
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