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June 2008


While looking out the window one evening, I noticed a rabbit eating weeds in my backyard. The weeds are definitely healthier than the turf grass. I have in the past reluctantly used a little weed killer and some fertilizer. The plan this year was to spot treat the weeds and use a natural fertilizer..that is until the rabbit stirred my yard care conflict.

For years I've used words to claim that turf grass is a terrible environmental invention of America. It requires too much water, usually potable, often municipally treated water. Fertilizer use is usually petroleum based, overdone, and contaminants ground water. Gas powered mowers directly pollute the air. And in suburbia manacured lawns become a status symbol or in my case become a symbol of my failure to meet neighborhood standards.

Still, I've walked a line. A line where I say one thing and only partially embrace my words in action or within myself. The intermittently felt embarrassment for failing to reach an external standard I claim I don't agree with is evidence of my cultural training and still unresolved conflict about how exactly to care for my yard. The reduction of turf grass, addition of native plants, and use of natural fertilizers is evidence of my baby steps toward reconciling my stated values with my actions. And the dandelions out front were all dug up by hand this year. I'll give myself and my partner points for that.

Still, the rabbit calls me to question again, have I done enough? Can I, with knowledge of how ecosystems work, with claims to embrace the Precautionary Principle, and environmental protection as a stated goal of mine allow possible harm to that rabbit or to the ecosystem? Can I allow myself to continue walking a line? Shouldn't I leap frog into the zone of truly responsible lawn care, deal with any lingering conflict, and act as if I believe what I claim? Sometimes acting as if we believe something is a helpful tool to really integrate the concept into oneself. Discovering through actions that the imagined negative consequences like a lowered status in the neighborhood aren't really as important as the satisfaction of consistency between stated values and actions. (That's a good pep talk, I'll keep you posted on my progress)

We all must allow opportunities for these kinds of connections and the acknowledgement of conflicts so we can then work toward changing our behavior. The built environment shelters us from the natural world, that's its job. But, we've now learned that we've let it shelter us too much and we've lost touch with connections that help us relate directly to our impacts. Engaging in simple actions like looking out a window or spending extended time in nature can help us reconnect so we can then have direct experiences to help motivate changes in our behavior.

But, direct experiences like a rabbit eating weeds is only one type of connection that we need to allow ourselves to make. Our higher powers of human reasoning mean that we are capable of gathering data and making conclusions regarding impacts that we can't directly see. I saw a news report in which a woman angrily and defiantly said she drove her SUV to the studio for the interview and would drive it home again without any concern for the environment because she didn't think SUVs damage the earth in anyway. Well, obviously she hasn't allowed herself to use that higher type of reasoning required to understand the connection between her behavior and the earth. If she sought out information regarding climate change, she could find that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been writing reports every five years for the past twenty years. Scientists throughout the world have been describing and predicting global climate change. They have made what in hindsight have turned out to be some inaccurate predictions. Predictions that were more conservative than what has turned out to be true. And the facts of the existence of climate change including global warming and the fact that it is being caused my humans, including humans driving SUVs, is indisputable. But, accepting the facts requires exposure to them, an open mind, and an interest in making connections. And then, maybe even feeling conflicted about the harmful behavior.

We all need to seek out simple connections with nature to experience our direct impacts. And we all need to seek information regarding impacts beyond our ability to immediately experience. Both scientists and rabbits can lead us to connections, conflicts, and eventually solutions.

Joyfully, Sue Norman
Sue Norman, Managing Editor
Associate IIDA
Allied Member ASID