Monday, February 22, 2016

Paving Paradise

California is suffering a nasty drought and with water becoming more and more expensive, the leaders of many companies and households are choosing to pave over their lawns with gravel or concrete. I feel incredibly sad to see it.

Then I learned that my own family is considering paving over the lawn of our home in Morro Bay to 'save water' and create a patio for a deck+chairs.

I wrote this note below in support of a different plan.

On the possibility of turning lawn into concrete at the Morro Bay house:

I've heard a few reasons for paving over the front lawn with concrete:
  1. Save money on watering costs.
  2. Reduce water use generally (i.e. 'save the environment')
  3. The concrete would make a patio we could place chairs and a table on
Let's consider an alternate proposal and see how it meets our needs:

Rather than pave the lawn, let's plant large areas of it with native, low-water-consuming plants such as cactuses as well as with healthy groundcover and flowering plants. We would reserve an area with grass or low groundcover, such as clover, where we could put a table and chairs as we feel the desire.

The short-term benefits of this alternative plan:
  • the greater diversity of plants supports a richer soil and more soil life, making the whole mini-ecosystem less dependent on human care (and human expense)
  • the greater diversity of plants provides habitat for more soil critters and other insects, which then feed the birds that Grandma loves so much
  • the flowers would feed the butterflies and pollinators, like bees, which we, especially farmers, depend on so much. Pollinators like bees are under severe threat from environmental toxins currently.
  • the greater root density and root depth of the various plants would trap more water each time it rains, reducing the need for watering.
  • cactuses and possibly other plants, if we choose the plants wisely, can provide tasty, healthy human food, reducing our need to consume food from far away and our current need to pay large corporations for the privilege of eating
  • the scent of the flowers would invite us outside
  • the soft touch of rich soil and healthy plants (especially the groundcover) invites us to play on it in a way concrete does not. This is especially true of children and adults who've remembered how to play as children do.
  • We could do the gardening ourselves. Whether we go into the woods to find the plants or go to a nursery, the total cost would be quite low - less than $200 easily compared to $thousands for concrete. 

Now let's consider the long-term effects of each plan.

Paving over living soil with concrete creates a permanent desert. Any future rainfall not only fails to support life in that space, it rushes off the flat paved surface and creates erosion further downhill, damaging other planted spaces as well. Concrete guarantees there will be no rich soil, no habitat for insects, soil critters, and plants. Thus paving guarantees there will be no habitat for pollinators, butterflies, birds.

Concrete is death. Rich soil is the foundation for life. Why would we pay thousands of dollars to bring death when we already have life for free, and when we could bring much richer life easily and for minimal cost? We might think we're "saving" water by not watering, but I disagree. Water does not fall in deserts, including concrete deserts. Nor will rivers run in concrete deserts, with no plant roots to trap rainfall and slowly release the water over time in streams. Plants invite rainfall which supports plant life in a virtuous cycle. Likewise, deserts invite no rainfall and support minimal life, in a sad cycle of their own. Which do we want?

A tradition among the native Iroquois was to think 7 generations into the future when making any decision. Will our great-great-great great-great grandchildren be grateful we paved? Will they be grateful for a world with even more concrete, or will they be grateful that we preserved living space for them to garden, explore, and play in? More than any material gift, the richness and cleanliness of the environment we pass on to descendents will define our legacy. How happy would you have been growing up on concrete instead of the soil of the farms, gardens, woods, lawns, and grassy fields?

Joni Mitchell in the 1970s sang about how we "Pave over paradise to put up a parking lot." Let's not make that mistake. We can do better!