When purchasing a home, Eric Holthaus looked for "the smallest lawn I could find." It'll mean less work, though not as it relates to mowing, since Holthaus plans to "rip out my grass lawn as soon as possible." He suggests you do the same. "It's time to culturally stigmatize the classic over-watered, over-fertilized, over-mowed American lawn" because "lawns are awful for the planet," Holthaus writes in a Grist op-ed. While he mentions certain lawn benefits—they reduce urban heat and trap small amounts of carbon dioxide—he sees more disadvantages in the water used to keep them green, the chemicals used to eliminate weeds, and the pollution from a lawnmower. It might seem a small issue when considering one lawn. But Curbed reports lawns cover 2% of the continental US—an area the size of Nebraska—and three times more land than corn.
Grass therefore tops corn as the largest irrigated crop, and maintaining it isn't cheap. "Americans spend more than $36 billion every year on lawn care, four-and-a-half times more than the annual budget of the Environmental Protection Agency," Holthaus writes. He plans to replace his grass with native plants—superior to turf grass in terms of environmental impact—and fruit trees. But "almost anything is better than a grass lawn." Certain cities, especially those affected by drought, are well aware, with residents offered incentives to replace grass with rock or native vegetation. This, according to Patrick Sisson at Curbed, is "fueling nationwide trends towards native plantings, drought-tolerant landscaping, and even raising more crops as a path to reducing emissions," though "the vast monoculture of perfectly mowed front yards … isn't going anywhere soon." (Read more lawn stories.)