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  • Writer's pictureBrice Claypoole

We Must Face the Facts and Change Our Norms

Let’s change our world in which this monarch (Danaus plexippus) could just be collateral damage of our agriculture system, to which, ironically monarchs could be a pollinating ally. (Photo by Brice Claypoole)

In our quest to save the environment, we have trouble because we are bound by our culture. Trying to save the environment in American culture is like playing soccer with our feet glued to one spot. We cannot save the environment if we must follow our culture and have a huge lawn. We cannot save the environment if we do not let wildlife recolonize the land we live on. We must change how our world works. Three of the most urgent issues are, turf grass, farming, and the way we think we are separate from nature.

Turf grass

A lifeless lawn on our island. (Photo by Brice Claypoole)

Why do we love our turf grass so much? Because it is a status symbol. Our culture has taught us to use turf grass to show off our wealth, even though many people do not even consciously realize that is what “healthy” turf grass is supposed to show. We are unwilling to give up our turf grass because we have been taught that we need to have it in order to fit in. Now we know that turf grass is harming the environment by creating a dead zone for wildlife, by offering nearly no food or shelter, and a place for dangerous, even deadly chemicals to run off, we must give it up for the greater good. Do you really want your perfect green lawn more than you want your kids to have a future?

Today a business card for a lawn care company showed up stuck in our door. I can understand why. Our yard is a bit weedy. Beautiful fleabanes (Erigeron), blanket flowers (Gaillardia species), and Spanish needles (Bidens alba) pop up where they want and the beds are full of dead stalks. Unlike the dull, poison sprayed and turf grass filled yards around us, our yard gives life instead of taking it. Sitting in the yard with the business card in hand, I watched striped sweat bees (Agapostemon splendens) flying around the rare lanceleaf f blanket flower (Gaillardia aestivalis) and a gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae). Skippers (family Hesperiidae), cassius blues (Leptotes cassius), and many hundreds, probably thousands of different living beings also went about their lives around me. Not only are these animals beautiful, but they are essential to humans. They pollinate our crops; they fertilize the soil, and all those “weedy” plants make the oxygen we breathe. How could anybody bear to destroy this whole community, in the name of a green lawn? How could anybody kill all these little friends just for the crime of existence?

As my saying goes:

The grass is always greener in someone else’s yard, because it is covered in deadly poisons.

So may my grass be the brownest and weediest in the world as long as it provides a place for other beings to find sanctuary.


We think of farming all wrong. I once read in a book (Wild Hope On the Front Lines of Conservation Success by Andrew Balmford-don’t get me wrong it is a good book) about conservation that we must intensify farming by using more and more chemicals, so that we don’t use as much land for agriculture. This is incorrect, we need to de-intensify farming. The chemicals we use on farms do not stay on farms. They get out into the environment where they kill fish, insects, birds, and others. And if we de-intensify farming, we will not kill all the animals that eat “pests”. Pesticides often form a vicious cycle. One example of this is the relationship between rodenticides and barn owls (Tyto alba). Rodenticides are sprayed to kill rodents, and then the barn owls eat the dead rodents. The poisons build up in the owls, and the owl family soon dies. That owl family would have eaten 3,000 rodents in one nesting season. With the owls dead, the rodents come back in larger numbers, causing more spraying and more dead owls. With more dead owls the rodents go out of control eating lots of the farmers’ crops. This costs the farmers a lot of money and they spend even more on rodent control. They may even have to expand into wild land since the same amount of space is less and less productive. The rodenticides cause a lot of collateral damage, killing birds besides owls, mountain lions (Puma concolor), and many others. If rodenticides hadn’t been used, the owls would have taken care of the rodents. This would prevent the deaths of hundreds of other animals from poisoning and save the farmer a lot of money.

Studies have found that having native plants around farms increases productivity, presumably because they attract beneficial insects. These very plants are sprayed with powerful killing agents because we assume they are useless weeds. We kill the native plants, the beneficial insects starve, and their prey (our pests) go out of control.

So, if we slow pesticide use, we will restore a natural system that, instead of leading to eventual disaster, will ensure us a stable food supply. Plus, there won’t be so many innocent animals dying along with the “pests” who will most likely rebound even stronger than before.

Humans here, nature there

Another huge mistake we are making is that we think we are separate from nature. We think we are one thing and nature is another. We think we cannot live in the same place as nature. Nature isn’t just a faraway forest. What living with nature means is simply letting it into the places we live. We work so hard to get rid of plants, fungi, and animals on our property by using poisons, traps, and deterrents to rid ourselves of any being we label a “pest”. These animals, fungi, and plants have as much right to be on “our” property as we do; they were here first, and they collectively contribute far more than humans to the environment. And when we kill these unwanted beings, we are taking away the food of, and subsequently starving, many animals we like, such as birds. A single clutch of baby chickadees needs to eat between 6,000 and 9,000 caterpillars, many of which are considered pests. Scientists believe that the huge decline in insects is in part responsible for the huge decline in birds.

Planting native plants is another important part of having humans and nature become one with each other again. This step is vital to bring us back together. Native animals have adapted to eat native plants. Native animals have not adapted to eat non-native plants. So, if animals are to find enough food, we must have at the very least 70% native plants in our landscape. Which leaves us with the room to plant 30% non-native ornamentals. Most plants you buy at a typical nursery are not natives. So before buying a plant, ask if it is native. There are also many great native plant nurseries. If you live in Florida check out Plant Real Florida to find a nursery near you. No matter where in the US you live, Native Plant Finder is a great way to find the best plants for your area.

A beautiful native landscape near us. (Photo by Brice Claypoole)

Native doesn't mean ugly. Native plants like this blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella) are just as beautiful as non-natives.

Nature or death

As I just explained, we are one of millions of parts of nature, not something separate. And we are just as dependent on a healthy ecosystem as other animals. If we continue to ignore the threats to our environment we

will die. A grim prospect indeed. But there is hope.

We depend on a healthy environment for everything. Clean water for instance is found only where we have not polluted it. Wild areas (including wild yards) are necessary to filter pollutants out of the water. Then there is food. Food? We grow our own food, so how do we depend on the environment for that? We depend on the environment for food in many, many ways. First, there is a complex ecosystem in the soil. This ecosystem breaks down organic matter making nutrients available to plant roots. Second, many insects and birds (such as barn owls) are extremely efficient “pest” controllers. They will eat crop “pests” reducing the need for expensive and disastrous pesticides and crop yields will be increased.

So, the saying “you reap what you sow,” often used by pest control companies, is completely inappropriate. You may sow the seeds, but those seeds would not make it to a point where they provide for you without the help of the hundreds of creatures that we dismiss as useless. Instead of killing them, shouldn’t we allow them to have small amounts of the crops, in return for their essential services? After all everything would fall apart without them, and we would starve.

Kids get it

Many adults are unwilling to change. I am not saying that you are; I know many wonderful adults. But in general, kids seem to understand better. Perhaps it is because the destruction of the natural world may not affect you dramatically in your lifetime. But if us kids are to have a good future, you must change. Adults are inadvertently destroying their children’s future. The world is a mess. We have seen all will end in disaster if we continue down this path. We still can fix our world. We can turn it into a world where we live sustainably with nature.

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