Pesticides and Good Citizenship?

Recently, I picked up a local paper and was greeted by an editorial about lawns. The writer was in conflict about how lawn care fit in with the “green” movement. One particular idea presented in this piece of writing really caught my attention. Taking “care” of the lawn (by frequent use of polluting lawnmowers, weed-eaters, as well as the use of the chemical fertilizers and poisonous pesticides that he mentioned) was referred to as “good citizenship”. I could not believe what I was reading! 

  Although that might have been considered true a couple of decades ago because of the clever marketing that had been foisted upon our social consciousness (we have since learned how much damage these practices create). I am constantly amazed how poisoned things can be considered “clean”, “proper” and “cared for” and how using excess water and dangerous chemicals as well as burning fossil fuels strictly for the “pleasure” of a properly cut, green lawn is considered as good citizenship. This way of thinking has created numerous problems for us and our planet. It boggles the mind why, in this age of information, this sort of belief system continues. 

  In our current society, food seems to be considered “clean” and “safe” when it has been poisoned to eliminate even the tiniest remnant of any insect or disease. Lawns are considered “cared for” when poisonous substances are spread and weeds are killed. The theory is that poisons must be used to kill the “evil invaders” – whether weeds, bacteria or viruses. The theory is that only when things have been poisoned are they clean and safe! I acknowledge the life-saving value of things like antibiotics, which in essence, poison dangerous bacteria when our systems are out of balance. However, even then, I can’t help thinking there must be a better way. It appears that our whole mentality is based on warfare rather than “well-fare”. 

  The construction of most things results in, by its very nature, the destruction of something else. I am aware that we kill in order to eat, whether it is an animal, vegetable or seed. However, I am sure that we can all agree that there are instances where killing can and should be avoided. Murder and genocide immediately comes to mind, and as a horticulturalist, the next thing that comes to my mind is the killing of our soil and the Soil Food Web that we all depend on whether we are human, animal, plant or microbe. It is a sure and deadly form of genocide that we are perpetuating daily by ignoring the real truths of soil science and its importance to all life on Earth.

  The Importance of Micro Organisms

  Thanks to the work of soil scientists like Dr. Elaine Ingham and her theory of the Soil Food Web, we have become aware of the incredible diversity of the soil and its micro organisms and the important role that they play in the ecosystem. Healthy soil has billions of creatures present that can only be seen through powerful microscopes. These organisms explain why ancient forests did not need 20-20-20, herbicides and pesticides to survive. These organisms are capable of capturing nitrogen from the air, transforming decaying organic matter, rocks and other soil components into nutrients. They transfer nutrients and water from organism to organism. They maintain the balance of water, air, nutrients and ph levels in soils. They keep pest and disease organisms in balance and they perform all of these functions without any input from Dow, Monsanto or even “miracle” fertilizers. The tragedy is that whenever we use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, we are destroying the very organisms that provide an ecological and economical way for us to rejuvenate our soil and grow our vegetables, ornamentals or even lawns.  

  It is hard for us to understand this because most of us have initially come upon soils that have already been severely depleted by various means. We have brutally bulldozed soils for construction without the slightest thought to protect or rebuild them. Leaving unprotected ground bare results in the erosion of nutrients; we then purchase and apply products that will make things grow, but not rejuvenate or reestablish the life of the soil. To grow anything at all, we believe that we have to add “something” and unfortunately the “something” that we add (if we are not progressive organic gardeners) will further destroy the chances of the soil ever becoming self sustaining. In fact, many of the fertilizer products we use on our soil continue to deplete it even further by smothering, poisoning and destroying the natural life of the soil. The reason we are not aware of this fact is because as we continue to add more product, things appear to grow well. 

  This type of economics works very well in our social system that requires continuous consumption to function. However, in the long run, it has not been working for us, our planet and our children. Unfortunately, we are using up our natural resources at an alarming and unsustainable rate, eventually we will be forced to change. 

  Although change is continually happening around us and affects everything we do, for the most part, we dislike change and prefer to avoid it altogether. The exception seems to be that when change provides us with greater convenience, comfort or money. This is especially true of corporations who make tremendous profits by their relentless push to maintain the status quo. They definitely do not want change. Change might mean temporarily losing market share or having to invest in new technology. For the heads of corporations who are making obscenely huge salaries (over 165 times the amount of the average floor worker), this indicates huge risks. If their shareholders are unhappy, their jobs may be in jeopardy. To have profit margins reduced is not acceptable to shareholders. They demand a constant upward swing, rewarding them for their investment. Most investors know very little about the day to day decisions of the corporate entities that they invest in, and many couldn’t care less. They move their money away from companies who are not making as much short term profit, and towards companies who are – despite the lack of long term goals or ethics of those companies. This system of profit above all else is destroying our environment.  

  I am not a doomsday sort of person. I do believe in humanity’s ability to solve problems and find solutions. I believe in some sort of evolution of thought toward harmony and I believe that most people are inherently good by nature. For example, I believe that we will probably find solutions to replace fossil fuels even though oil is a major component in nearly everything we do. We use it for growing most of our foods, gardens and lawns. Chemical fertilizers are petroleum based. We also use oil for tractors, trucks, cars and planes to move ourselves and our food thousands of kilometres. Oil is also used to manufacture plastics and most of our everyday household items; but still, peak oil is not my primary concern. 

  So what is the issue?

  The issue for me is our determination to destroy as much as we can until we run out of oil. We seem unwilling to change in order to stop that destruction, even though we are well aware of it. I am puzzled why we are still moving full speed ahead until all the fossil fuels are gone. Our planet, our economies and even our soils will all be a lot easier to rebuild if we do not run them into the ground first. What is our resistance?

  Great examples of resistance to change include bailing out banks and the Big 3 auto makers rather than forcing them to change; and Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in the early 1960s, pointing out the many dangers of pesticide use. This fight continues.

  We have truly been misled. We do not need the constant input of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in our yards, gardens and farms. We are wasting our money on products based on ideas that are severely outdated in the light of current soil science, as well as customs and norms that were born before that enlightenment. We must change our concept of what it means to be a good citizen. Being a good citizen should, in my mind, be about preserving the ecosystem, not destroying it. We have yet to educate ourselves on how we can be happy and thrive without the unnecessary killing of soil organisms and weeds.  

  We can choose change

  We can strive to restore the balance of our ecosystem by refusing to destroy the soil with chemicals. We can choose to rebuild our soils by composting all our kitchen scraps and yard waste creating new, organic matter to nourish the soil rather than “getting rid of it”. We can let areas of our yards go “wild” to help feed the native birds and animals. We can grow food instead of lawns to alleviate the huge eco-footprint created by factory farms producing and transporting our food unsustainably. We can choose to redefine what it means to be a “good citizen” to help heal the earth and ourselves. Why wait? 


Connie Kuramoto is  a former instructor and technician at Vancouver Island University and is now teaching courses through Nanaimo Community Gardens as well as the Organic Master Gardener Course for Gaia College.