Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lesson From Irene

The approach of Hurricane Irene, which is supposed to hit the New York area in less than 12 hours, has led to an unprecedented evacuation of New Yorkers from low-lying shore areas. If the storm causes the kind of damage that experts are predicting, it could cause more than 500 million dollars in damages to homes located in oceanfront communities.

Now all of us who live on Long Island knew that it was only a matter of time before the next big one hit our area. And yet in the past forty years the number of homes built on the South Shore has doubled. I’ll pass over the fact that these homes are being built on one of nature’s most fragile ecosystem, because quiet frankly this fact is obviously lost on the kind of people who feel compelled to live on the beach. I’ll also pass over the fact that, in many cases, the often opulent homes of selfish individuals who live on beaches or barrier islands only continue to exist at all because of the millions of dollars that taxpayers like myself are contributing for “beach front restoration” (aka, keeping rich idiot’s homes from washing away into the sea).

The question now is what becomes of the homes that are damaged or destroyed as a result of this hurricane? Perhaps it’s time to realize that the very idea that people can “own” a piece of the shoreline is foolish and na├»ve. Shore erosion—particularly on barrier islands—is a fact of nature, and can’t be stopped no matter how many tons of sand the Army Corps of Engineers plops down. If climatologists predictions are true—and there’s no reason for me to think they’re not—then global warming trends will probably lead to even more severe hurricanes in the future along the East Coast, and will further accelerate beach erosion. These beachfront homes, then, will inevitably be destroyed by nature no matter what we do or how much money we spend to protect them.

So why exactly are we protecting them? Perhaps it is time to heed the warnings of Mother Nature and allow the entire Atlantic shoreline to be returned to its natural state—or at least as much as is possible at this point. The worst thing we could do is to allow people to rebuild in costal areas after their homes have been destroyed. That’s just prolonging the inevitable.

I know that there are those who would argue that it is unfair to make people abandon the wonderful lives that they have created for themselves in beachfront communities. My argument would be that they shouldn’t have been living there in the first place. Anyone with the smallest shred of common sense knows that it is foolish to build a palace on shifting sand. If people choose to ignore this time-tested proverb, then that is entirely their problem. The rest of us certainly shouldn’t be forced to subsidize their foolishness.

I can imagine a time when, after all the ugly seaside mcmansions and mcbungalos have been torn down, we will be left with 2,069 miles of reclaimed coastline, running all the way from Maine to Florida. People will be able to swim, bask in the sun, play in the sand, but they won’t ever again be allowed to build on our beaches. And this, I believe, is a dream that is well worth fighting for.

Friday, August 19, 2011

One Small Step for the Planet: Part 1

Planting a Zoyzia Lawn

As I mentioned
in my previous post, one simple thing that we can all do to live more sustainably is to replace a water-guzzling, pesticide-dependent lawn with a much more earth-friendly zoysia lawn. Zoysia is a creeping grass originally from Asia that is extremely heat-resistant, and therefore needs much less watering in the summer than other types of grass; zoyzia also creates a thick mat of grass that crowds out weeds, so you don't have to use pesticides or much fertilizer on it once it is established. The only downside about zoyzia is that it goes dormant during the coldest months of winter in the north and turns brown. The upside is that, after a few years, you get a virtually indestructible lawn that is relatively care-free. The hotter it gets, the better zoysia likes it. It's a win-win: you get a plush green lawn that is the envy of all your neighbors and at the same time you are doing something fabulous for the environment.

To begin transforming your lawn into a zoysia lawn, the first thing you need to do is get some plugs to transplant. You can either "borrow" these from a neighbor's lawn (just cut a small two inch circle of sod from the lawn; it will fill back in in no time) or buy some sod. I get mine from Zoysia Farm Nursery in Maryland. I don't know if their sod is better or worse than any other nursery's, but it seems to do the trick for me. Once the sod comes, all you need to do is cut it into 2 or 3 inch plugs. I used to use a scissor to do this, but an old garden knife seems to work even easier for me. When you have your plug, dig a hole in the ground, insert the plug with a bit of grass sticking out of the ground (this is important!), and give it a firm press so that the roots make contact with the soil. If you water properly, your plugs will turn green in a few weeks and will slowly begin to take over your lawn. That's really all there is to it.It takes a few years for zoysia grass to crowd out Kentucky blue grass, fescues, perennial rye grass, and other sort of mamby-pamb types of grass. But once it's established, you are left with a lawn that requires very little care. And even better, it is a renewal resource: you can take plugs or springs from your existing lawn and use them else where or give them to envious neighbors!

Planting a zoysia lawn may not win you any environment awards, but it's one small step that all of us can take to try to live more sustainably. I can already see a difference with the zoysia lawn that I've established: I use absolutely no pesticides on it, almost no fertilizer, and do a fraction of the watering that I used to.

Maybe I do deserve that environmental award, after all!

Popular Posts