jonathan kevles CA October 17, 2008

I have a research question in regards to the potential for lawns to mitigate climate change and help us adapt to climate change: Depending on the responses to the questions below, I foresee a slew of policies and awareness programs at the local level (at least) to shift behavior in regards to lawn care. Lawns in the US occupy three times as much land as irrigated corn - some 280+ million acres. Whether or not one is for or against lawns, they seem to be here to stay, at least for the next couple of decades. So, can one turn these ostensibly unsustainable lemons into lemonade? Specifically, can one economically (from the lawn owner's point of view - homeowner, college campus, city parks department) improve the carbon sequestration and moisture holding/drought resistance capacities of soils on which lawns are planted? If so, by how much can the carbon sequestration and drought resistance capacities improve? (Can anyone refer me to any data, studies, researchers?) (This question has a climate change adaptation component in the drought resistance issue given that climate change is likely to exacerbate the occurrence of droughts in many geographies.) By economically, I mean pay no more than (or less?) than the lawn owner is currently paying to maintain the lawn given the different amount and types of inputs between a carbon-indifferent approach and any carbon sequestration maximizing approaches? (Can anyone refer me to any data, people, studies on this question?)

Caveats and limits to the questions:

-- I am not counting on the sale of carbon credits as a source of revenue in regards to making the argument for any carbon sequestration maximizing approaches.

-- I am focusing on carbon sequestration in the soil, so though calculations are welcome on a) the reduced emissions from reduced and/or non-polluting mowing methods and b) from reduced use of carbon intensive inputs such as fertilizer, it is the soil science calculations are of most interest to me.

-- I would also love to see calculations on the beneficial carbon impacts of using less water on a lawn (or using less water generally). I have heard that California uses 50% of its electricity to move and treat water, so I wonder if there is a carbon calculation for each gallon saved (obviously dependent on the carbon intensity of the grid).

Thank you very much,
-- Jonathan Kevles

Jonathan Kevles