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Boston Book Festival 2020: Lawns for Watershed and Climate Restoration

Boston Book Festival 2020

Environmental Nonfiction: Restoring Lawns with Healthy Soils for a Cooler, Wetter Massachusetts

Grass lawns are not what they seem.  The green turfs of our residential neighborhoods are shamed for polluting our waterways and requiring lots of water. Troubles come instead from our application of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

By stopping the chemicals from above and letting the diverse ecosystems organize beneath, networks of fungi, bacteria and soil animals can thrive on the liquid carbon pushed out by grass. Nothing sequesters CO2 out of the atmosphere better than the grasses. prairie grass, salt marsh grass, and most ubiquitous, lawn grass.

Here are four articles on the importance of turf grass in symbiosis with life of the rhizosphere below. Discover a place less understood than the ocean. When we manage intelligently in concert with nature, we can have green lawns, clean water, and cleaner sky. (We also save money by letting nature do what it does best – organize into nested systems.)

Why Modifying Your Lawn Care Practices Will Do More to Abate Climate Change than Changing Your Car for a Hybrid

In the efforts to slow the ravages wrought by Climate Change, the hare may have beaten the hybrid car while munching on grass.  The real winners are non-fertilized green lawns and permaculture. The hare was just stimulating the grass to capture more carbon.

The bad news is that carbon in the atmosphere has risen in hockey-stick fashion. The incontrovertible truth is that 400 parts per million is 0.04% of greenhouse gasses. Most of the greenhouse gas preventing heat energy from escaping the planet is water vapor (95%).

Much as I like to deploy a sling psychrometer, observing and recording water vapor is challenging.  Besides, Charles David Keeling coming down from Mauna Loa (13,679 ft) with a hockey-stick scribed into the atmospheric CO2 graph is the stuff of legends.

Look not to melting ice in Greenland; look to your yard and neighborhood.  The green parts can do a lot to reverse climate change, to restore the more favorable environmental conditions of yesteryear. Given the super-sized effects of water vapor in the climate change debacle, how you treat your bit of grass turf is not insignificant. Click here for the article and to comment.

Fighting Climate Change with Grass & Clearer Skies Without the Purple Haze

The death of soil organisms and the loss of soil began with Article 106 of the Treaty of Versailles where the Haber-Bosch process of fixing nitrogen was given to American industries. This action was followed by the Dust Bowl and haze (“don’t know if it’s day or night”).  When left to its own devices lawn grass restores life to soil and creates the conditions conducive for earthworms to become “ecological engineers.” To fight sea level rise, Boston’s Mayor has called for the creation of new open spaces to maximize the green along urban waterfronts. Click here for article and to comment.

The Greens of Greenland Tell Why an Unfertilized Lawn is a Healthier Lawn Fighting Climate Change

Grow grass the way the Eric the Red did, and our waterways will benefit from less nutrient pollution, less blooming algae, and less natural gas burning to fix fertilizers.  When sixteen striped bass and a horseshoe crab were found dead on the shores of Little Pond on the south shore of Falmouth, lawn care in Massachusetts was forever changed, despite the fertilizer industry’s best science.  We’re not so different from those living long ago. Click here for article.

Let Green Water Cycle and Rivers Flow All Summer

Walking on grass stimulates photosynthesis. Plant cells send signals out over the mycorrhizae fungi network to distant bacteria that specialize in specific nutrients and minerals, such as fixed nitrogen.  Needed chemicals are sent over the microbial bridge back to plant cells.  Beneath the turf is the world’s largest organism, mycorrhizae fungi (unless your lawn is smaller than a blue whale).  Thanks to the Green Water Cycle when a square yard of soil is created by lawns, it results in adding a watering can (4.4 gallons) of water to the watershed.Click here for article and to comment.

ACTION: ORI’s Lawn for Watershed and Climate Restoration Challenge.

For a better future, the Ocean River Institute is going town by town, often in concert with Conservation Commissions, asking residents to pledge not to use quick-release fertilizer or spread chemicals on established lawns.  One-half pound per thousand square feet of lawn of 100% slow (controlled) release fertilizer is an option.

With more than 2,000 square miles of lawns in Massachusetts, we have the capacity to draw down 1.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year! Healthy lawns with deep soils (and active worms) can hold nine inches of rain to better protect homes from extreme weather events.  Wildlife will benefit from your participation in responsible stewardship.

Save the rhizosphere, a world less understood than the ocean!

Take up the Challenge

(for more information click here).


Pledge to act for healthy natural lawns.

Please comment why this action is important to you.


Invite others to save money on lawn care while capturing more carbon than recently planted trees.

(Often new trees are planted in poor soil and do not do well. Tree planting is not a simple solution. Science 08 May 2020)
Grasses are the best at soil building.


“I looked at your lawns article and loved it. Well explained and so refreshing to learn you are involved in doing something so constructive with much maligned lawns – and how you make the point clearly that it is the management of the grass, not the grass causing the problem.”
Alan Savory
President, Savory Institute, Boulder, Colorado, USA
Chairman, Africa Centre for Holistic Management, Zimbabwe.
“Nitrogen has disrupted more ecosystems than any other chemical. Lawns for Climate Restoration Challenge makes clear why we must and we can stop nitrogen pollution!”
Frances Moore Lappé
Acclaimed author of Diet for a Small Planet
Co-founder of Small Planet Institute   www.smallplanet.org
“One of the ways the Governor and state legislature can achieve their worthy goals of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 is capturing and sequestering carbon in healthy lawns, both at home and in our public and private golf courses using non-quick release fertilizers.”
Jack Clarke
Director of Public Policy & Government Relations
Mass Audubon  www.massaudubon.org
“Nutrient pollution is a serious problem for rivers and streams throughout Massachusetts, and lawn fertilizer is a significant source of that pollution.  We applaud the Ocean River Institute taking a creative, hands-on approach to this problem, and look forward to the success of this project.”
Julia Blatt, Executive Director
Massachusetts Rivers Alliance www.massriversalliance.org
Increasing carbon storage in soils is one of the most effective ways to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Grasses with strong, deep root systems put carbon back into the soil as organic matter, require little to no watering and are far more resilient in droughts, and can out-compete weeds more successfully.  While established lawns rarely need fertilizer, when they do, using a slow-release fertilizer or compost once per year will reduce nutrient run-off and pollution of our waterways. This is a simple and cost-effective action people can take to make a difference!”
Alison Field-Juma, Executive Director
OARS: For the Assabet, Sudbury, and Concord Rivers www.oars3rivers.org
What we put on our lawns gets into our environment and lawn chemicals are a major source of nutrient pollution in the Charles River. Nutrient pollution leads to overgrowth of invasive species, algae and cyanobacteria blooms, fish kills, and an abundance of unsightly foam in the river. The Ocean River Institute’s campaign to promote healthy, natural lawns that are free from fertilizers will help improve water quality in the Charles.”
Heather Miller, Esq.
General Counsel & Policy Director
Charles River Watershed Association www.crwa.org
After degrading the soil with excessive harmful chemical practices, regenerating lawn ecosystem’s natural function to good health is critical and restores nature’s capacity to draw carbon from the atmosphere.
Mothers Out Front, Cambridge https://ma.mothersoutfront.org/cambridge
Where We're Working On This
Boston Book Festival 2020: Lawns for Watershed and Climate Restoration. See where we're actively working on this.

How You Can Help
The Ocean River Institute provides individuals around the world with specific opportunities to make a difference saving wildlife, protecting ecosystems, in environmental education, science, and conservation.