The irony was in-my-face unavoidable. I was sitting in my car waiting, in my driveway, with my seven-year-old still in the back strapped in her car seat. Sadly, this was no "NPR driveway moment". We were passing the time, windows closed and vents shut, waiting for the air outside to clear enough that, in case we weren't able to hold our breath all the way into the house (our usual tactic in these circumstances), we wouldn't inhale too much poison.
Passing the time, I was reading local news on the internet on my phone. The story began, "Sustainable Jersey representatives announced last week that Summit has won a Sustainability Champion award in the medium population category. The award, in its first year, honors the city for its commitment to "going green," controlling costs and saving money, and taking steps to sustain quality of life over the long term." And here we were, unable to make it from car to house without inhaling toxic fumes.
Sadly, this is a frequent occurrence. On three of the last five consecutive Sunday mornings of the summer, at 7:04am, 6:32am, and 6:44am, I was yanked from sleep to find a boot heel in my face, a boot that left a footprint that I was able to track down. It was the carbon footprint of small capacity, gasoline-powered, two-cycle engines. Earlier, less than a fortnight from the summer solstice, several cubic meters of white smoke accompanied an obnoxious rattle across my yard, slithering into my home, ejected from a neighbor's snow blower test drive in his driveway. This remarkable event was repeated in mid-July, and again the week before Labor Day. And again last Sunday that could have been in May, a November day with temperatures in the sixties, saw me making the circuit of my house, closing windows against the oil-laden smoke of this same neighbor's snow blower. To what end, I ask, does one run a snow blower on a sixty-four degree day?
Our love affairs with our yard tools have managed to transcend Summit's ordinance against their off-hours use. I only use the term "love affair" here for once, in the early morning hours of what otherwise could have been a delightful, late-spring June day, I came upon a particularly compulsive neighbor dry humping his leaf blower in his driveway.
Over the course of a single season, a single gasoline-powered, two- cycle lawnmower puts more pollutants into the atmosphere than a coast-to-coast road trip. Add to this trimmers, leaf blowers, edgers, and snow blowers, and a blow-it-now-and-mow-it-now-whether-it-needs- it-or-not attitude, and there is significant environmental impact. Unlike the cross-country road trip, however, yard tools sully our air in a tightly circumscribed area. Unlike the no man's land that surrounds many long stretches of interstate highways, residential properties are densely packed. My own little quarter-acre of Paradise 07901 is routinely assaulted by obnoxious noise and poisonous fumes from all sides.
I have long grown weary of evacuating my screened-in back porch, dinner plates in hand, to run around the house closing windows against the pollution of my neighbors and their contractors. I am weary of waiting in my car with my family for a neighbor's clippings bag to fill, forcing a shutdown of the source of the gasses that imprison us.
Clean air and tolerable noise levels are public health issues. Yes, the city does have a commitment to "going green," as evidenced by this Sustainability Champion award. And, yes, while there are theoretical limits on the hours gasoline powered yard tools can be used, they are not observed. In my eyes, in my ears, in my lungs, in my bloodstream, and in those of my family, these limits, and the city's Sustainability Champion award, mean nothing.
Not one to highlight a problem without proposing a solution, I urge all to consider the use of electric yard tools, elect to receive electricity from non-polluting, renewable sources with New Jersey Energy Choice, plant some trees, let your grass grow just a bit longer and allow an extra few days to pass between each of your adventures leaf blowing. And when the time comes, replace your roof with a white one that reflects as much light as possible, with a good layer of insulation beneath. This not only reduces your own energy expenses, but increases albedo (the amount of energy, and thus light and heat, reflected from the surface). True, my white roof can compensate for neither my neighbor's exercising his snow blower in July nor the hundreds of square miles of the once bright white ice, now water, that formerly graced polar regions. Nor will it counteract the damage done to our air by our yard tools, but I do know that I'm doing what I can.
As New Jersey marches into peak leaf blowing season, my seven-year-old and I have added a few extra minutes to our workout in the Y pool, practicing our breath holding. And it's cool enough now so we no longer dine on screened-in porch. Maybe I can just install a remote control garage door opener, enter my house through the garage, and leave the city outside, believing it is indeed a Champion of Sustainability.
'Tis the Season, Fa La La La La, La La La La.