Don't wait for legislation to make sustainability changes
Sustainability is a broad concept, understood and interpreted at different scales. Cleveland Heights residents want the city to develop a sustainability plan—a huge and expensive task for an understaffed city. Just hammering out what aspects of sustainability to tackle will take research, analysis and agreement. Success will depend on passage of legislation, followed by implementation and enforcement. It could take years to realize positive impacts. How can we hasten mitigation of emissions-caused climate change?
Cleveland Heights doesn’t have much industry requiring air-quality control. We don’t have major highways, interstates, rail, or air traffic as emissions sources. We mostly have small, non-manufacturing businesses and residential properties—with a lot trees, leaves and lawns, and thousands of privately owned gas-powered vehicles and equipment.
We don’t need city legislation to voluntarily, and immediately, make a difference. Activity on private property is, collectively, the biggest source of carbon emissions across the city.
Gas-powered lawn equipment is gradually being banned in many cities and even entire states (California). Reducing or eliminating this one, widespread, and devastatingly dirty type of fuel use could immediately reduce carbon emissions; toxic volatile fumes; and the amount of lead, mold spores, and fine particulates suspended in our shared air. That’s the air infants and toddlers, joggers and cyclists, mail carriers, and the landscapers themselves, have no choice but to breathe into their lungs.
It's not just affecting humans. We are losing plant and insect diversity necessary to keep the biology of our planet functioning. In urban areas, like Cleveland Heights, yard crews blast away at leaf litter and regularly scalp lawns down to an inch or two, decimating insects and microorganisms that nest and feed in leaf litter or near the soil surface. These organisms process nutrients and feed and aerate our soil; without them, the soil would be lifeless and unable to support the plants that also depend on insects for pollination.
This year, reconsider how to manage your yard and lawn:
- Switch to electric lawn mowers or blowers. They are quiet, efficient, non-polluting and affordable.
- Mow less frequently and let your lawn grow longer; experiment with no-mow plantings. Longer grass helps shade out weeds and better maintains soil moisture.
- Expand existing planting beds to reduce lawn; add trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials.
- Use leaf blowers sparingly and at gentler air speeds, preferably only to clear paved areas. Don’t blow clouds of debris into the air or into the street to clog storm drains.
- If you use a landscaping service, remember that you are the client—choose a contractor who understands and supports sustainable landscaping practices.
- Generating less dust, debris, fumes and noise will allow you and your neighbors to enjoy open windows and fresh air—which means less air-conditioning emissions and expense.
We don’t need to wait for legislation. We can choose to make immediate reductions in air pollutants, carbon emissions and noise, to return our neighborhoods to a quieter, cleaner and healthier normal.
Alice Jeresko is a greenspace advocate who holds a master's in environmental studies from Cleveland State University's Levin College of Urban Affairs. She and her spouse, Tom Hudak, have maintained a home in Cleveland Heights since 1998. She returned to Cleveland Heights in 2019 after a few years in Portland, Ore., and retired from the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.