The Slow Death of Lawns in Deserts

  • Major item today about the slow death of lawns in deserts, especially in the US southwest;
  • Then a few quick items, about the decline of Christianity, and Scientology’s psychological torture;
  • And a musical piece by Ludovico Einaudi.
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This has been a long time coming.

LA Times, Editorial Board, 13 Aug 2023: Editorial: Say goodbye to grass that’s only there for looks. California can’t afford to waste water

California was so dry and its water supply so precarious by May 2022 that the State Water Resources Control Board issued an emergency order: No drinkable water could be used to irrigate grass that had no function other than to look nice.

The regulation does not apply to residential lawns, although they were already turning brown due to local restrictions on sprinkler use.

It does apply to all purely ornamental lawns — “nonfunctional turf,” in regulatory parlance — at commercial, industrial and institutional sites, such as shopping centers and corporate headquarters.

That order was recently extended for another year.

Las Vegas went further, ordering the *removal* of nonfunctional turf.

That means grass that no one walks on, except to mow it. It doesn’t apply to playing fields, picnic grounds, parks, meeting areas, schools, cemeteries or any place where people gather, play, loll, visit or frolic. It won’t keep anyone from feeling wet grass under their bare toes. Instead, think fenced areas with “keep off the grass” signs, plus street medians, mall landscaping and the like.

And again, it wouldn’t require homeowners to remove their lawns, although they really ought to.

This idea — of getting rid of lawns even at private homes — has been in the air for decades. At some point I personally realized the oddity of people planting lawns even for houses in the middle of the Mojave Desert, like the one I grew up in from about age 3 to 6 or so, where a big square lawn surrounded by a low cinder-block wall can be glimpsed in a few of the photos on this page of my family history.

Yuval Noah Harari, in his second book Homo Deus, reviewed here, made a point about how lush lawns were a status symbol, and thus spread west as Americans steadily moved west over the past century, perhaps both as status symbol and by simple tradition.

In recent years, especially with climate change and increasingly severe droughts in the West, more and more people have reached the conclusion that lawns are ecologically unsustainable in climates where they cannot survive without watering. As we did in Apple Valley, running a rotating sprinkler (a Rain Bird or its equivalent) an hour at a time, maybe twice a week, to keep the lawn alive even in the summer.

And the idea is gradually sinking in. Thinking back, since growing up in that house in Apple Valley, I’ve lived in houses in Santa Monica, Reseda, (then an excursion to Illinois, where watering lawns was not an issue), Sepulveda (now North Hills), (then apartments for a while), Granada Hills, Woodland Hills, and now the Oakland hills, where all of them except the last two had lawns, at least in front and sometimes in back. I suppose the reason the last two were excepted was because they were hillside properties, one on a downslope, the current one on an upslope, with too little area to put in any kind of lawn.

Still, where I live now, on one side of the street are houses built on an upslope, and even a few of them have modestly-sized front yards, as do all the houses on the other side of the street from us. And of the 20 houses on our stretch of Crestmont Drive, only three or four have small lawns, one of those is fake, and three or four others have “lawns” that have been allowed to dry up and turn to weeds. Neglect, probably. Other houses have front yards of gravel and bonsai, or suites of succulents, or simple shrubs and native plants, as in our own front yard.

Of course in the Midwest, the South, the Northeast, even the Northwest, of the US, this is not an issue. And England, and Ireland. That’s one of their attractions. Everything is so green all the time, with no maintenance. But the American southwest is only gradually adjusting to living in a desert.

The big picture lesson, of course, is that humans think and plan in the short-term, and drag conventions and assumptions from one area to another without understanding long-term consequences. Gradually these consequences are sinking in. If perhaps not quite quickly enough to avoid ever and ever more drastic effects of climate change.


Some quick items.

Arkansas Times, 12 Aug 2023, via: Arkansas education department nixes AP African American Studies course at last minute

The AP course on European history is still eligible for AP credit. Could they be any more transparently racist?


Only Sky, Captain Cassidy, 2 Aug 2023: The Atlantic accidentally reveals Christianity’s growing irrelevance, subtitled “If churches and church leaders had an effective answer for the increasing dysfunctionality of American culture, they’d never have entered decline in the first place.”

This responds to this piece:

The Atlantic, Jake Meador, 29 Jul 2023: The Misunderstood Reason Millions of Americans Stopped Going to Church, subtitled “The defining problem driving people out is … just how American life works in the 21st century.”

I find this subject fascinating — how organized religion attracts adherents, or adherents turn away — but these are long articles, I haven’t read them, and am noting them here only for future reference.


No surprise. Not all religions are “cults,” but some of them are. Actually it depends on the definition of “cult.”

Salon, Kelly McClure, 2 Aug 2023: “I intend to be the last”: Leah Remini sues Church of Scientology citing “psychological torture”, subtitled “The actress is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for the alleged harm inflicted upon her by the church”


Finally for this late afternoon, a track by a contemporary composer named Ludovico Einaudi, called “Primavera” (“Spring”), that I only know because my local classic music station, KDFC, has played this track often enough for me to notice. I haven’t researched him to know what else he’s done; but this piece is striking. Just look at the comments on YouTube.

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