Thursday, February 28, 2013

Parking Lots and Leaf Blowers

People rarely think of parking lots and leaf blowers at the same time, and why should they?  Parking lots are large areas with impervious surfaces used for storing cars.  Leaf blowers are motorized yard tools used for moving organic matter like leaves and grass clippings.

Yet nowadays, you almost never find a parking lot without a leaf blower.  Why?

Most owners of parking lots have a "clean" fetish for keeping their lots free of all organic matter.  The black surface of the parking lot increases the visibility of the lighter-colored organic matter -- even small particles like seeds or pollen -- and appears to tap a visceral "cleanliness" impulse in owners.  They are willing use "any means necessary" to remove this matter from their pristine blacktop, lest others think they are dirty or messy.

Which brings me to leaf blowers.  These ridiculously noisy and highly polluting devices are extreme overkill for the organic matter on parking lots.  They emit a disproportionate amount of carbon for the task, which in this time of climate change, is something that should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

For those not bothered by the pollution and noise of blowers (although after Hurricane Sandy, I can't think of anyone that I know), this is not a problem.  But for everyone else, it is.  In my home county near New York City, ten municipalities have passed strict seasonal bans on blowers.  How much carbon are we talking about?  Here's an review of the huge Ford Raptor truck for a little perspective:

"The hydrocarbon emissions from a half-hour of yard work with the two-stroke leaf blower are about the same as a 3,900-mile drive from Texas to Alaska in a Raptor," said Jason Kavanagh, engineering editor at "As ridiculous as it may sound, it is more 'green' to ditch your yard equipment and find a way to blow leaves using a Raptor."

Which brings me back to parking lots.  It is the end of February today, and I live near a business that serves as a catering hall.  The snow has melted and there is some organic matter on the parking lot.  The matter doesn't impede walking or driving, but to someone with a parking lot "clean" fetish, it appears "dirty."

So at 6:30AM, I was rudely awoken by the sound of three blowers -- two push blowers and one backpack -- "cleaning" the parking lot.  It is a big lot, so it took an hour.

So next time a local business asks to install or expand a parking lot, remember what else that includes.