At risk of producing yet another edition of “Enviro-geek whining about something basically inconsequential,” this kinda ticked me off.

The city of Seattle—like everyone and their grandmother—has a list (pdf link) of the “Top ten things you can do to reduce global warming.” Clocking in at number 5: use a push or electric mower, rather than a gas-powered one. “Gasoline mowers are one of biggest polluters in the neighborhood,” reasons the city.

True ’nuff. Older mowers, in particular, produce lots of carbon monoxide, volatile organics, and particulates—things that you and your neighbors would probably prefer not to breathe.

But problems for global warming? Not so much.

  • Sure, gas mowers use a bit of fuel.  But stowing your mower for a season is nowhere near the 5th most important thing you can do in your personal life to combat global warming.  Maybe it’s in the top 50—but number five?  Nah.  Cutting out a couple of trips to the mall is probably a bigger deal.

    I only mention this because it’s an example of a problem I’ve seen cropping up in other areas, particularly debates over highways. Many people confuse local air quality problems—smog and the like—with global warming. But they’re just not the same thing. 

    For example, some computer models show that building new highway lanes may reduce smog-forming emissions (at least over the short term) by easing the stop-and-go traffic snarls, when engines run especially dirty.  But even if it makes sense for smog, strategy building new lanes be incredibly counterproductive in the fight against global warming.  Sure, free-flowing traffic may produce less smog, but extra lanes mean that people will drive more—and more driving means more climate-warming gases.

    Just so, shelving your mower might be a great idea for your lungs, and your neighbors’ too. But we shouldn’t pretend that it’s going to do much to cut back on CO2 emissions—which are the real culprit in climate change.

    (Hat tip to Yoram Bauman)