Klar: The Utility of Pollution

Allocating harm where it does the most good.

(Some of us don’t use gas-powered mowers, but cut our lawns with sheep)

by John Klar

A proper accounting of the pollution impacts of products or activities requires an assessment of the total “ecological footprint” involved. Writer Wendell Berry called these the “externalized costs” of production.  Proponents of so-called “renewable energy” products, true costs are largely avoided.

There is only so much that humanity can reasonably accomplish in energy conservation.  If renewable energy is to make a difference, the increase in manufacturing production required is mind-staggering:

….the transition of the U.S. electrical supply away from fossil fuels by 2050 would require an astonishing increase in the rate of grid construction, amounting to an estimated 14 times that of the rate over the past half century. The same goes for wind and solar plant construction. To achieve 90% decarbonization and electrification by 2035 the United States “would have to quadruple its last annual construction of wind turbines every year for the next 15 years and triple its last annual construction of solar PV every year for the next 15 years” — and then repeat this colossal manufacturing endeavor indefinitely, as solar panels and wind turbines have average lifespans of around 15 to 30 years.  

The full pollution footprint of the construction and installation of all those wind turbines and (coal-fired) solar panels must be measured to assess their true environmental cost. 

If energy and pollution reduction are to be seriously undertaken, so too should the end uses of energy be differentiated based upon their utility.  For instance, it is a better use of fossil fuels, and a more justifiable release of pollution, to grow crops or provide homes with heat than it is to race NASCAR or drive a long distance to ski or skydive.

I am not advocating to use government to widely regulate human activities to control pollution.  But those who do, if they were to be credible, would oppose first and foremost those uses of energy which were least justified in their relative benefit to individuals and/or community. 

For instance, mowing lawns and fireworks displays are two quick picks for activities that have little merit with which to justify energy use and pollution.  Both are 1) immensely popular and 2) unaddressed by climate alarmists.


Fireworks do not feed or warm us.  They produce air, water, and noise pollution, and are highly dangerous as a fire threat and to human health.  Notwithstanding Greta Thunberg’s pugnacious protestations, fireworks purchases have escalated during Covid:

In the 21st century, consumer fireworks revenue slowly and steadily ticked up from $407 million in 2000 to $1 billion in 2019. In a single year, that number nearly doubled to $1.9 billion in 2020 and then jumped to $2.2 billion in 2021.

….In terms of total consumption, the country smashed all records with 404.5 million pounds in 2020 and 428.8 million pounds in 2021.

Instead of driving up gas station fuel prices by banning fossil fuels, or regressively taxing heating oil and electricity to fund solar panels, EVs and heat pumps, a genuine effort to “save the planet” would seek to eliminate fireworks:

John Klar

Fireworks create a toxic fog of fine particulates, poisonous aerosols and heavy metals…. Pollutants released by fireworks travel far from their origin. Several studies revealed that in mild weather, tagged heavy metals used in pyrotechnics traveled 100 km (62 miles) downwind over a two-day period…. Currently, there is not much published research that focuses specifically on the health impacts of fireworks, but they do use a variety of Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic chemicals (PBTs) to create their effects. We do know PBTs remain in the environment for very long periods of time, that they are highly resistant to degradation, and they easily enter and quickly accumulate in the food chain.

For climate activists to enjoy fireworks would be like vegans hosting a pork barbecue.  Has Joe Biden issued an Executive Order banning all fireworks displays (or Christmas tree lighting) at the White House to reduce pollution?

Lawns are largely ornamental, though there is utility in excluding weeds.  Their energy/pollution-to-utility conversion ratio is pretty unjustifiable.  Yes, people love them, but lawns are an (honest) environmentalist’s worst nightmare.

A 2005 NASA study estimated that lawns covered 10% of Delaware and 20% of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Jersey:

….more surface area is devoted to lawns than to any single irrigated crop in the country. For example, lawns appear to cover more than three times the number of acres that irrigated corn covers.

About 9.6 million lawn mowers were sold in 2021, despite the attendant chemical, energy, and natural resources consumed in their manufacture.  The EPA estimates Americans used 70 million pounds of fertilizers on their lawns in 2004—are any of those lawns owned by Green Peace or Sierra Club members?

More than 200 million Americans own lawn mowers, and mow their lawns an average of 22 times annually.  This burns an estimated 800 million gallons of gas each year:

The EPA says a new gas powered lawn mower produces as much air pollution in 1 hour of operation as 11 new cars each being driven for 1 hour. Using a gas-powered leaf blower for one hour causes the same amount of pollution to be emitted into the air as does a 2017 Toyota Camry driving from Los Angeles to Denver, which spans roughly 1,100 miles. 

If climate change cultists were serious about reducing environmental destruction, one would hear not just about the solar panels, EVs, heat pumps and windmills which those manufacturing industries have advanced as environmentally salvific.  Concerns would include expansive flatscreen TVs, ubiquitous cell phones, vacations in Tahiti, or maybe golf courses—none of which are necessary to heat or light one’s home, grow food, or travel to work to feed a family.  Instead we are told not to eat cows, that farms must be closed, and that high gas prices will “help people” pollute less.

How do video-gamers attack cows, or amusement park fans criticize old pick-ups, in complete oblivion to their glaring hypocrisy?  Will government decide not only what cars are legal to drive, but how many TVs or phones citizens are allowed to own, or how big of a stereo?  Will the electronic currency be used to prohibit golf games, Halloween decorations, and drives to the gym?

True solutions to environmental degradation require personal responsibility and choice.   Few people will make the personal choice to surrender all their purchasing decisions to Big Brother, nor should they.

It’s time climate alarmists focused on the pollution logs in their own eyes, rather than the need-to-drive-to-work-and-heat-my-house twigs in their neighbors’.

The author is a Brookfield best-selling author, lawyer, farmer and pastor. Reprinted from the Small Farm Republic website.

Categories: Commentary

4 replies »

  1. How I envy the large mostly flat and rock free lawns of a couple of neighbors. They diligently mow these potential fields of food or mulch or hay twice a week. These are located up the road and across the street they are from my steep hillside rock ridden 30 acres. So we terraced most of what was formerly lawn and some scrappy woods in the 2+ acre area around the house. We fenced it off from critters and predators and use the majority of it to grow food… produce, oats, field peas, fruit and nut trees. There is now hardly any grass left. Fortunately another neighbor is letting us scythe her field so we can have mulch for the gardens and hay for the goats. A win win…

  2. To this causal observer, it would appear we may be in for a bumpy ride with preparations for the coming electrical infrastructure wave.

    Of course the local economy crippling actions on the part of Vermont will be perhaps more than negated by China who is at this moment building coal fired electrical plants at the rate of 4-5 per month.(Trust me I am not just making this stuff up) Not sure how this fits into Vermont’s plans, but, just a wild guess, we will probably be asked to up the ante cause we are nice people and they are part of the downtrodden, just scraping by people of the earth.

    Yes, the black cloud coming your way seems to be following the same path as the recent spy balloons by some mystical chance. Not sure if the heat pumps will remedy that but my guess they may fall short.

    The People’s Republic of Vermont continues it march. Before it hits the sea, they may want to pause and reflect.

  3. Thanks for the article honest and truthful for a change. Not popular comments in this mass consumer culture driven by propaganda marketing. These are the kinds of presentations sorely needed in schools and colleges everywhere if there is going to be a chance of changing behavior for the better.

  4. Thanks for your insight John. But facts and reality escape those currently under our golden dome. They’re killing the golden goose. Their plan is nothing more than a wealth transfer scheme.