How We Killed the Gulf of Mexico By Mowing Our Yards

When I bust on my 1/2 acre yard weekly with my Scotts 20-Inch Classic Push Real Reel Lawn Mower, I draw a lot of attention from my neighbors. More than once I have been asked why.  This post is for all my neighbors.

First I want to be 70’s big. There is no doubt that pushing this puppy around my lot is one hell of work out.  If your idea of a workout is brisk walk to the refrigerator from your couch, then this may not be your thing.  On the other hand it is not nearly as hard as everyone with their big self-propelled gas mowers would lead you to believe.  It takes effort to push it but not enough to prevent drinking a beer or successfully smoking a cigar.

Second, is that our culture’s obsessive compulsion for the perfect lawn killed the Gulf of Mexico.  I won’t even touch base on pesticides or fertilizes.  For now let’s just focus on the fuel consumption.

The average mower consumes about 1 gallon of gas per hour of usage.  I am going to assume that it only takes 1 hour to mow a typical lawn.  I will assume that each household mows their yard twice a month for the months of April to September.  So the average family uses 2 gallons a month * 6 months.  For a total of 12 gallons.   In 2010, there are 114,825,428 households (Some may contend that not all of these have lawns, but this is likely balanced by the lawncare of commercial properties).

That equals for the U.S. 1,377, 905 ,136 (1.4 billion) gallons of gasoline per year (This site puts it at closer 2.2 billion)

A typical barrel of oil yields 19.5 gallons of gasoline. So in a given year, the U.S. requires 70,661,801 barrels of oil to mow our lawns.

That amount is near equivalent to the conservative estimate for the total barrels leaked at the Deepwater Horizon site.  For a little sweat and $99, the choice should be clear.

Dr. M (1729 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (, connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.

8 comments on “How We Killed the Gulf of Mexico By Mowing Our Yards
  1. I have one of those and a smaller – lumpy bumpy yard. I resorted to using it for lawn care because I had no money to pay the yard man and had to do it myself and this was the mower that I had.

    It is a work out and at first I thought it wasn’t effective. It does work and it works you out. And I ain’t mad about that. With enough effort and runs – back, forward and sideways, the grass will get cut. I have a grass/sedge, broadleaf jungle out there- this is NO manicure lawn – it’s as biodiverse as it can get and I love it. It makes cutting it more challenging because crab grass and dandlions just fall down, but i go back and just yank that – another get aerobic workout. But for the wild wooly violets, grasses, patches of sedges, wild strawberries and clover grass it takes care of it.

    Wish I hadn’t been lazy and settled for gas mower cutting in the past.

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  3. you do know that it took oil to make that – right? I guess if it makes you feel better with the, I do less evil than you do routine, have a go at it.

  4. How about you just drive 100 less miles every month. Same thing. Or a better idea for those of you who love to point the finger at everyone else for “global warming”. Leave your A/C off in the summer and don’t heat your house in the winter. Puts you WAY closer to nature and the energy savings are off the chart. Lets all be like Al Gore and fly around the country in a private jet while blaming everyone else for carbon emissions.

  5. Dave and Mark,
    Thank you for your valuable contributions. Indeed driving less and reducing energy spent on regulating temperature within homes are both great ways to lessen our dependence on oil. You are also right that energy of some type is required to manufacture and trasport a mower to market. However, I can ensure that afterward I am not continuing to use fossil fuels.

    To the contrary I don’t feel better or feel better than anyone else. I simply saying our choices have ramifications. Once can choose to ignore these or be educated.

  6. This reminds me I need to mow my lawn…such as it is. I’ve always found maintaining a gas mower to be a pain in the ass, wasteful, and ultimately pointless.

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