Opinion | Keep traditions alive, save the environment

Outside maintenance must adopt new ways to celebrate cherished milestones.


Matt Sindt

Executive Director of Public Space One John Engelbrecht poses for a photo in front of the mural outside of Public Space One North Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. (Matt Sindt/The Daily Iowan)

Yasmina Sahir, Opinions Columnist

The cost of lawn care is killing the planet.

During homecoming week, the University of Iowa maintenance made campus look pristine with clean cut grass and raked leaves.

It is important for the UI to look welcoming and clean for alumni, prospective students, and other visitors during special events like the Homecoming football game. But the UI could do more to sustain a healthy environment on campus.

Climate researchers point to suburban lawn care as a producer of carbon dioxide, one of the leading causes of climate change. Keeping lawns cut short, free of leaves, and interruptions of other natural processes in our Iowan ecosystem could be raising the global temperature.

On top of this, the use of chemicals to make the grass greener and spray painting on the Pentacrest introduce harmful chemicals not only to the environment, but also to students, staff and community members.

Outside of air and health pollutants, water pollution is of high concern with the widespread use of lawn care chemicals. Iowa’s water quality is suffering from factory farming practices, flattening of land to make room for roadways, and housing.  In fact, over 99.9 percent of native prairies in Iowa have been altered or removed.

In the future, UI could let lawns be. If the UI really wants to make a positive impact on the climate, they should turn to perennial grass.

Perennial grass is a water efficient species with little need for fertilization. Replacing all campus lawns with perennial grass could decrease our campus CO2 and methane production.

While historically seen as messy pests, letting leaves rest on lawns is shown to protect the ground during winter months. Leaves release important nutrients into the soil and plants underneath heavy snowfall as they decompose in the winter. Leaves could perhaps replace the need for use of chemical lawn care all together.

Similarly, spray painting lawns introduces toxins into the environment with little to no benefit. Signage on buildings, use of lamppost banners downtown, and other options to showcase our collective love for Herky the hawk exist if changes are embraced by campus leadership.

In the U.S., common climate rhetoric does not make the climate crisis appear urgent. But, the 2020 derecho, harsher winters, and Mississippi floodings prove climate action is urgent.

Some people and places use the excuse that being sustainable has become a trend and is expensive.

Poverty needs to be addressed to continue global climate efforts. However, if the UI can afford to contract its head football coach for $5 million per year, something tells me we can put a little more financial and social backing into keeping our planet alive.

It will take a global effort to sustain our planet for the safety of all humans. As one of the largest producers of global emissions, Americans should feel especially compelled to address climate concerns.

What some may call small annoyances or liberal whining could help save our planet and our species. The climate crisis is more important than any sporting event.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.