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Can a Ban on Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers Save the Planet?

Yes, it can…because it all adds up.

As you begin your spring and summer (in the Northern Hemisphere), you might be thinking about a backyard cleanup before you plant your pretty flowers and home-grown (yum!) fruits and veggies. However, experts say the small, obnoxiously loud “conveniences” we call Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers (or GPLBs) create in one hour an equal quantity of harmful emissions as driving from Denver to Los Angeles.

How is that possible?

GPLB Engines Run a Dirtier Fuel Mix and Have Fewer Emission Controls

Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers or GPLBs haven’t been targeted as polluters until recently, and therefore the GPLBs don’t have pollution control laws that apply to their little engines. In addition, the small two-stroke engines use a dirtier (less expensive) fuel mix, which adds to their unhealthy discharges. Burning fossil fuels (like gasoline) adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, which trap heat and cause the Earth to warm. What happens when the Earth grows warmer? For one thing, more severe weather, like droughts and flooding, but also food insecurity.

Food Insecurity and Climate Change

The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) finds that a temperature increase of one degree Celsius (+1o C) is correlated to a 10% drop in crop yields. Food scarcity, they say, will continue to rise, and food insecurity—the lack of access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food—will remain in every country worldwide. Food scarcity can also be attributed to changes in insect numbers and varieties.

GPLBs Contribute to Declining Insect Populations

In a BBC article from 2019, the German Ministry for the Environment proclaimed that leaf blowers “posed a fatal threat to insects.” Scientific studies suggested insect numbers were plummeting in Germany and across the world. While it might be nice to think about fewer mosquitos as a more comfortable way to live, the truth is that mosquitos are part of a larger ecosystem/food chain that, in turn, affects our world’s food insecurity in a significant way.

Battery-Powered Leaf Blowers to the Rescue?

It is understood that a single gas-powered leaf blower will not warm the planet. Statista.com reports that 150.4 million Americans owned a leaf blower or vacuum in 2020, up from 141.1 million in 2019. A seven percent increase is going in the wrong direction!

While some people have complained that gas blowers are more powerful than their electric brothers, Consumer Reports says otherwise, especially when it comes to a typical residential backyard. The buying guide mentions that the batteries have a limited run time—somewhere between eight and thirty minutes on a charge. So, be quick about your cleanup! On the positive side, the report also says that electric blowers run more efficiently, are more reliable, and thus, are less likely to become a part of our growing landfill problem. (It’s always something!)

Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware)

Many communities are not only banning the purchase of new gas blowers; others are banning the use of any leaf blower. Maybe that’s a good thing. The insects and other small critters living in those messy piles are there for a reason. The German ministry mentions that a leaf blower can hurt or blow away both. Disturbing them kills them, their eggs, their babies, and their and our futures.

Before you buy any leaf blower, consider its impact, and buy a nice rake, a trusty broom, and a hearty dustpan. You can save the planet… one leaf blower and one degree Celsius at a time. Because IT’S NOT TOO LATE!!!

See the Carbon Almanac for more information.

Note: This article appeared in the Carbon Almanac Daily Difference Email Feed in May 2023.

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