Ethics Quiz: The Natural Lawn


(Commenters complained that the last quiz was too easy. This one is not.)

In the St. Albans Township, outside of Alexandria, Ohio, Sarah Baker and her partner  violated the local ordinance and stopped mowing their one acre of property. “A potpourri of plants began to flourish, and a rich assortment of insects and animals followed. I had essentially grown a working ecosystem, one that had been waiting for the chance to emerge,” she wrote in the Washington Post. The first time the couple tried this, they were fined a thousand dollars but capitulated and mowed their lawn. Now, though they have been found to turn their property into a “public nuisance” due to neglect, they are defying the town and certain that they are in the right. Baker writes in part:

” About 95 percent of the natural landscape in the lower 48 states has been developed into cities, suburbs and farmland. Meanwhile, the global population of vertebrate animals, from birds to fish, has been cut in half during the past four decades. Honey bees, on which we depend to pollinate our fruits and other crops, have been dying off at an unsustainable rate. Because one in three bites of food you take requires a pollinating insect to produce it, their rapid decline is a threat to humanity. Monarch butterflies have been even more affected, with their numbers dropping 90 percent since the 1990s. Butterflies are an important part of the food chain, so ecologists have long used them to measure the health of ecosystems.

Nature preserves and parks are not enough to fix the problem; much of wildlife is migratory and needs continuous habitat to thrive. Natural yards can act as bridges between the larger natural spaces…[M]aintaining a mowed and fertilized lawn also pollutes the air, water and soil. The emissions from lawnmowers and other garden equipment are responsible for more than 5 percent of urban air pollution. An hour of gas-powered lawn mowing produces as much pollution as four hours of driving a car. Americans use 800 million gallons of gas every year for lawn equipment, and 17 million gallons are spilled while refueling mowers — more than was leaked by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops, chemicals that can end up in drinking water and waterways…I’m not alone. Homeowners across the country have latched on to the natural lawn and “no mow” movement.

… If we allow ourselves to see a mowed lawn for what it is — a green desert that provides no food or shelter for wildlife — we can recondition ourselves to take pride in not mowing.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is...

Is Baker’s unmown, natural lawn in defiance of the town ordinance ethical?

Continue reading

Lesson of the Asian-Bashing UCLA Video: Shunning and Intolerance Work. Good.

Alexandra Wallace...cultural critic, YouTube star, pariah, GONE

Alexandra Wallace, the UCLA student who created an obnoxious and offensive video stereotyping her Asian colleagues as gibberish-spouting boors,  announced that she was leaving the school as a result of “being ostracized” by “an entire community.”  Yes, I’d say that was the idea, and it is how cultures enforce its values. And it works.

Wallace picked the day of the Japanese tsunami to post her anti-Asian rant on YouTube, where it promptly went viral. It also made her an instant pariah on her campus, where over a third of all students are of Asian heritage, and the rest of them, unlike Alexandra, have at least a vague concept of mutual respect and decorum.

You can read a complete transcript of the three-minute diatribe here, but this shortened version gives a sense of what infuriated Asians, UCLA, and just about everyone else: Continue reading

“Keeping It” in Seattle: Flunking the Duty To Stand Up To Anti-Speech Bullies

Could it be time for an “Everybody Beat on Israel Day”?

Count me out. Still, there is finally an instructive example of bullies who don’t embrace radical Islam causing First Amendment timidity, and raising ethical issues too.

Seattle’s Department of Transportation sells advertising on city buses. When the “Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign” bought space to condemn Israel’s policies with ads headlined,‘Israeli War Crimes: Your Tax Dollars at Work’ featuring a picture of children next to a bomb-damaged building,” the Department was flooded with protests by Jews and Israel supporters. Most of them were stern, indignant or argumentative, but about 25 conveyed an intention to disrupt or vandalize buses,take violent measures, or suggested that bus riders would soon be at risk.” Some examples:

  • “If you want to see how tough Jews can be, then go ahead and run those despicable ads and we’ll see who has the last word on this. If you run these ads, we will work together with our Jewish friends and others to shut Metro down.”