The leaf blower parable | Seth’s Blog

Shira Smolko

It’s autumn in North America, and that means that homeowners and contractors are busy removing suburban leaves. It’s almost impossible to avoid the deafening roar of gas-powered leaf blowers.

Here’s what we know, without doubt:

  • Using a leaf blower is bad for the hearing and respiration of the user, often a low-paid worker with no real options.
  • They’re annoyingly loud, and can be heard from blocks away.
  • There are much quieter, safer and cleaner alternatives, easily available. In the long run, they’re also cheaper.

We also know that:

  • In one hour, a gas-powered leaf blower will emit as much carbon dioxide equivalent as driving a typical internal combustion engine car 3,000 miles. (That’s not a typo). The details are here.
  • The competitive nature of commodity garden care pushes gardeners to choose the fastest, cheapest option, regardless of the costs to the workers, the neighborhood or the climate.
  • The technology to replace gas leaf blowers is proven, inexpensive and readily available. And yet… They’re still here. And the reason is that they’re convenient, a sunk cost and a short-term profit hack.

The solution, if we’re serious, is to ban gas leaf blowers. The replacements will pay for themselves in a few weeks. Once the competitive playing field is re-set, gardeners will come out ahead. Employee well-being will increase, and the leaves will still get blown.

So what’s the problem?

We’re not serious enough about making change happen. If we cared enough to get two dozen friends and neighbors to show up at the village hall, the regulations could be changed in a few meetings.

But sometimes it’s easier to do nothing.

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