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While Brandon was home this winter he was imitating a Coast Guard cutter on our frozen pond, whacking the ice from a kayak with a double-bladed oar. He broke the oar like a hobo eating a hard pretzel. Which means he really is my son. Our family has a long legacy of tearing things up. Oars, lawn mowers, houses…Dad once hit the corner of our house with the tractor…which led my brothers and I to complete the demolition, sledge hammering the stone wall creating space to add four new windows. Sometimes accidents become a serendipitous remodel to your house…other times, you just have a busted lawn mower and shin deep grass.

Which brings me to my son’s equipment legacy. I once made my son a promise, that one day, when he had a house and a lawn mower of his own, (or a kayak) I would go to his house, borrow it…and beat the crap out of it, kind of like that oar against the ice. Here is my chance…his mower is defenseless in my shed.

I opened the door to my tool shed last week and spotted his electric lawn mower which he had left for me to store away until he returns from Toronto where he is doing graduate work on the atmosphere. I’ve heard of electric lawn mowers, but had not seen one close up.

I have a running debate with Brandon about this electric lawn mower. He is a meteorologist, smart, and ecologically aware. I applaud him for caring about the environment. But, I also enjoy giving him a hard time.

His rental home in Norman had a 100 foot deep back yard and the mower had a 90 foot cord because he had to splice the original 100 foot cord when he…well, you can imagine. I asked him, “Why do you have an electric lawn mower?”

His reply is typical of twenty somethings. “The environment, you obtuse carbon-eating dinosaur.” (He actually is polite but that is the tone)

Humans have always struggled with technology as simultaneous curse and blessing.

The famous economist, Milton Friedman was touring China and came upon a team of nearly 100 workers building an earthen dam with shovels. Friedman pointed out that a single worker could create the dam in an afternoon using a bulldozer. An official replied, “Yes, but think of all the employment the shovels create.” Friedman replied, “Oh, I thought you were building a dam. If it’s jobs you want, then take away their shovels and give them spoons.”

Which got me thinking of a better way to mow my lawn. Can economic theory apply to lawn care? Utilitarian economic theory permits my use of a Bad Boy riding mower. My son prefers environmental theory and a tethered mower running on watts instead of barrels.

But in the spirit of Milton Friedman, if it is less pollution we desire, take away our mowers and give us goats. If everyone employed a herd of goats, think about the benefit to the atmosphere, notwithstanding the ancillary impact of goat flatulence. Just for the record, I do care about the environment, but I have 12 acres to mow and I can’t find a 12 acre cord.

Here is my latest argument. Brandon’s mower is powered by coal and my mower by oil.

The arrow in my argumentative quiver is courtesy of Senator James Lankford.

As a self-proclaimed political recluse, I was at first reluctant, yet still fascinated to attend a round table session with Senator Lankford, and I listened to his story of an exchange he had with a proponent of electric vehicles. The Senator said, “My vehicle is fueled by oil, yours (electric) is fueled by coal.” Meaning, power is produced from the electrical grid to power hybrids and all-electric vehicles. So, please don’t blissfully believe you are not polluting while plugging in.

Like most statements made in the political realm, one can find truth and hype. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, coal sourced power plants make up the largest percentage of electrical power plants in the United States at 33.28% followed by gas at 32.77%, nuclear at 19.57%, hydro at 6.04% and wind at 4.69%. Oklahoma is decidely more clean, with gas plants leading the way at 45.2%, coal at 32.71%, and wind at 18.43%.

So, the Senator is correct. When you plug-in your electric vehicle, there is a price of emission. But according to the Department of Energy, that cost of emission is still currently about half the pollution footprint of a gasoline powered vehicle.

The take-away is to not be fooled into believing there is no environmental cost to plugging in your electric vehicle…and it’s a much higher cost than I would have imagined…and yet, 11,435 annual pounds of CO2 equivalent is still a lot of environmental impact for a gasoline powered vehicle versus 6,258 annual pounds of CO2 for hybrid and electric vehicles.

http://www.afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_emissions.php

My son is making me a better man. I’ve grown mellow and have repented of my malevolent revengeful scheme against his power equipment. I will leave his gentle grass shaper to collect dust in silent repose awaiting his return from the Canadian halls of meteorological research. Maybe I’ll even power it up and take it for a gentle spin through a meadow of clover.

I think he’s probably right. I admire my son’s tenacity dragging that ragged cord through grass clippings during a sweltering Oklahoma summer. Here’s to the spirit of my son and the younger generation who are gaining on me fast, busting down stone walls with sledge hammers, mowing gently, and building dams with 1,000 spoons.

I wonder how many goats it takes to mow my lawn? Someday my son will debate the impact of greenhouse pollution with his son and his son will win, but he’ll still promise to go over to his son’s house and beat the crap out of his goat. Legacy doesn’t die without a struggle.

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