Household Sustainability
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Household Sustainability

Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt

The authors engage critically, and constructively, with the proposition that households are a key scale of action on climate change. They confront dilemmas of practice and circumstance, and cultural norms of lifestyle and consumerism that are linked to troublesome environmental problems – and question whether they can be easily unsettled. The work also illuminates the informal and often unheralded work by households – frequently the poorest – in reducing their environmental burden. This important book is critical to understanding both the barriers to household sustainability and the ‘unsung’ sustainability work carried out by householders.
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Chapter 16: The garden

Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt


Domestic gardens occupy contradictory positions in sustainability debates. On one hand, suburbs themselves are cast as environmental nightmares, using the pejorative ‘sprawl’ and the associations this evokes: heavy car dependence, high infrastructure costs, larger dwellings than necessary. On the other, gardens provide a variety of opportunities for environmentally beneficial activities: growing food (Chapter 2), capturing and storing water (Chapter 4), drying laundry (Chapter 7), enhancing biodiversity, waste disposal, compost. Suburban experiments such as Happy Earth share ideas about changing ‘a typical suburban house… into a sustainable, healthy home and organic food garden’ ( Conceptually, the garden dilemma is part of the wider debate over how much humans should be ‘contained’ in urban fortresses in order to protect ‘nature’ somewhere else, ‘out there’. Gardens, particularly lawns, cover about one quarter of the urban land surface in the United States, and are a major force for ecological change (Robbins and Sharp 2003; Morris and Bagby 2008). The garden care industry is huge. Americans spent US$8.9 billion on lawn-care inputs in 1999, and this has been growing steadily (Robbins and Sharp 2003). Robbins and Sharp showed that the total quantity of lawn chemicals being applied to American lawns (9.127 kg/ha) is far greater per hectare than in agricultural fields (3.238 kg/ha). Morris and Bagby (2008, 226) compared the pollution pathways and environmental costs of two different, but typical, patterns of care: 1) a ‘conventional’ system of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides, a gaso- line-powered lawn mower, and substantial irrigation to maintain a green, weed-free, lawn and garden, and 2) an ‘organic’ system using backyard compost to provide nutrients, supplemented moderately by purchased non- synthetic soil amendments, an electricity-powered mower, no pesticides, and drought-tolerant species.

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