The War on Weeds

It is as innocent looking as candy, but it’s turning our suburbs into battle zones.

The War on Weeds

As a professional opinion slinger making regular appearances in your inbox, I'm all for a little 'do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do' when the opportunity presents itself. My job is to speak the truth. Not to demonstrate it. Because this isn't TikTok, and I'm no influencer, who, perhaps, looks good from a distance but up close, looks more like a cake than a person. I, on the other hand, am in the thought business, which may be hard to find on the forenamed platform.

Here in the US, as a nation (and as an internet, if we're to think bigger), we've gone to war, and we're not letting up, no matter the cost. Our common enemy has infiltrated our daily lives, and only the most diligent prevail. But the antagonist of this story is not who you may think it is.

In 1989, President George Bush, The First, hit the streets to buy drugs. Not to snort them himself but to offer them in a live television address to the nation, where he would declare war against drugs, including the quarter pound of crack cocaine he bought from an 18-year-old kid that week. Bush said, “It’s as innocent looking as candy, but it’s turning our cities into battle zones.”

Since then, drug use has increased. Overdoses are up. Nearly 45% of federal prisoners are locked up for drug-related crimes, the largest category by far. The most ordinary of the illicit drugs, weed, is more common than Seth Rogan movies. While many agree it is safer than alcohol and, without question, safer than using a table saw, these two are legal; weed is not. About 1 in 5 adults use marijuana, at least occasionally, and most will admit it in mixed company. Compare this to the remarkably low number of adults who will admit they watch Seth Rogan movies in the same setting. The devil's lettuce is everyone else's snack, and if you're at least in the middle class, you can enjoy it with impunity.

The War on Drugs is waging, and Drugs is winning.

But these are not the weeds we need to talk about. I'm talking about the weeds we face every day on the streets. The weeds that represent a national expenditure of billions. I'm talking about weeds like clover, crabgrass, and dandelions.

The farming industry spends $20 billion to fight weeds, a trade-off to avoid a similar $20 billion cost of the loss of productivity caused by weeds if they were not killed. It's a war that seems like it is lost no matter which way it is fought. With millions of species of weeds, the war on weeds is like trying to find gum in a purse. A waste of time. Pluck one, and another is a foot tall the next day. For the efficient types, the weapon of choice for weed warfare is biological. Roundup, among the most effective options, kills weeds, not lawns.™️ It's like giving Elon Musk a spray bottle and telling him the yard is filled with Twitter logos. This poison will destroy everything, and it's highly effective.

The sound of lawnmowers is the sound of the suburbs. A sober reminder of the 42 days per year that Americans spend caring for their turf. Lawncare pollution comes from running gasoline-fueled engines over lawns, followed by chemical treatments to kill weeds in exchange for thicker turf. The practice is so common that lawn care alone is credited for about 5% of US air pollution. The poison we use to maintain our perfect lawns, or in my case, close enough, is in large part, glyphosate. The same herbicide used commercially to kill weeds on farmland and in public parks.

The Earth's Enemy: Glyphosate

Glyphosate is the Devil's saliva. It kills weeds, but its powers are not limited to weeds. Glyphosate can also reduce a yoga trainer to a mere mortal. A human granola maker with nothing more than a cup of coffee and a rolled-up piece of foam.

One claim after the other says that glyphosate is harmful to humans. Countries all over the world have banned it, including one country that is cited across all kinds of blogs about being better than the US at just about anything progressive minds would have you examine. If you ask Bayer, the company that makes the most money from the use of glyphosate through its Roundup brand, they would tell you the chemical is not carcinogenic to humans. What's more, they've informed the public time and time again that they'd funded multiple studies that conclude on their own letterhead that glyphosate is safe when used as directed. That it destroys greenery and browns landcover because it is a poison with directions on it, not because it is harmful to humans.

The debate continues, though, because countless TikTok health experts will tell you otherwise. These experts have no financial motivation to lie to you, and in fact, they have no financial motivation at all, seeing as it prevents them from having time to create content and keep their views up. Some find that if you replace 100% of the blood of a mouse with pure glyphosate, they find with relative certainty that they may contract cancer, but even highly regarded scientific studies point to cancer risks, including this meta-analysis from the University of Washington – which examined epidemiologic studies over time, in addition to studies of lab animals.

So the question is this, do you want to trust the person who funded the research that proves their product is safe, or do you want to trust the person who doesn't know what they're talking about? Or do you want to trust the scientists who use the word "probable" to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen?

Or will logic serve us in this case?

Until studies give us a complete picture, Bayer will have to do a collaboration with Starbucks for a "Roundup" flavored latte. And the barefoot granola eaters will have to hope the studies are similarly favorable for their CBD products. And the rest of us will continue to spray it on every lawn in front of every house just after dousing our entire food supply and crossing our fingers that we won't be the next one to discover we have Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, or worse, broadleaf in our lawns. Because one thing is clear. We don't know if glyphosate is bad for us, but getting fined by the HOA is.

The War Continues

Whether poison is bad for us or not will be a puzzle for another time, but the climate is not fairing much better than the clover I just stained a couple of weeks ago. Global average temperatures continue to rise, while droughts become longer and tropical storms become more severe. The cancer inflicting our environment is in part due to a massive lack of greenery and biodiversity available to absorb carbon dioxide. The Earth's greenery has been in decline, notably over the last twenty years, with forests, green spaces, and wild growing plants facing extinction due to land development, deforestation, and our massive obsession with lawns.

One thing that particularly stings is the decline in our bee population. Bees, the unsung heroes of farming, pollinate 80% of flowering plants and benefit the economy by adding up to $200 billion in ecological services, and all they ask in return is a place to eat, make love, and maybe get a buzz every now and then. Herbicides, which Bayer reminds us, have a low toxicity level to bees, are either killing them or destroying their homes and food supplies. And ours with it.

Whether glyphosate is the problem or innocuous is remarkably beside the point. War is hell and requires tough choices. And the tough choice in the war on weeds is to destroy the lungs of the earth, whether it causes us cancer or not.

It makes sense to keep weeds out of our lawns, because it will improve our social standing with our neighbors and our HOAs. It makes sense to keep them out of our farms, too, because the only way to produce enough food for our ever-increasing population is to keep killing the weeds – along with the people that hate them – to make room for more.