Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Leaf blowers

The whole idea of leaf blowers seems to elude me. Maybe there's something more to them that I don't quite get, since I'm not entirely sure how to use them. But if they are only what they seem to be, aren't they a perfect example of how Americans do things precisely wrong?

Here's a heavy, noisy, extremely energy-inefficient, polluting, expensive machine whose sole function is not to actually clean up a fairly unimportant mess, but simply to move it from one place to another. To shove a problem, that isn't really even a problem, out of the way so it's someone else's problem.

It seems like a device about the same size, complexity, and environmental impact would be able to suck up the leaves and even grind them into compost, but then you'd have the extra step of having to empty the bag every few minutes (or the burden of lugging around a heavy bag), plus what are you going to do with the clippings if you don't have a compost pile?

Or maybe it could suck up the leaves and then blow them back into a bag, in which case it would be just an expensive, noisy, polluting rake-substitute, but at least you could see where you're getting something for all that, some reduction of labor. (It's easy to be scathing about our "lazy-making" work savers, but for every person who's using a Roomba just to save a few minutes so they can spend more time at work, there's someone who's using one to address real physical disabilities, for whom these kinds of labor-saving devices are genuinely liberating and empowering.)

But no. If we're going to make something that burns gas into smog, costs a hundred dollars, needs an annual tuneup, and weighs ten pounds to lug around, why not just make it push the problem onto the neighbors, instead of trying to really address it?

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