In Climate Ready Oak Park, the village’s community climate action plan approved by the village board last year, we committed to a 60% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030. To reach this critically important goal; we must not only reduce our emissions through more stringent building codes; electrifying transportation; expanding composting; retrofitting our homes with electric heating, cooling and cooking; and switching to rooftop or community solar; but also sequester or otherwise reduce carbon dioxide that is already in the atmosphere.

In other words, we need to reduce emissions going up into the atmosphere while at the same time increasing the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere. We cannot reach our goal without doing both. Trees, grasses, and other plants in gardens, farms, and wetlands are essential to fighting climate change because they absorb atmospheric CO2.

In Oak Park, we can expand our green spaces; plant and nurture more trees, native grasses and flowers; and improve the quality of our soil by not tilling our gardens. Our lawns can help, too: they’ll sequester more carbon dioxide and reduce flooding if we let them grow higher. This allows more CO2 to be kept in the soil and more insects and birds to find the food they need in longer grasses and native plants. Nectar-producing wildflowers, such as violets and white clover, are important for pollinators.

So set your mower high to spare the flowers when you mow, and have a “slow-mow summer” rather than a “no-mow May,” which stresses grass when it gets cut short after growing unimpeded for a full month.

Currently, Oak Park requires that the grass in our lawns be kept no more than 8 inches high, but we need to change that rule before next spring. Our lawns don’t need to look like manicured golf courses!

We also need to “leave the leaves” in the fall. Covered soil retains more CO2, plus leaves provide essential food and shelter for those insects and birds over the winter. Farmers do the same thing when they plant cover crops to protect soil in the off season, part of the practice of what’s known as regenerative agriculture.

Let’s help to regenerate and re-green Oak Park this summer and in years to come.  

Pamela Tate
Oak Park Climate Action Network

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