Opinions
Matt McGuigan/the Gauntlet

A look at the many problems with pesticides

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It is always strange how, over a relatively short period of time, certain things are deemed necessary or important. This happens with both material possessions and things like appearances. We construct an ideal and then, whether this ideal is actually good or even if it leads to negative consequences, we continue to uphold it. It is almost like we forget we created the so-called ideal and believe we have no choice in its continued propagation. At this point several things come to mind; consumerism, certainly, but in this case I mean dandelions.

Growing up, I loved dandelions. I was allowed to pick as many as I wanted, they were fun to make wishes on in the fall, you could colour your knees yellow with them and we pretended that the white fluid inside could heal scratches. Now, I still love them. They bring colour to otherwise drab areas of the city, they provide food for bees early in the year, and -- if they haven't been sprayed -- there are some really good dandelion recipes out there. My parents, on the other hand, would like to conform to the ideal of the immaculate lawn. We happen to have one of those "pesticide free yard" signs on our front lawn, so we're more than happy to spend time outside in the sunshine digging up the dandelions. Or, if we're busy, let the few we have be. There are some very good reasons to have one of those signs.

Picture this, you are out for a stroll in the park and see little kids playing in the grass -- perhaps they have a puppy -- and they are all romping and rolling and putting things in their mouths. You turn the corner and notice a bright yellow rectangle at the start of the path. Pesticides are poison. They put those signs up for a reason. More than once I have seen children and people with their pets unaware of recent spraying in an area, and once I tell them they immediately scoop up their precious cargo and keep them off the grass. I often find that areas are not marked well enough or that signs have fallen over. There is particular concern if spraying is done next to yards with chain link fences, with vegetable gardens, when it is windy or too close to water.

Pesticides affect more than their target animal or plant. They destroy the soil ecology, affect helpful bacteria and insects and are passed through the food chain into birds and mammals. On top of all this, dandelions don't seem to care much that we are spraying them year after year, poisoning our soil and water. There are still just as many dandelions as there were when I was younger, if not more. And they are heartier, too. They use all sorts of different chemicals to rid us of "unsightly" pests. This is why these pesticides are called cosmetic. They are unnecessary and they should be banned.

Numerous cities across Canada have stopped spraying cosmetic pesticides and Calgary is inching towards that wisdom, too. Unfortunately this makes certain companies very unhappy, so they pressure the government to continue with the status quo and weaken the coming bylaw. It also makes people who have been ingrained with the idea of the ideal lawn (which takes far too much water anyways) and people maintaining public property somewhat unhappy. Which is why I have to question the so-called ideal of the ideal lawn. As my good friends at the Coalition for a Healthy Calgary would say, "dandelions don't hurt people, pesticides do."

We have reached another crucial juncture here in Calgary, our politicians are going to make a decision. Will they give us the bylaw that we deserve? Will they protect our children and pets, our health and our ecology? One certainly hopes so. Aldermen are consulting their constituents, and some are looking to other stakeholders. This is important, this is about our city's future. I, for one, will definitely take the little time it takes to make a couple phone calls to the city. Unless they hear it from us, there are several fence sitters who may side with those promoting the toxic fantasy of the ideal lawn. When they do make their decision, I hope they know it's not just about the dandelions.

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