The Future of Leafblowers: The Guardian Weighs In

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
The surprisingly quiet and gasoline-emissions-free battery-powered Stihl BGA 100, which I wrote about last week, being unveiled by the company’s executive chairman, Dr. Bertram Kandziora, in Germany. Devices like this are changing what had been a stalemated discussion.

I’ll begin my emergence from a long bout of print-magazine writing by mentioning an article by Lawrence Richards, in The Guardian, on the changing nature of the leafblower debate around the world. Very much worth reading.

Brief update on what has gone before: after writing about citizens across the country who had invested time, inconvenience, effort, and disregard of “not my problem” inertia to bring changes large or small to their communities, my wife Deb and I decided to join one such effort in our own community of Washington D.C.

The point of this effort is to hasten an inevitable change: the shift away from gas-powered leafblowers (mainly the cheaper, super-polluting, uniquely noisy models that use primitive “two-stroke” engines) to newer-tech alternatives. While the most easily noticeable problem with these machines is the noise they create, the most serious objection is the public-health menace (mainly to crews using them) from two-stroke engines so hyper-polluting that they have been regulated out of existence in most other uses in the developed world, and for transport in countries like Thailand and Indonesia. You can read the details in the other posts collected on this page. Handy fact to bear in mind: one of these two-stroke leafblowers emits as many pollutants in 30 minutes as a Ford F-150 truck does driving coast to coast and halfway back again.

If I had been able to copy-edit my own comments, in real time, while talking by phone with the Guardian writer, I would have made them more coherent-sounding. But I think the story explains very well why this stage of the effort differs from some other very fractious civic showdowns. Also worth reading: the accompanying “Ask the Gardener” piece by Alys Fowler.