Against Leaf Blowers: An Invective

Leaf blowers are horrible machines, and I hate them.

Earlier today I exited my apartment and stepped out onto the sunny pavement of Portland’s normally mostly-pleasant North Mississippi. I was on a mission of coffee acquisition. I quite like living on Mississippi- today, like many days, there were many nicely-dressed people ambulating about and enjoying themselves. Cool sunlight illuminated everything, and all was well except for one hideous piece of aural pollution that cut through the daylight like some mixture of a coughing walrus and an unskilled oboist. The sound was coming directly in front of me- there, dominating the avenue with a stream of sound, was a man with a leaf blower. He was wearing protective ear-wear, so presumably the sound was less horrid to him, and before his machine a pile of leaves retreated from the sidewalk and into the street.

Let’s add up the costs and benefits, shall we?

On one side of the equation, leaf blowers make leaves go away. Okay, fine, but we also have rakes and brooms that can do that, so it’s not like they are the only anti-leaf technology that we have. The real benefit of a leaf blower is time. You can make more leaves go away quicker than you can with a broom or rake. So, let’s concede them that benefit.

They also have drawbacks- they are much more expensive than brooms or rakes, so there’s a much higher initial investment. They use gas, and that costs money, and presumably there’s repair and upkeep costs for the owner. They emit exhaust, which harms the environment and presumably the health of whoever is using them. Leaf blowers also have a negative impact on the environment around them, which is something of real value. Commercial and residential real estate’s price is effected by its proximity to noise. A store right next to a loud highway will have much different value than a store next to a nice street like Mississippi.

So, they’re machines that are more expensive that similar technology (brooms) they consume an expensive, finite resource (gas) and they have external negative consequences for the environment around them when it comes to health, environmental impact, and noise. I am willing to bet that the vast majority of leaf blowers do not operate on a scale where the benefits that they confer (time) outweighs their various costs. They are irrational. ugly things, and I want them to go away. When I see someone using one I can’t help but think “why?” and I want to tell them to stop getting their stupid externalies all over me. In other words, leaf blowers not only blow- but they also really, really suck.

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