Just WHAT exactly is an emission, I ask!

What does it actually mean, “cut emissions”.  I understand the words themselves, but how does that translate into something in my day to day life?  What is the nitty-gritty reality of how I need to emissionsreformulate my life, my lifestyle? Like normal human beings, I want my cake, and to eat it, too.

Not This OR That, but This AND That

It’s especially funny when you consider the dichotomy of today’s media that regurgitates non-stop messages that are in direct contradiction to what we are being told we need to do, to ‘save’ the world.

It’s like saying ‘breath, but don’t breath’… or’ eat but don’t eat’ via TV, radio, internet, billboards, almost anywhere you look.  Those “hidden messages” are there… CONSUME to grow the economy, else there goes someone’s job (and corporate/wall street profits)… but “cut emissions” to protect the environment/slow-reverse global warming.

The reality is, that this is more than just “carpool” or don’t BBQ on certain days, or don’t run small engines (lawnmowers, blowers).

Greenhouse-gas-emissions-by-economic-sector-IPCCWhere do those fantastical magic “emissions” come from?  Well let me tell you, not just from cars and small engines!

Try the clothes you wear, the couch you sit on, the computer you compute on, the books you read, the food you eat, etc., etc., etc. Just about everything produces emissions… somewhere.

Most of it elsewhere; out of sight, out of mind…. I don’t feel guilty because I don’t even connect the two.


Buy a new top? Do you need it? ‘just love those colors, that style, Jane has one, I’ll look so cool’, etc.

But what if it translated to a death? or serious health issues?  Because mom, working in the 3rd world factory, to produce ‘your discretionary purchase’, gets sick from the fumes of the machinery she works on 12 hours/day. Or triggers asthma in the surrounding populations of children from the particulate matter so thick in the air, they have to wear a mask to go outside?

But it’s just a top…. just one.

Yep… some 1 million ‘just one’ do tend to add up, though. The reality is the particulate matter index that is objective, coldly, unflinchingly real.

OK, bring it closer to home. I love seafood. We’re loosing a dramatic portion of our seafood ecosystem: shellfish (oysters, clams, shrimp,etc) because they are having problems making their shells.  The ocean waters are becoming acidic at a rate 10 to 100 times faster than ever mapped. Ocean core samples tell us 65 million years ago was the last time the oceans were so acidic.  The ocean ecosystem needs a bit more than just a 50 years to adjust to such a dramatic change in their world. (By the way, the ocean plankton produce 50% of the O2 we breath!)

The oceans absorb and hold 50 times as much carbon (CO2) as the air.  Shellfish can’t make their shell’s in water that is too acidic. Those that already have shells, find that their shell is dissolving. In a human being, an acidic change like that in our bloodstream, would cause seizures and death. Such a simple little thing with some really, really long term consequences.

We have to reverse the trend,  but because the acidification has already been put in motion, it will take a while.  Think of a rock that goes over the edge. Once it goes over, it’s pretty dang hard to get it back. In fact, you don’t. You just wait till it get’s to the bottom and deal with the consequences.


Let’s bring it really close to home.  Remember that top you purchased?  Now it comes time to wash & dry it.  Did you know there is NO SUCH THING as an energy efficient electric dryer?  That term is called an oxymoron; two words joined that mean the opposite of each other.

solar array countryWhen we lived off-grid for 4 years I had to learn to pay attention to some little details.  How many watts did it take to run something. Our advantage was that it was solar that powered our setup, so outside the production & transportation of the solar array, it was now emission neutral.

But we lived on a “budget” of watts that were available for use. A tiny inefficient college refrigerator “cost” almost as much to run as my super energy efficient french door fridge! Amazing.  It paid to look at the “details”.

A laptop.. 40.  Crockpot… 100. An iron… 1,000.  An electric dryer…4,000.

The real day-to-day choice is, do I hang that top up on the clothesline to dry or toss it in the dryer?  If I hang it up, will I need to iron it? Just how many watts am I using? (watts = emissions, generally, unless you have solar panels). And come to think of it, how often do I need to wash something, really.

Here in sunny California, with our ongoing drought, I suspect one of the most significant things we can do at this point (having already done the usual conservation measures) is to REDUCE the amount of laundry we do.  It consumes water and energy. Lots. Moving water creates emissions.

In our current society of plenty, we wear something once, toss in the laundry.  Washer & dryers were touted as labor saving devices when they first arrived on the scene.  But people increased the number of things that went into the laundry such that there was no ‘extra time saved’ because you had more to do. More to do = more emissions. More water used and more emissions to move the water, to get to you.


What if you did something wild and crazy… like purchased fewer items, picked more durable fabrics,energy cloth use wore them longer, wore them more frequently.

What is the net result? Any impact on emissions? Take the challenge… reduce your wardrobe, increase the wear time between washing, hang it on the line to dry.  Can you see the domino effect of that simple change in lifestyle?

Jim has two sets of jeans… one set for office work and one set for farm work. Now the office work jeans don’t ever really get what I call dirty. EVER. They get crinkled.

His farm jeans… OMG, they get so much dirt/crud on them, they could almost stand up by themselves. Wash something when it really does need it. Otherwise, air it out.

I remember as a kid, when I had 2 pairs of shoes. One pair for church, one pair of tennis shoes for everyday wear. If I needed something nice, it was the church shoes that got worn.


Price, and having the ability to pay it, is not the only consideration anymore. What are the other costs that we are asking others to pay?

Is it something actually, definitively needed? or just “wanted”?

See… Wall Street, Public Relations, Media, Psychologist have gotten very, very, very good at their “business” of appealing to our wants, in order to fund their profits.  On the surface, it just seems to be about having the dollars to pay for something. But it is the “something” they are telling us we should want/have/desire/deserve to have regardless of the real price being paid. Never mind those other “costs”, they don’t concern you.

One of the best books I read in high school, was called, “The Hidden Persuaders”. Originally published in 1957, The Hidden hiddenPersuaders by Vance Packard, was the first book to show how the manipulation practices that have come to dominate today’s corporate-driven world began. It has been re-released, and now features an introduction by Mark Crispin Miller, revealing how advertisers use psychological methods to tap into our unconscious desires in order to “persuade” us to buy the products they are selling.

If you listen to a commercial today (we rarely do, thank you TiVo & the fast forward button on the remote control), there is seldom any real information; it’s all a sales pitch with little relationship to reality. “You deserve this”, “This will make you more appealing – people will like you”, etc. Even supposedly factual information is slanted to convince you that this will be good for you somehow.

They are never ever looking out for my interests, it’s only about profit. Period.


But I can take all that back.  I don’t have to buy into the ‘game’.

Some years back, we stopped (heaven forbid) celebrating Christmas, the commercial Xmas.  It was such a joy and relief. We had quiet time together.  We actually enjoyed visiting with family and friends.  It stopped being about the gifts and the crazy-making circus that went with that.  Now, we don’t have little ones, and we will buy gifts for the children. But limited in scope/dollars.  It no longer runs the show.

Media tells you, “you need this and that” but do you really? Or is it just so you can spend your life paying them their profits? at the expense of real connection; talking, sharing, working together, playing, etc.


Our current lifestyle styles have created the long-term problems that will effect the whole world.  It’s time to reverse that process. A world based on consumption i.e. producing emissions, is headed toward extinction. The only real questions is do we want to go down that path. If not, then now is the time to make thoughtful choices. It all begins today.  I think it begins with the a simple question, “Do I really need this “fill in the blank” to live? Followed by, “And is it worth the price others might have to pay?”

Take a close look at how you define the word “NEED”, and is it a substitute for need for approval, need for status, need for competitive advantage, need for control”? It will tell you a lot about who you really are compared to who you “think” you are.

The best thing you can do is to try and lower how much carbon dioxide your lifestyle produces every day. You have heard the phrase, “Recycle, repurpose, reuse, reduce”. Begin to consciously integrate that into your lives and gently suggest & model it to those around you. Change in our culture starts from the ground up, in your home, inside our families.

You may well find a world more satisfying and real.


  1. Anonymous said,

    October 3, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    I like the chart on the energy content of cloth.

    I never considered how much less energy are in cotton and wool. Good thing they are my favorites. They sequester carbon too.


    • Farmer's Wife said,

      October 4, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      I’m continually amazed at what it actually “costs” to produce something in terms of water & energy. Totally outside my world view. Good to get connected back.

  2. Farmer's Wife said,

    October 6, 2014 at 10:13 am

    How many times can I use a towel before it gets gross?

    By Ask Umbra

    Q. I need a towel strategy. I don’t like using a wet towel to dry off when I step out of the shower. But, I also feel bad every time I grab for a fresh towel, since it means more laundry (and the requisite energy and water use). How many times should I be using my towels before I put them in the washing machine? Is there anything I can do to freshen them up between showers? This problem is compounded by the humid summers down here in the South. We don’t have central air conditioning, which means that the air in our house is warm and humid for 4 or 5 months per year. Any ideas?

    Durham, N.C.

    A. Dearest Adrian,

    Consider me your Captain of Towel Tactics. Just give me a moment to get my blueprint paper and drafting pencils …

    OK, strategic planning in session: I like this question, Adrian, because at first glance it seems like a small one.

    But consider that today’s standard washing machines use about 25 gallons of water per load (Energy Star models do better with 15 gallons), plus the electricity required for both washers and dryers — especially if you (shudder) wash with hot water.

    With the average American family doing 300 laundry loads every year, there are clearly substantial savings to be had.

    I also like this question because when we talk about laundry here at Ask Umbra, we tend to talk a lot about swapping dryers for clotheslines, or green detergents, or efficient washing machines, or clotheslines again. We rarely address the root cause of this laundry problem: Namely, the piles of laundry themselves, overflowing from our collective hampers.

    Reducing the number of loads we wash should absolutely be a part of this conversation, whether they’re made up of terry cloth or not. (Towels can make for significant savings, by the way: Hotel programs requesting that guests reuse their towels have been shown to reduce laundry loads by 17 percent.)

    To your first question, Adrian:

    How long can we delay towel-washing day? When researching this column, I came across a frightening number of forum users and commenters who admit to tossing towels to the laundry room after a single bathing session. (Why, people? Was it a dirt bath?) The experts recommend more like once a week: Even your freshly showered birthday suit will leave skin cells behind on a towel, upon which mildew and bacteria may then feast. You’ll have to set your own hygiene standards, but I can tell you my towels usually serve quite a bit longer than that with zero ill effects.

    Naturally, drying towels thoroughly between rubdowns is the best way to extend their lifespan. And I do have some ideas on that front for you too, Adrian, even during those sticky Southern summers. I’m assuming you’re already doing the basics — i.e., those persistently moist towels are hanging neatly on a rack, not balled up on the bathroom floor, yes?

    Then try these on for size:

    Rotate towels.
    This ingenious tip comes courtesy of Mother Nature News: Simply add another towel to your routine. Hang one, then reach for the second the next time around. By the third shower, towel No. 1 should have had plenty of time to dry. Repeat.

    Use smaller towels. They’ll dry faster. Take it from someone who was recently stranded in a rental house bathroom with only a washcloth: You’d be surprised how dry you can get with less cotton.

    Dehumidify the bathroom. Use your ventilation fan (or open a window) for a bit after your shower, not just during, to cut down on the sauna factor. (Presumably the air inside your fogged-up bathroom is more humid than the air outside, even in the steamy South.)

    Employ your other appliances. You don’t have AC, but what about a box fan? Draping towels near it can rapidly speed drying. Ditto for a heating vent come winter.

    Pop them in the dryer. Right after your shower, run towels through the dryer on “air fluff” or low heat for a few minutes, just to take the edge off.

    Fight the stink. When you finally do a towel load, wash them with a cup of vinegar. This is an age-old mildew-buster that also removes detergent buildup, leaving the towels extra-fresh and ready for their next extended tour of duty.



  3. suchernova said,

    October 21, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    Reblogged this on raising serendipity and commented:
    What an inspiring post! Yes, I am ready to step it up a notch! I don’t need a dryer or a washer machine. Buy less crap that doesn’t last or compost. It matters!

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