Dear Doug & Annie :: Follow-ups on Diesel Trucks

Troubled by the difficulties of a clean & green existence? Whipsawed by the confusion because you want to live sustainably but you don't know how? Don't worry - Ask Doug & Annie


Dear Doug & Annie,

Remember Galen (Winter 2000), who was considering buying a diesel truck because it would be handy for occasional hauling jobs? A few years ago I faced the same situation.

My solution was to purchase a small, two-wheeled trailer. Our compact car can easily tow the unit, and bulky, oversized loads easily fit into the cargo bed. Don't throw your money away on an expensive truck rental. These little trailers can be used for everything from yard debris removal to a coast-to-coast move. —Eldon H. Cook, Hereford, Arizona

Dear Eldon:

An interesting solution, as long as your car can pull (and stop) the freight — I'd be a bit hesitant to use this solution with my minimal-mobile. It's an even better solution if you've got some other folks who can use the trailer, too; you can share the purchase price and have the equipment in use more


Dear Doug & Annie,

An addendum to your comments on the sustainability of diesel trucks:

Modern diesel-powered vehicles are becoming more prominent due to their inherent ability to burn fuels at a higher efficiency and cleaner than gasoline-powered internal combustion engines. Teamed with biodiesel as a renewable fuel source, diesels make great sense as a transition to a clean, hydrogen-based fuel-cell economy.

Biodiesel is an alternative fuel made from either used cooking oil or any plant material that can yield oils. It is produced domestically, supports our farming community, and adds nothing to our growing foreign trade deficit. It doesn't have to be shipped halfway around the planet in tankers prone to catastrophic spills. Biodiesel is more biodegradable than sugar and less toxic than table salt. In its liquid form it smells like vegetable oil, and when burned in a vehicle it smells like a cookout at the exhaust pipe. Its lubricity is very high so engines run smoother and last longer.

The emissions are far less than petroleum products and the carbon released when it's burned was taken from the soil and atmosphere during last year's growing season, not from irreplaceable resources miles underground and a few hundred million years old, as with petroleum. Its energy is simply last year's stored solar capital.

Furthermore, America's addiction to petroleum costs many billions of dollars and precious lives in the attempt to “defend” it. We are actually defending a wasteful, polluting lifestyle that is on its way out anyway. Biodiesel also gives farmers an economically viable reason to plant soybeans rather than sprawling new subdivisions.

With the use of synthetic lubricants my family has become petroleum-free in our personal and business transportation needs — a move in the direction of a saner, more sustainable transportation system. —Ron Cascio, Maryland's Eastern Shore

Dear Ron:

Congratulations on your freedom from petroleum. Unfortunately, biodiesel as a broad replacement for petroleum is no free lunch. According to John B. Campbell of Ag Processing, Inc., current soybean production (the most likely candidate for large-scale biodiesel production) could yield about 130 million gallons of biodiesel yearly. But US transportation use of diesel is about 40 billion gallons per year. Increasing oilseed production would likely involve planting land now fallow under federal conservation programs, then moving land from export grain production. The net result would be replacing 10 percent of a petroleum diesel with biodiesel; one side effect would likely be a rise in the price of export grains, or, to put it bluntly, taking food from poor nations to feed America's automobiles.

There's no question that biodiesel is cleaner and earth-friendlier than petroleum diesel. Anyone who wants to use it as Ron does should check the Veggie Van website,, and get cooking.

But the long-term solution is to get Americans out of cars, big ones first.


Dear Doug & Annie,

Is there a good alternative to chlorine bleach for cleaning? There's nothing like it for toilets and sinks, but I don't want to contribute to the problems associated with chlorine. —Jerry Falek, Santa Cruz, CA

Dear Jerry:

You're right to worry about bleach. Many household cleaners contain chlorine, though it often masquerades behind aliases such as “sodium hypochlorite” or “hypo-chlorite.” Products of special concern include automatic dishwashing detergents, chlorine bleach, chlorinated disinfectant cleaners, mildew removers, and toilet bowl cleaners.

Whether alone or in a mixture of other chemicals, chlorine poses a number of serious health risks, according to Seventh Generation. Breathing in the fumes of cleaners containing a high concentration of chlorine can irritate the lungs. This is particularly dangerous for people suffering from heart conditions or chronic respiratory problems such as asthma or emphysema. And the risks are compounded when the cleaners are used in small, poorly ventilated rooms, such as the bathroom. Chlorine is also a highly corrosive substance, capable of damaging skin, eyes, and other membranes. It was listed as a hazardous air pollutant in the 1990 Clean Air Act, and exposure to chlorine in the workplace is regulated by federal standards.

For a good substitute, use baking soda in the toilet bowl. Just pour a half cup into the bowl before going to bed at night. In the morning use a toilet brush to swirl the stains away. Use half vinegar and half water in a spray bottle as a deodorizing spray-and-wipe for the toilet seat area.


Dear Annie & Doug,

I was concerned about your response to the letter (Winter 2001) from a reader who wanted to know how to remove mothball odor from children's clothing. There's more than odor to worry about. Sensing the odor of mothballs — which contains either napthalene or paradichlorobenzene, both POISONs — simply means that the poison is detectable. But removing the odor does not mean that the toxic substances are gone. In fact, clothing bathed in these chemicals may cause health problems, especially in children. I would recommend that the Mom trash the clothing, and refrain from the use of “moth-o-cides.” —Don Shapiro, The Healthy Housing Coalition of New Mexico

Dear Don:

Right you are! Thank you for pointing that out.


Dear Doug & Annie,
My skin is really dry, especially in the winter, and while I love to take baths, I find they are very drying. What do you suggest I add to the tub?
—Gloria, Vermont

Dear Gloria:

Great oils for dry skin include apricot-kernel oil, avocado oil (this oil is very lush and rich, especially good for old, dry skin, but a little goes a long way), almond, and jojoba (this is actually a liquid wax).

Here's my Basic Honey Bath recipe for a luxurious, moisturizing winter bath: Dissolve two tablespoons of honey in one cup of very hot water. Add a few drops of pure essential oil.Pour the mixture into the bath water. Makes enough for one bath.


Dear Carolyn:

Canadian research has demonstrated that honey is more effective for promoting root growth than the commonly used commercial chemical for this purpose. Try this recipe: Combine 3/4 cup of boiling water and 1/4 cup of honey in a jar to blend. Cool. Place the cuttings in this solution for one to two days before planting in potting soil.

Annie Berthold-Bond is Green Living Channels Producer for and author of Better Basics for the Home (Three Rivers Press) and The Green Kitchen Handbook (HarperCollins, 1997).
Doug Pibel is a freelance writer living the simple life in Snohomish, Washington.

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