Ask Umbra®

The New York Times calls Umbra Fisk "a trailblazer in the field of eco-advice columnists" and "the arch online sage of the new green age." Her latest passion: kale smoothies ... no, sorry, civic engagement, because getting political is the only way we'll get a planet that doesn't burn and a future that doesn't suck. Ask Umbra a question here.

  • Umbra on fireworks

    Dear Umbra, Our family has always lit a fair amount of fireworks for our 4th of July celebration. I would like to encourage my family and friends to find other ways to celebrate due to the CO2 emissions that will …

  • Umbra on water filters

    Dear Umbra, I drink a lot of water. I have a food-grade stainless-steel canteen, and I filter my tap water via a Brita. I try to minimize my purchase of plastics, and I try to avoid plastics being anywhere near …

  • Umbra on peeing at the beach

    Dear Umbra, When at a beach with no bathrooms, is it better, environmentally speaking, to urinate in the ocean or behind a sand dune? Tom Greenville, N.C. Dearest Tom, A good, silly summer question to consider as regards our impact …

  • Umbra on solar funding

    Dear Umbra, I have been looking high and low regarding ongoing tax credits and incentives for solar installations on private residences. I may be looking for something that doesn’t even exist, but the rumors certainly do. Is there some website …

  • Umbra on passive solar

    Dear Umbra, Not to belabor the home heating series, I’m considering installing a masonry stove. I’ve read that they’re quite efficient, though costly to build. What’s your take in relation to the other options you’ve discussed? What about other alternative …

  • Umbra on solar hot-water systems

    Dear Umbra, I would like to change to solar heating for providing some of our electricity requirements, particularly for hot water. Can you advise me how to go about it? Leela Pienaar Grahamstown, South Africa Dearest Leela, I notice you’re …

  • Umbra on thin-film solar panels

    Dear Umbra, I read that thin-film solar panels are now being produced on a wider scale. I always hear that they can be sandwiched into window glass, but are there any companies that are actually using the technology in architectural …

  • Umbra on seltzer bottles

    Dear Umbra, I love drinking fizzy water, especially in the summer, but I am appalled to learn that the plastic bottles use petroleum in their production. Plus, hauling them home from the supermarket burns gas. I’ve been looking at seltzer …

  • Umbra on returnable bottles

    Hi Umbra, I’ve been wondering lately what happened to the returnable bottles that were so common up until some point in the ’70s. Why did the legislation go away? Does reusing bottles use less energy? It seems like it would, …