Umbra Fisk

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Advice for Living Green

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Umbra Fisk is Grist Research Associate II, Hardcover and Periodicals Unit, floors 2B-4B.

Umbra on recycling videotapes and laser discs

Dear Umbra, I’m a dedicated cineaste, and over the last decade I’ve built up a large library (around 5,000 titles) of classic films on VHS and old-fashioned laser discs. I have been anxious to start adding DVDs to my collection, with all the extra features they offer, but I’ve held off because I know that any further expansion of my collection will require me to make more space — i.e., get rid of a bunch of bulky plastic videocassettes and laser discs. I can probably sell a few of the tapes, and donate some to a library, but I’m fairly …

Umbra on getting a job in the “eco-field”

Dear Umbra, I’m a conscientious baby boomer who would like to do things to help the planet. I’m simultaneously enjoying a midlife crisis. I have spent more than eight years in college, studying to be a psychologist/chef. Where in the eco-field is there a place for a reformed business owner/computer teacher/chef with years and years of experience in the psychology of women? Dr. Thom Jacksonville, Fla. Dearest Dr. Thom, Get a job that takes the cake. The “eco-field” is not a profession. It’s not the Law, or Medicine, or Elementary School Teaching. The eco-field is like unto a mighty river …

Answers about thermal depolymerization

Dear Umbra, What is thermal depolymerization? AnnFreehold, N.J. Dearest Ann, A polymer is a large group of linked molecules. We’re made of polymers such as protein, eat polymers such as starch, and wear polymers such as leather and nylon. Thermal depolymerization is a heat-driven process that breaks down or transforms polymers into the shorter chains from whence they came: oil. Our planet’s automatic transformation of dead dinosaurs and dead cavepeople and other organic matter into petroleum is thermal depolymerization — the slow conversion of our ancestors into Dodge Caravan fuel. Turning turkey into black gold. Photo: Changing World Technologies. People …

Umbra on strategic voting and writing to legislators

Dear Umbra, I’m a dislocated Texas resident living in Georgia, and I frequently send action emails to congressional leaders on environmental issues. Which leaders should I be sending my emails to: those I vote for in Texas or the Georgia ones? I’m afraid that when I email the Texas leaders they’ll see my present Georgia address and ignore my concern, but I also wonder if the Georgia leaders know that I’m a legal resident of Texas (and if they knew, would also ignore my concerns). Maybe it’s best to send to both states’ leaders? Or is any effort on my …

Umbra on glitter

Dear Umbra, What is the half-life of glitter and what is the environmental impact of said glitter on the ground? Planet DivaAustin, Texas Dearest Planet Diva, Everyone should know the truth: Write me a question about glitter and I will answer it right away. Glitter floats to the top of thousands of questions and shimmers there, distracting me from analysis of household air samples. Glitter. Glitter is to plastic, glass, and aluminum as sand is to rocks. Normal, everyday materials, colored and cut into tiny shapes and sizes for cosmetic, technologic, and craft purposes — that is our magical glitter. …

Umbra on makeup

Dear Umbra, I haven’t been reading Grist for very long, so excuse me if you’ve already addressed this topic, but what are the environmental impacts of using cosmetics such as lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow, and especially nail polish? Since becoming an environmentally conscious consumer, I have purchased cruelty-free products, but I have only recently begun to consider the environmental impact of the packaging and the products themselves. Are there products that are “all natural” and do not pose a threat to the environment? Where do all these chemicals in makeup come from (again, especially nail polish!) and what happens …

Umbra on hair dye

Greetings, O Esteemed Umbra, I decided a while ago that I wouldn’t put toxic chemicals down the drain for the sake of vanity. However, I’m a dirty, dirty blond (um, hair color) and was wondering if there is a “safe” way to add some highlights. Besides lemon juice, are there other products or substances that can be used to safely create that sunny look I’d like to have? Dirty HairyCincinnati, Ohio Dearest Dirty Hairy, A strand of hair consists of a cortex surrounded by a protective cuticle. The pigmented cortex is what makes you a dirty blond. It also holds …

Umbra on environmentally oblivious teens

Dear Umbra, My girlfriend’s 14-year-old daughter lives with us, and she’s the most environmentally oblivious person I’ve ever met. She makes George Bush and Dick Cheney look like card-carrying members of the Green Party. She throws trash out the car window or tosses it on the street. She never shuts off a light or turns down the heat when leaving a room. She can stand in front of the open refrigerator for 15 minutes, chatting on the phone with her friends while idly rummaging through the contents. She refuses to eat organic food, saying that it’s too “granola.” She is …

Umbra on environmental stress

Dear Umbra, I’m the poster child for a late-twentysomething environmentally responsible adult. I use less than 100 gallons of gas a year, less than 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month, less than 20 gallons of water per day, less than 100 therms of natural gas during the winter in Minnesota. I take my garbage out once every two months because nearly everything is recycled, composted, or bought in reusable containers. My house, built in 1921, scores a 9.8 out of 10 on the Energy Star assessment (I document it on my website). All my investments are socially responsible. My job …

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