Umbra Fisk

Ask Umbra®

Advice for Living Green

Yours is to wonder why, hers is to answer (or try). Send your green-living questions to Umbra.

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


Umbra on shower curtains

Dear Umbra, You have successfully instilled the fear of all things vinyl in me. Now the big question is: with what do I replace my old vinyl shower curtain? We have a cotton one at work, but it clings to …

Climate & Energy

Umbra on replacing light bulbs

Dear Umbra, I am reluctant to switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs because that means tossing out not only used-but-still-working incandescent bulbs, but also the brand-new bulbs I have waiting in the closet. Is it really a positive effect overall …


Umbra on farmers’ markets and food stamps

Dear Umbra, Do organic grocers take food stamps? Do farmers’ markets? If not, what do ecologically/health-minded people on fixed incomes do? David Burch South Bend, Ind. Dearest David, Did you know that in many states food stamps are no longer …

Climate & Energy

Umbra on personal fans

Dear Umbra, So the weather is turning hot again. I got my electric fans out of the closet. On the back of these, there are no indications of what amount of electricity they use. Could you illuminate which ones are …


Umbra on smelly CFLs (and mercury too)

Dear Umbra, We have been replacing our incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, but we notice that the compact fluorescents have an odd smell. Are they emitting something we should know about? Compact fluorescent bulbs contain mercury; can the …


Umbra on CFLs and dimmers

Dearest Umbra, Are there compact fluorescent bulbs for lights on dimmer switches? Why can’t I use regular CFLs in dimmers? Dimly, Julia L. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada Dearest Julia, I feel like my brain is squinting when I try to understand …


Umbra on couches

Dear Umbra, I am in the market to buy a new couch (our current couch is older than me — it’s 27!). Is it better to buy a “green” couch, a couch from a mainstream vendor, or a used couch? …


Umbra on ethanol

Dear Umbra, I’m a little amazed by all the bandwagon-jumping going on over E85 ethanol. I wonder if a corn-based fuel can be sustainable over the long term, given the general risks of farming and the disappearance of American farms …

Climate & Energy

Umbra on canola oil

Dear Umbra, I recently saw “organic canola oil” on a salad dressing bottle. I looked up the origin of canola oil, and it looks like it is a genetic modification of rapeseed. I thought organic certification disallowed genetically modified foods. …