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.

For even more green goodness, you can follow Umbra on Twitter (@AskUmbra) or become a fan on Facebook.

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

Umbra on running and pollutants

Dear Umbra, I am a runner, and in the summertime it is difficult for me to run during the day because of the heat. Unfortunately, it’s a no-no for me to run in green spaces late at night because they are dark, deserted, and thus quite unsafe. So this leaves me the option of running in busy areas of the city after the sun has gone down. At these hours, the traffic is usually light, which makes for a more pleasant run — but I’m wondering about air quality. Do car exhaust and other pollutants stick around close to the …

Umbra on writing to reps about climate change

Dear Umbra, I want to send a letter to my local representatives about global warming and how our whole city and state should take part in stopping it, but I don’t know what to say or how to approach this. Please help! Hillary Schwartz Birmingham, Ala. Dearest Hillary, Hmm, I can think of a few things to say. But you might get escorted out of Alabama if you put them in a letter. Post haste. Photo: iStockphoto So on to more constructive advice. First, some general tips. A handwritten or typed letter is more effective (and prettier) than email. It’s …

Umbra on car trade-ins

Dear Umbra, I’m the not-so-proud owner of an 18-year-old Honda Civic — great car in that it gets 39 mpg, has a decent amount of zip, and generally runs well. However, it needs some mechanical work, the paint and some of the upholstery are shot, and the AC runs on Freon. I’ve reached the point of analysis paralysis in deciding whether to fix this car up or trade it in. At what point do you give up the ghost on an older car? And how bad would it be if I got the old car painted? Driven to distraction, Renee …

Umbra on fridge-freezer efficiency

Dear Umbra, Are there any environmental advantages to the refrigerators with the freezer on the bottom and the fridge on the top? Annette Indianapolis, Ind. Dearest Annette, There are three fridge/freezer configurations: side by side, bottom freezer, and top freezer. In models with comparable storage volume, the least efficient is the side by side. Top and bottom models, on the other hand, are fairly close in their efficiency advantage, performing about 10 to 20 percent better than side-by-side models. Which is a fortunate discovery, since side-by-side models are hideous and have pathetic amounts of freezer storage. Speaking purely from a …

Umbra on countertops

With the home remodeling boom, we keep wondering: what is the best countertop choice? We’ve gone through a couple homes since getting married, and are now considering building our own. Laminate, Formica, butcher block, concrete, granite, plastic, composite, tile … they all have their own durability merits and drawbacks, but from creation to home health, which is the friendliest? Leonie Mowat and Greg Overley North Las Vegas, Nev. Dearest Leonie and Greg, I guess I’m missing out on the home remodeling boom, and after you finish this house, you should ignore future remodeling booms. Find something you like now and …

Umbra on CDs and MP3s

Dear Umbra, As I was carrying a stack of CDs from the car into my home, my sister laughed and showed me the size of her MP3 player, which contains well over 100 times the music at a fraction of the size. Environmentally, which causes less of an impact? I hear that all these (non-recyclable) portable devices are terrible for the environment, and I’ve had some of my CDs going on (gasp!) 15 years. Downloading seems like it produces less waste, but the type of waste that is generated is what concerns me. Kas SutDavis, Calif. Dearest Kas, If the …

Umbra on recycling tapes and videos

Dear Umbra, What to do? I’m a child of the late ’70s, and one of the last to remember what it was like to exchange a mix tape at age 15. Now I’m hitting my 30s, and realize I still have that Color Me Badd tape. I really want to chuck it, but don’t have the heart to put it in the trash. What’s a girl to do? Where can I send my shamefully-bad-taste-in-music tapes? Patricia O. North Plainfield, N.J. Dearest Patricia, Hey, sis, what’s this? Photo: iStockphoto. One woman’s trash is another’s treasure. We can’t say it often enough. …

Umbra on recycling foil

Dear Umbra, Summertime grilling is in full swing at our house, but I am wondering what the ecological cost is of all that aluminum foil we’re using in place of our regular pots and pans. Sure makes for great clean up, but it is not recyclable as aluminum cans are. Sandra Liebe Paris, Ill. Dearest Sandra, I hate to be the one to point this out, but it’s a little rude to say you’re barbecuing all the time and not invite me. I’m used to it (sniff), but another advice columnist might take umbrage. Tastes like summer! Photo: iStockphoto. The …

Umbra on CFL recycling

Dear Umbra, So what happens to compact fluorescent light bulbs in the hands of the “hazardous-waste people”? Is the mercury reclaimed and reused, or merely hidden “away” (wherever that is)? John GearLansing, Mich. Dearest John, Great question, because why should we add to the substantial mercury problem we already face? A few disillusioned readers have now sworn off compact fluorescents for this reason — the opposite of my proselytization goal. Now what? Photo: iStockphoto. Let me say at the outset: your local facilities are the place to get the answer to this and other garbage-related queries. I can make general …

Got 2.7 seconds?

We've devised the world's shortest survey to find out what kind of actions our readers are taking. You know you want to.

×