Umbra Fisk

Ask Umbra®

Advice for Living Green

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

Umbra on water vapor and climate change

Dear Umbra, Coming from a scientific background, I was under the assumption that water vapor was the worst — or you could say the best — at causing global warming. Do you believe this to be false, and if not, why is no one talking about it? Erik Nash Dearest Erik, I’ve decided to use your letter as a continuation of B’s from earlier this week. Spouting off on global warming. Photo: iStockphoto. Water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas. It is the dominant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere by mass and volume, but scientists don’t seem to agree on …

Umbra on the greenhouse effect

Dear Umbra, Man-made greenhouse gases are blamed for recent global-warming trends. But man-made greenhouse gases account for only 5 percent of the greenhouse effect. Water vapor, over which civilization has virtually no control, accounts for some 95 percent of that greenhouse effect. Why has so much attention been focused on man-made gases when they comprise such a relatively small part of the problem? B. Hawley Ottawa, Ontario, Canada Dearest B., I’m going to pick apart your letter, and I truly do not mean to be snide. But the very language you use illustrates a common misunderstanding of our current situation, …

A climate-change compendium

Dear Umbra, I know you don’t make up questions, but in this instance I think it’s acceptable. Could you suggest a collection of resources on climate change? I think it might help us all get better educated on this vital topic. Even if they don’t spend an hour of their Earth Day sifting through the sites, it’ll be good for readers to have for later reference — you know, Clip-N-Save. (By the way, you’ve been awfully serious lately. Remember: “Gloom and doom with a sense of humor.” Get your act together.) Happy Earth Day (almost), Umbra Fisk Dearest Umbra, Great …

Umbra on climate-induced relocation

Dear Umbra, Given that there is a possibility/probability that sea levels will rise significantly [due to climate change], and that some parts of the world may become too hot while others could become too cold, where in the world will things be relatively “safe”? If I start thinking about moving my family to another country, in which direction should we be looking? Michael Laird Belgium (below sea level!) Dearest Michael, With the entire planet to choose from, specificity may be impossible, but we can look at general guidelines. Oh, honey, remember when we lived below sea level? Photo: iStockphoto. In …

Umbra on climate-change patterns

While I am in no doubt about the effect of human activity on climate change, I have a friend who is convinced that even if we weren’t destroying the earth, the earth’s own weather patterns would be in global-warming stage anyway. How do we know the current climate change isn’t just an inevitable part of millennia-long weather patterns? Will changing our behavior mean anything if we are all going to burn to a crisp anyway? Adeline Teoh Sydney, Australia Dearest Adeline, Sorry, no room today to be funny, or to answer the second question. I’ll do both later. For now, …

Umbra on global warming

Dear Umbra, The many articles on global warming conclude with something about the inherent complexity and uncertainty of the issue. So exactly what is the evidence for (and against) arguing that the current warming trend is inside the scope of normal fluctuations? What is the evidence for (and against) arguing that the trend is caused by human activities, and is not just part of a “natural cycle”? Is it true that the U.S. is just about the only country where scientists seriously debate the reality of global warming? Who are these people writing articles telling us we don’t have anything …

Umbra on talking to friends about climate change

Dear Umbra, I need a good stick-it-to-ya comeback to friends who, while they acknowledge global warming and hear me rattle off all that is bad about it, are liking the direct effects, which right now are sunnier and warmer days. What can I do or say to get them to snap back into reality, especially when some of these folks are addicted to tanning and the sun? Kate Semmens Perkiomenville, Pa. Dearest Kate, What about hitting them on the head with a stick? Just kidding. Violence is never the answer. Oh Betty, isn’t climate change tan-tastic? Photo: iStockphoto. I’ve been …

Umbra on plants and global warming

Dear Umbra, My simple understanding of global warming is that we are introducing long-buried carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is shifting the balance, leading to a host of undesirable issues. CO2 is consumed by plants, so here’s my thought: Could we grow crops that consume a lot of CO2 (I’m thinking bamboo here, which grows really quickly) and then bury them, effectively taking the CO2 they’ve consumed out of the atmosphere and the equation (at least for a while)? Randy Kansas City, Mo. Dearest Randy, Nice summary of global warming. “Undesirable issues,” indeed. Green plants take up carbon into …

Umbra on organic pesticides

Dear Umbra, Recently, an article in my newspaper stated that federal and state guidelines allow the spraying of “organic pesticides” on organic crops. I thought organic crops were pesticide-free. I am very disappointed to find out that there are sanctioned “organic pesticides” which, with probably little to no independently researched information, may or may not pose a risk to my health. Tell me the paper got it wrong (please)! ArtBakersfield, Calif. Dearest Art, Nope. Let me try to soften the letdown, though. What is a pesticide? In the simplest view, it is a substance that kills vegetative or animal pests. …

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