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 Valentine’s Day

Dear Umbra, Do you have any advice on how to have a guilt-free, pleasurable Valentine’s Day? I would like to give my husband gifts that are good for him and the environment. Krista Ashley Gadsden, Ala. Dearest Krista, Love, love, love. Does greeting him at the door dressed in strategically placed hemp napkins count as a Valentine’s Day present? Your birthday suit: the most ecological clothing. Good for you, pleasurable, and guilt-free. Love me like a rock. Photo: iStockphoto. I’ll be traditional for a moment. The usual must-consume V-day items are chocolate, flowers, and alcohol. Chocolate industry watchers have identified …

Umbra on bamboo flooring

Dear Umbra, We will be putting in new flooring in the very near future. My first choice was hardwood, but I have recently read a lot about bamboo. Because it is renewable, it seems to be a better option. But how is it grown? Who is harvesting it? Are the people in the industry fair to their employees? Is it truly a better option for the environmentally conscious, or just a marketing tactic? Kathleen DiBacco Darien, Ill. Dearest Kathleen, Wood is a renewable resource, too, don’t forget. The bamboo situation is definitely interesting. I’m afraid that while bamboo has become …

Umbra on flooring options

Dear Umbra, If I have to replace my old carpet, what are the environmental pros and cons of the different choices? (Ceramic tile, carpet, or the laminate flooring sold at Home Depot seem to be the most common.) And can I recycle my old carpet? Claudia Bloom Mesa, Ariz. Dearest Claudia, I’m going to lay out all the flooring choices of which I’m aware, and I’ll talk about some of them in depth in upcoming columns. In terms of your carpet, you might be able to recycle it or give it for reuse if it’s not in bad condition. Call …

Umbra on eco-friendly paint

Dear Umbra, I just bought a home that needs lots of TLC, and would like to do it in a way that is best for the environment and my health. Do you have any advice about the best choice of interior paint? Every room in the house desperately needs new paint, but I’d like to avoid inhaling all the toxic who-knows-what in your basic everyday latex paint. Carrie WadmanPhoenixville, Pa. Dearest Carrie, My advice is to go with yellow, always the best choice for interior and exterior. Different strokes for different folks. For your own health, the top repainting environmental …

Umbra on cell phones vs. land lines

Dear Umbra, In this day and age, when many people seem to be getting rid of their “land lines” in favor of cell phones, I find myself wondering how these two options stack up against one another from an environmental-impact perspective. Doug QuirkEugene, Ore. Dearest Doug, I have a fairly strong anti-cell-phone bias. I am a cranky lady who believes they are eroding public manners and encouraging various irresponsibilities, some serious and others unimportant. But, as my father once enigmatically said, you can’t stop the 5th Fleet. Whatever that means. Hang up and drive. Photo: iStockPhoto. Here is my own …

Umbra on video games

Dear Umbra, After reading some heart-rending, gut-wrenching articles on global warming, I’ve decided that I want to do something about it. I’ve started by vowing never to buy a car, or get a driver’s license. But I happen to love video games. Nothing is going to make me stop playing my video games. As I am painfully aware, a consumer lifestyle is what contributes to global warming and the ecocide of our planet, so how can I be an environmentally conscious video gamer? Phillip MinerSodus, N.Y. Dearest Phillip, First, plenty of people are environmentally “conscious” — the struggle is to …

Umbra on fireplaces

Dear Umbra, We pile on socks and sweaters, but there are just times you need more warmth. Should we use the fireplace or our central (gas-powered) heater? Also, can you let us know which is better, natural firewood or those chemically infused logs that claim lower particulate matter is released? Kas SutDavis, Calif. Dearest Kas, Although we’ve contemplated this heating dilemma before, I find I have more to say about fire. Don’t use the fireplace. It is probably the least efficient way to heat a room. Remember the story about amazing Ben Franklin inventing the wood stove, and how mind-blowing …

Umbra on choosing a laptop

Dear Umbra, I am buying a new laptop, and I was wondering if all computers are the same energy-wise, or if some brands are better for the environment? Aviva HorrowPhiladelphia, Pa. Dearest Aviva, You’re already off to a good start, as laptops consume far less energy than desktop machines — we’re talking over 50 percent less. Thin is in. Photo: iStockPhoto. Computer manufacturers have three opportunities to earn their environmental stripes: during a machine’s manufacture, use, and disposal. From what I’ve read, the worst environmental legacy of computers will be toxic waste, rather than energy consumption. (Not to sneer at …

Umbra on amusing questions

Dear Umbra, When I was a kid we were allowed to lick our plates at the dinner table, except when guests were present. We were told that starving children in other countries would never leave a scrap on their plates, and my mother also took it as a compliment to her cooking. I still lick my plate in the privacy of my home, but today there are environmental reasons: licking prevents a small amount of waste from being transported and dumped in a landfill. More important is the satisfaction of considering the environment in every possible way, with very little …

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