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 vacations

Dear Umbra, My wife and I want to celebrate our 25th anniversary by taking a significant trip. We are thinking of a 10-day European vacation, possibly the Greek islands. I am conflicted by my dedication to celebrating this milestone and my dedication to living eco-friendly. What advice would you have for those wanting to travel while limiting their impact on the environment? Realistically, if I hope to enjoy another 25 years of marriage, I may have to budge on this a little. Ed Richmond, Vt. Dearest Ed, If you wanted to take a Love Boat cruise, that’s one thing, but …

Umbra on carpeting

Dear Umbra, Our home is mostly wood floors, but we would like to have a carpeted den. My gut instinct is that the carpet pad (looks like the foam from the inside of a car seat all smooshed together with other pieces) is full of chemicals that will constantly offgas. Am I right? If so, is there an alternative, or something to do so we can have a safe carpeted area? Yosh Schulman Millerton, N.Y. Dearest Yosh, Almost all the articles I just read on your behalf started with the reasons carpet is our nation’s No. 1 floor covering: comfort, …

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 …

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