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 kitty litter

Dear Umbra, I recently adopted a cat, and I am having a hard time deciding what to do with the kitty litter. Is there some kind of green litter that is best to use? Anything flushable and sewage-tank friendly? Or, can I compost the litter — and what should I use to cover it up with? Kate GravesNashville, Tenn. Dearest Kate, Just as our eco-children can be diaper-free, it appears our cats can be litter-free. Teach your kitty to use the toilet! Tutorials and tips await you on the internet, and Grist staffers have confirmed that this seemingly bonkers notion …

Rake's Progress

Ask Umbra on autumn leaves

With summer slinking away and fall breezing in, Grist advice maven Umbra Fisk offers eco-advice for dealing with autumn leaves.

Umbra on speed limits

Dear Umbra, I was babbling about the ’70s energy crisis, gas rationing, and the nationwide 55 mile-per-hour speed limit at work the other day, and found myself explaining to a group of younger people how you save gas if you drive slower. They had never heard such a thing! Could you refresh my memory about why 55 is the magic number for saving fuel? They need to hear it in scientificese. RuthDenton, Texas Dearest Ruth, As you well remember, 55 mph was decreed the national speed limit in 1973. It was lifted in rural areas in 1987, but stuck around …

Umbra on architectural salvage

Dear Umbra, We recently replaced the doorknobs in our place, so we have a fistful of old yet working doorknobs I’d hate to just toss. What to do with this and other perfectly good hardware? R.B.M.Arlington, Va. Dearest R.B.M., This answer goes out to you, but also to all your fellow home remodelers out there. One person’s old doorknob is another’s period-restoration item, as the adage goes. Don’t knock it. You can, of course, try to sell your knobs on the internet. I just amused myself by looking at doorknobs on eBay. Is it truly worth the effort to list, …

Umbra on windows

Dear Umbra, I just bought an old house and need to replace some of the windows. Are there alternatives to vinyl windows that will still cut down on heat loss? Noah WinerPhiladelphia, Pa. Dearest Noah, I hope I’ve caught you before you’ve placed your window order, because you are at a moment of opportunity. Window replacement will make a huge difference in your house’s energy efficiency. You could be losing up to a third of your heat through those old windows, and I’m sure they’re not helping with cooling either. What a pane. Here are the basic window-shopping questions: Does …

Umbra on why we shouldn’t waste energy

Dear Umbra, I am doing a big geography project at school on saving energy and recycling. My part is to comment on what will happen if we keep wasting energy. I know the basic information, but I am not sure what to write, as it is to be given out to adults (and I’m only 12!). Please send me some useful information because I am really stuck! LauraHeartfordshire, U.K. Dearest Laura, There are a few things that happen as we keep wasting energy. One, we will run out. Two, energy makes a mess, so the more we use the messier …

Umbra on offsetting emissions from flatulence

Dear Umbra, I was wondering if there is any information about the average CO2 emissions from human flatulence. My friend (and I really do mean my friend, I’m not just trying to hide that it’s for me) has a birthday coming up, and I think it would be a fun and meaningful gift to get him renewable-energy credits for his CO2 emissions. Thanks! MattAshland, Wis. Dearest Matt, When I first began writing this column three years ago, I thought I’d have to fake questions, but curious humans like yourself make that quite unnecessary. (In general, I believe advice columnists don’t …

Umbra on garden hoses

Dear Umbra, I’m diligently avoiding PVC plastics, but cannot find a good quality non-PVC garden hose. We have particularly high water pressure, so we need a hose that can withstand the pressure. I only need to water the veggie garden a couple of times a week in summer, but it’s not quite feasible to do it with a watering can. To further complicate matters for you, we live in New Zealand, though we are willing to try importing a non-PVC hose if such a thing exists. Judi Wellington, New Zealand Dearest Judi, I’d like to personally accompany a garden hose …

Umbra on taking the next step

Dear Umbra, I’ve noticed that often you tell people “don’t sweat the small stuff” and suggest they focus on the major issues (transportation, housing, etc.). What about those of us who already do that, and want to do even more? I can almost guarantee you we are the ones sending you questions about widgets and all the other seemingly minuscule choices one faces. So what, then, would you recommend for us hard-core, been-there-done-that, already-taking-care-of-the-major-issues, longtime tree-hugging enviros as a “next step” list of things to aim for? WrenAurora, Colo. Dearest Birdy, I have tried my darnedest to never say “don’t …

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