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Umbra on dishwashers

Dear Umbra, I'm in the market for a new dishwasher, one that uses as little water and energy as possible and still gets that flatware sparklin' clean. But I don't have a lot of dough to blow on appliances. Any thoughts? DeanOrem, Utah Dearest Dean, I really can't say enough about Consumer Reports and its online archives of product reviews and ratings. The subscription is worth the $4.95 per month. An Energy Star-bellied dishwasher.Photo: U.S. DOE. I approached buying a dishwasher by cross-referencing the Consumer Reports recommendations with handy Energy Star ratings. Energy Star is a labeling project of the …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Umbra on deer hunting

Dear Umbra, My husband kills deer every fall for the "sport" of it. I'm completely disgusted with him and we have bitter arguments. His justification for killing deer is that they will starve over the cold winter and that he is thinning the population so more will survive. My argument is that nature will do the job on its own and that he is killing the largest, healthiest deer who have a chance to survive and that it's the old and weak that will die naturally over the winter -- not the healthy ones. I think he's an idiot. Who …

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Umbra on eco-friendly birth control

Dear Umbra, I am wondering about the most environmentally safe form of birth control. From what I understand, women's birth control pills put terrible amounts of hormones into the world's waters and cause genetic mutations in fish. On the other hand, constantly using and discarding plastic condoms, including the packaging these come in, does not seem like a great solution. Are there more options out there that would cause less harm to my body and the environment? Thanks, AdinaOak Park, Ill. Dearest Adina, Safety Pup would like to remind us all that birth control is not the only concern during …

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Umbra on Roundup

Dear Umbra, I have a large, organic (hopefully) vegetable garden. However, I occasionally use Roundup around the edges to keep invasive grasses from creeping in. Now, I have been given to understand that Roundup is relatively safe and breaks down almost immediately. What are your thoughts on this subject? I totally trust your judgment. BetsyMichigan Dearest Betsy, Roundup is relatively safe -- it's not as bad as, say, depleted uranium -- but that doesn't mean you want to go pouring it on your pancakes. I'm more than happy to give you the information you seek regarding its toxicity; however, as …

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Umbra on wedding presents

Dear Umbra, My wife and I have made great progress in simplifying our lives. We don't own a car (we take the bus, walk, bike, and occasionally rent a car), we have cut back on our use of water and power, and we are working on avoiding "more stuff." We're just wondering what we might give as wedding gifts to children of our friends in order to be in line with our goal yet not seem "weird." Any ideas on this subject? Peter Poulsen Murray, Utah Dear Peter, I am mulling over this dilemma as well. By the time 2003 …

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Umbra on bathing

Dear Umbra, On a link that I got from Grist's Do Good section, it says that taking baths instead of showers conserves water. What's the logic behind this? I measured how much water I use when I shower, and it's about a quarter of the amount that I use for baths. So it doesn't make much sense that bathing conserves more water than showering. Am I just weird or is there another reason? Jesse Ross-SilvermanNorthampton, Mass. Dearest Jesse, I'm not the best judge of your weirdness. First, I know next to nothing about you, and second, I'm a little weird …

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Umbra on hot air balloons

Dear Umbra, There's a Hot Air Balloon Festival going on in the Hudson Valley right now and I'm watching balloons out my window wishing I had the nerve to go up in one, while also wondering how bad they are for the environment. This isn't just mild curiosity; you could literally make or break my future relationship with hot air ballooning. It's funny how my fear of heights would actually diminish if riding in hot air balloons were shown to be beneficial to the environment! For now I'll just take pictures. MelissaPoughkeepsie, N.Y. Dearest Melissa, Hot air balloons work on …

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Umbra on reusing trophies

Dear Umbra, You are my only hope! I need help with trophies. Not trophy boyfriends or bass fishing trophies, but a large collection of wood and metal trophies that I have accrued due to a high school career rife with geeky accomplishment. My mom, who has graciously housed these trophies up 'til now, has finally wised up. Instead of looking upon the trophies and dreaming that her daughter will one day be a neurosurgeon, she now understands that the trophies are just gathering dust while I gallivant about the world, not performing any neurosurgery at all. She wants to throw …

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Umbra on chewing gum

Dear Umbra, I shudder at the triviality of the question, but so far nobody I've asked has been able to provide a satisfying answer. So here it is: Is chewing gum biodegradable? Can I spit it on the compost instead of sticking it under the chair? Would green stalks sprout from the gum-spot-riddled sidewalks if we didn't trod them down? I hope you can finally reveal the secret of what is the core of the matter, besides spearmint and sweetener. BirgitFrankfurt, Germany Dearest Birgit, Shudder only in repulsion. I can indeed reveal the secret: The answers to your questions are …

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Umbra on cell phones

Dear Umbra, After many years of idealistic holdout, I have finally decided to own a cell phone; changes in my lifestyle have made the benefits too heavy to be outweighed by the detrimental effects. However, I would like to minimize the impact of my decision (brain tumors notwithstanding), so I am searching for the most long-lasting, recyclable, Earth-friendly cell phone I can find. Does such a thing exist? Where can I get one? Is "Earth-friendly cell phone" a contradiction in terms? DanSeattle, Wash. Dearest Dan, Your letter filled me with bittersweet camaraderie. I, too, am soon to enter the world …

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