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Reader responses on family cars, the internal combustion engine, and more

Dearest Readers, How I enjoy your letters! I'm sorry I'm unable to answer them all; lest you fear that they vanish into the void, I assure you they do not. I read each and every one of them down here in Stacklandia. I must in particular thank those of you who write in to correct, amend, or expand on issues I address in my columns. Almost without exception, those perspicacious readers who venture to mention my errors (linguistic, scientific, or moral) do so in the most delicate and sensitive manner, doing Ms. Manners proud and leaving her fellow advice columnist …

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Advice on driving vs. flying

Hi Umbra, I'm wondering if you have any numbers comparing the fuel efficiency of flying versus driving the average car for the same distance. Also, how does carbon dioxide production compare for the same trip? SteveLoomis, Calif. Dearest Steve, Flight blight? Here's what I can find so far, courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Institute in beautiful Snowmass, Colo. Single-occupancy automobiles produce 0.91 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile. (You can do the long division to figure out the per-person impact if more people are traveling.) Commercial aircrafts, meanwhile, produce 0.57 pounds of CO2 per person per mile. However, planes emit …

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Umbra on scooters

Dear Umbra, I was thinking of buying a scooter with the idea that (in addition to being fun) I would be using a more fuel-efficient means of transportation on days when the weather was good. Then I got the edition of the Daily Grist telling me how dirty motorcycles are. Now I'm worried: Are scooters the same? I'm talking about a Vespa-type thing. Please tell me that's not as polluting as a Harley! Thanks (even if the answer isn't what I want to hear!), PatriciaAudubon, Penn. Dearest Patricia, The answer is not what you want to hear. To continue our …

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Umbra on motorcycles

Dear Umbra, I recently read a claim that "motorcycles produce far more pollution per mile than your typical car, truck, or SUV." Is that true? I've got a friend who's currently making her (bad-ass) way across country on a Harley -- 60 mpg, baby -- and we are both curious about the environmental impacts compared with a car. BillyBrooklyn, N.Y. Dearest Billy, Bad news for your friend and her bad behind. If she's getting 60 miles per gallon, that's about three times better than the average car these days, and certainly far better than the 1984 Nissan Rustbucket that I …

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Umbra on minivans

Dear Umbra, We have a six-year-old daughter, a three-year-old daughter, and -- surprise! (well, not completely) -- a new baby girl due in the next two months. Our fuel-efficient car cannot fit two car seats and a booster across the back seat, and according to Washington state law ("six-years-old and 60 pounds"), my petite six-year-old will remain in her booster for some time. I've been looking into minivans but am discouraged by their poor mileage. Through much Internet research, I've determined that Toyota makes a hybrid minivan (Estima) and that it will be a cold day in a warm place …

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Umbra on green reasons to quit smoking

Dear Umbra, I want to quit smoking. As if the risks to my health weren't enough, could you help out by twisting that knife of guilt into my tree-hugging heart and give me some environmental reasons to stop supporting the tobacco industry? Cough, wheeze, ElaineSaint John, New Brunswick, Canada Dearest Elaine, I don't care whether you smoke or not. In fact, I think anti-smoking hype is often thinly disguised class warfare and would be best put to use as a template to create, say, anti-SUV hype or anti-pesticide-laden-suburban-lawn hype. Still, I hear your pain, and if you want me to …

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Umbra on engineered soy products

Dear Umbra, I don't know if you'll have time to answer this question, but while purchasing 8th Continent soymilk my husband noticed that there was Solae in it. After some research on the Internet, we discovered that Solae is made by DuPont and is a genetically engineered soybean, but we were unable to find anything negative about it. Do you know anything about Solae and if it is dangerous? Sincerely, Heather AnneSacramento, Calif. Dearest Heather Anne, Hello, and welcome to my little corner of the Internet, where I have nothing but time to answer your questions. (If I use the …

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Umbra on milk cartons

Hi Umbra, I don't know if the same thing has happened in the U.S, but here in Canada the milk industry has undergone a massive shift to using different containers. Once, you could get plastic jugs or cardboard cartons with fold-back lids or plastic bags. But now, the most commonly available container is a revised carton. It has a plastic spout, as if pouring with the other kind were too hard. Can you tell me which of the containers has the least impact on the environment? Thanks, JessicaCreemore, Ontario, Canada Dearest Jessica, I hope you've been following our column long …

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Umbra on the Bush administration’s environmental record

Dear Umbra, I hope you can answer this or direct me to someone who can. I am a member of the local Williamson County Democratic Party. I would like to print up a leaflet to distribute to the public at our next gathering on April 26 and 27 that shows just what the present Republican administration has done to our environment. Any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. TracieRound Rock, Texas Dearest Tracie, I'm afraid I'm answering this too late to help with your public gathering -- but I know you'll have more before the …

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Umbra on peeing al fresco

Dear Umbra, If I am going to pee outside, is it more environmentally sound to squat in the back yard where the pee salinates the soil, or next to the road where the liquid runoff can enter sewers, or in the woods where there are no ornamental plantings to disturb, but there might be snakes? Cop-a-squattingly yours, Sarah M.Howeville, Vt. Dearest Sarah, I strongly suspect that this question may be some type of prank, but our motto here in the basement, "Per Omnia Respondea," calls on me to treat your query with respect. Urine is not the human effluent with …

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