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 having kids, revisited

Dear Umbra, What do you feel is the one issue of personal responsibility regarding the environment that people ignore the most? VaughnJackson, Tenn. Dearest Vaughn, Reproduction. But what can you do? As I said the other time I touched this topic with a 10-foot pole, we don’t make childbearing choices based on politics. If we don’t want kids, we bolster that decision by patting ourselves on our environmentally aware backs. If we do want kids, we scoff at the notion that we would avoid creating life and happiness simply because kids will consume and pollute. Teach your children well. Photo: …

Umbra on converting your car to straight veggie oil

Dear Umbra, A few years ago, I bought a Prius because it was (and still is, unfortunately) the best car that’s offered in our messed-up world. I’m now going to buy an old diesel Mercedes and convert it to run on used vegetable oil. I think this might be the best way to go. What are your thoughts on this? Thanks! JilliTarzana, Calif. Dearest Jilli, I answered the main part of your question in my last column, and in so doing, I promised readers that a fuller exploration would be forthcoming — so if you don’t mind, I’m going to …

Umbra on hybrids vs. veggie-oil cars

Dear Umbra, I currently drive a 2002 Toyota Prius that gets about 40 to 42 miles per gallon on the highway, which is where most of my driving takes place. However, I’ve recently become enamored with biodiesel vehicles, and specifically with straight vegetable oil (SVO) vehicles. I’m interested in investing in an SVO system fueled by, hopefully, recycled oil from local restaurants. I’ve looked into your column archives, and in covering the question of biodiesel versus gasoline, you sided with gasoline. However, you’ve never grappled with the interesting question of an SVO vehicle versus a hybrid. (As there are no …

Umbra on spending wisely to help the environment

Dear Umbra, I read your column on how best to spend six hours of time a week on environmental issues, but how about the best way to spend limited financial resources on environmental issues? Obviously, giving a gift to Grist would help, but what can I do with my limited pocketbook to make the most difference on a daily basis? ChrisKent, Wash. Dearest Chris, Save up your money and use it to replace an inefficient but necessary object. We use many large, energy-sucking objects virtually every day (the fridge, the car, the heater, the air conditioning), and the power they …

Umbra on Green Tags

Dear Umbra, My power company (Florida Power and Light) sent me a letter asking me to choose its Sunshine Energy program, which, for an additional $9.75 a month, helps support the building of a 150-kilowatt solar facility in Florida. Do you think I should do it? LindaCoral Springs, Fla. Dearest Linda, Yes. And I am herewith going to foist my plans for 2005 upon all the rest of you: They involve deemphasizing insignificant widgets and reemphasizing energy conservation, greenhouse-gas reduction, and overall efficiency improvements in our daily lives. Won’t you please fund me? Photo: National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Now that …

Umbra on moving to Canada

Dear Umbra, Did you really move to Canada? Did you get resident status? How hard was it to do? ValerieMiddleburg, Va. Dearest Valerie, I haven’t actually moved to Canada. I was being dramatic (lying) and I apologize to all who were duped by my ruse. I was also deeply touched by the hearty if unnecessary welcome from all of my Canuck readers. I love you all, and I love curling — I love everything aboot Canada. Mwah. O Canada! I assume your interest in moving to Canada is motivated by frustration at the current environmental situation here in the U.S. …

Umbra on bathroom mold

Dear Umbra, Do you have any tips on dealing with the nasty black mold that appears in bathrooms without dousing it in highly toxic chemicals? Kirsten Dearest Kirsten, I read that hydrogen peroxide would work, so I tried it for you in the Grist Test Bathroom. The recommendation was to dilute the solution in a spray bottle, spritz the mold, then return a few hours later to wipe it away. It didn’t work. But my control mold is deeply embedded within the grout and caulking. Perhaps if I had acted earlier, when the mold first arrived, I would have had …

Umbra on trains vs. cars

Dear Umbra, My girlfriend recently made a trip by train (about 600 kilometers, I’d guess), and it made me wonder just how much more ecological it is to travel by train instead of by car. What’s your take on this? MichaelOttawa, Ontario, Canada Dearest Canadian Michael, The train, it is better. The car, it is the worst. That is my take, and I found a legitimate source that agrees — namely, my favorite book. Let’s all recite together: The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, from the Union of Concerned Scientists. All aboard. Photo: Gareth Hill. The UCS compiled its …

Umbra on renting hybrids and sharing cars

Dear Umbra, Do you know of any car-rental companies that offer hybrids? I have heard of a bunch in environmentally friendly California, but my quick search in the Boston area has turned up nil. With high gas prices, I think I’m brewing up a new campaign! JeanDorchester, Mass. Dearest Jean, An environmentally focused rental group, EV Rental Cars, has joined forces with a big-name rental company, Budget, to offer hybrid choices in select “markets”: Washington, D.C., major metropolitan areas in California, and parts of Arizona, Nevada, and Virginia. That might help some Grist readers, but it doesn’t help you, Jean. …