Umbra Fisk

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Advice for Living Green

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Umbra Fisk is Grist Research Associate II, Hardcover and Periodicals Unit, floors 2B-4B.

Umbra on the climate-change literacy of Umbra readers

Dearest Readers, Happy Earth Day. I have mixed feelings as I look forward to the planet’s special holiday tomorrow. Happiness on the occasion of anniversaries: Grist (six years), me at Grist (three years), Earth Day (35 years). Sadness, for this column shall be my last edited by my august editor, and we are having an argument. We disagree about the climate-change literacy of Umbra readers, and we must settle things peacefully before she passes me off to another editor. She offered to arm wrestle, but I’m no fool. She’s short but powerful. There’s only one way to settle our dispute: …

Umbra on nuclear energy

Dear Umbra, What are your thoughts on the reconsidering of nuclear power as a viable solution for helping with energy shortages and improving environmental conditions? I was shocked to hear a “scientist” say (in a “no duh,” matter-of-fact type of way) that nuclear power is far cheaper and cleaner than our current coal- and oil-based energy system. He even talked about how much radiation is leaked when burning coal. MarkSan Francisco, Calif. Dearest Mark, My thoughts on the reconsidering of nuclear power: Well, like you, my head is awhirl from a recent conversation. This fascinating chat was with — real …

Umbra on getting up to speed on enviro issues

Dear Umbra, I am new to the environmental movement, and I was wondering how you keep track of the major issues within it, because there are so many! Also, do you have any books to recommend on the history of the environmental movement? NaomiVictoria, British Columbia, Canada Dearest Naomi, Grist, of course! In addition to the website, you can get smart, pithy, funny summaries of breaking environmental news delivered free via email on a daily and/or weekly basis (in fact, if you subscribe to one of Grist‘s emails this month, you could win a trip to Iceland!). I get both …

Umbra on conserving water

Dear Umbra, Twenty years ago, I lived off the grid and learned how to conserve water. That lesson stayed with me, and it’s agonizing for me to witness the cavalier, wasteful treatment of precious freshwater. My elderly mother moved in with me two years ago, and all is lovely and fine, except that she wastes more water with basic household activities than any single individual I’ve ever seen. Do you have any suggestions on household water conservation? While many water-saving methods are obvious to me, they have escaped my mother’s attention, despite my not-so-subtle hints and suggestions. Thanks for any …

Umbra on talking about environmentalism without being preachy

Dear Umbra, Since you’re the closest thing to Miss Manners that the environmental community has, I’d like to ask for your etiquette advice. I was recently on vacation with some friends and friends of friends and was disturbed by the lack of environmental awareness. For example: the 30-mile round-trips to get a takeout latte. Really. We were — relatively speaking — in the middle of nowhere, but apparently that was no reason to forgo one’s daily amenities. I was desperate to say something along the lines of “Have you not heard of global warming?” but that seemed counterproductive. Any suggestions …

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 …

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