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 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. …

Umbra on how climate change will affect us

Dear Umbra, My girlfriend asked me the other day why global warming was going to be so bad for her. I just graduated with a degree in environmental science, and I like to think I learned something in my classes, but I still struggled to give her a concise, straightforward answer. I see new research coming out all the time in Daily Grist and other places on the consequences of global warming and predictions for the future. Can you point me to a source where I can find an easy-to-read summary, preferably with citations for further reading, of what we …

Umbra on Umbra’s romantic availability

Dear Umbra, I love all your research and cool little notes on Grist. Lots of learning! You must really love your job. I know this sounds weird, but I wish I could see a picture of you. I am intuitive by nature, and I respect what you are doing. I wish you all the best. Keep it up! Peace,Christopher P.S. Are you single? Dearest Christopher and the many, many others who have written similar notes, Thank you very, very much. From the bottom of my heart. I love compliments on my writing, and I’m incredibly relieved that you find me …

Umbra on effective activism

Dear Umbra, If an environmentalist has about six hours per week to devote to activism, what should the person do to make the biggest, most positive impact? Some people (like myself) think that climate protection is a key leverage point — but is it? If yes, why, and what is the best way activists can help protect the climate? (And what’s a leverage point anyway?) AnnGraton, Calif. Dearest Ann, Such a good question, and so important that I asked a real expert about it. Dr. Allen Hershkowitz is a senior scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as a …

Umbra on environmental print magazines

Dear Umbra, Can you recommend a paper magazine dedicated to environmental/social-justice issues that has the same kind of light touch and zany humor that Grist has? I’ve found that getting really good reading material into the house and just leaving it around is a sure way to hook my two children, who are both avid readers. They’re both computer literate, but won’t go to a website I recommend, whereas they do read enticing stuff that’s left around — devour it, in fact! I’d really appreciate any pointers you could give us. We’re in New Zealand, but I wouldn’t mind importing …

Umbra on freshwater

Dear Umbra, What percentage of the Earth’s water is drinkable? What are the remaining percents in categories, such as salt water, polluted water (polluted with what?), and frozen water? And where can I find these statistics? ScottBozeman, Mont. Dearest Scott, About 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is constantly wet. Of all that water, only 2.5 percent, or 8.4 million cubic miles, is not salty. Quite a bit of the freshwater is rather stale, since it’s been stuck for eons in glaciers, ice caps, and Siberia: 5.9 million cubic miles, to be exact. Still more freshwater is too far from …

Umbra on reusable recycling bags

Dear Umbra, I am the cofounder and current president of the Recycling Club at R.L. Paschal High School in Fort Worth, Texas. We have started collecting cell phones and plan to donate them to Verizon, since they refurbish and recycle or sell them. With the money they make, they buy new ones with airtime for (in our town) ladies at the Women’s Haven shelter. We plan to start recycling plastics too. I need a bag for all this paper. Anyway, the reason I’m writing you is because we don’t know where to start with one of our plans for the …

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