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Umbra on crows

Dear Umbra, Is there a national increase in the crow population, or am I just noticing them more as I age? JimLa Jolla, Calif. Dearest Jim, Probably both. I'll wager that you have become more observant as the years pass, but it's also the case that, according to various bird counts and surveys, the American crow population is indeed expanding -- although not in all parts of the country. Industrial agriculture provides little friendly habitat in the way of perches, food, and shelter. On the other hand, these social, clever birds are doing a fine job of adapting to life …

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Umbra on corpses

Dear Umbra, What's the greenest method of disposing of one's corpse? I'm just dying to know. BuchachaAustin, Texas Dearest Buchacha, You are not the only one thinking of the Great Green Beyond; there are more choices about the fate of your corpse than you might imagine. Let's start with the traditional options: Cremation is greener than burial, for (at least) three reasons. First, embalming (which is common although not mandatory) uses noxious chemicals to preserve the body. Second, the impenetrable bunkers that are the latest trend in caskets won't biodegrade anytime soon. Finally, cemeteries are usually high-maintenance parks full of …

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Umbra on candles

Dear Umbra, Recently, nature-conscious religions such as Paganism and Wicca are getting a lot of attention. This is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, such religions inspire love for the environment and have spawned many eco-nuts (myself included, I admit). However, although most of the common practices seem to be eco-friendly enough, I'm concerned about some of the incense and candles being burned. I've heard a lot of nasty rumors about these things being toxic. Personally, whenever I use candles too often, I get a bit sick. Can you tell me what's true about these rumors? And is burning …

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Umbra on water conservation

Dearest Umbra, How can I convince friends to conserve water? I write a column for my church newsletter to encourage responsible environmental practices by church members. One member said recently that he doesn't see any need to conserve water personally; given that our area has plenty of water, why should he turn off the tap when he brushes his teeth? I'm not sure. Our local environmental organization's slogan is, "If we all do a little, we all do a lot," and one of the mantras of environmentalists has been, "Think globally, act locally." In this case, is there an argument …

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Umbra on ground-level ozone

Dear Umbra, Where I live, the air is declared "unhealthful" on many days in the summer due to ground-level ozone pollution. On those days, we have to stay inside until after about 3 p.m. My question is: What causes ground-level ozone to form and what are its reported health effects on adults and children? DeanBakersfield, Calif. Dearest Dean, Ground-level ozone is the unholy love child of fuel combustion and sunlight, and the best prevention technique is abstinence -- from the combustion engine. Smog-tied. Volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides are byproducts of fuel combustion. On sunny, warm days, VOCs and …

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Advice on converting to biodiesel

Umbra, I own a diesel VW Golf, which I bought thinking it was a better choice for the environment than a gasoline engine. Therefore, I was disappointed to read your message that diesel is probably a worse choice. However, you didn't talk at all about biodiesel. Can you give us a rundown on this fuel -- how to get it, how it may be beneficial, and what you might have to do to ensure your car can run on it safely? Thank you. Sputtering in VermontBurlington, Vt. Dearest Sputtering, Here at Grist Command Central, we received an overwhelming number of …

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Umbra on environmentally friendly communities, again

Dearest Readers, In my last column, I received a plea from James "Captain Planet" Fitzpatrick of Florida, a firefighter looking to relocate to a small, friendly, environmentally conscious mountain community with good schools, reasonably clean air and water, and no polluting companies or toxic waste sites. As this was obviously a job for discerning Grist readers, I turned the question over to the multitudes, and letters have been pouring in like Californians fleeing an earthquake. In today's column, I am pleased to convey the results of this informal Grist survey. As with most polls, these results represent the views of …

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Umbra on killing your lawn

Dear Umbra, I just moved into a house with a large backyard. I would like to xeriscape 90 percent of it, but I must first learn how to kill and remove the grass. I'm not a fan of chemicals and would like to find an alternate solution. Most of the yard is very, very brown these days due to the drought. Will a rototiller do the job? Frank Dearest Frank, For befuddled readers, a xeriscape is a water-saving garden, usually installed in a dry climate. Here are Three Fun Ways to Kill Your Lawn: Dig up the grass with a …

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Umbra on environmentally friendly communities

Hello, Umbra, I have been a firefighter for 23 years in Florida and have been reading Grist for the last couple of years. I am very environmentally conscious (probably why my nickname at the fire station is Captain Planet) and am starting to look for a place to move with mountains, small and friendly (preferably environmentally conscious) communities that still have reasonably clean air and water and a lack of huge malls, power plants, and environmentally damaging companies or toxic waste dump sites. Good schools for children would be a plus. I've been trying to find ways to research but …

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Umbra on forest fires

Dear Umbra, My husband says that Rush is blaming the Sierra Club for the huge forest fires raging in Colorado and Arizona. He says that because environmentalists oppose logging, the forest is too full of fuel. I told him that as far as I know, the Sierra Club is really trying to prevent logging in roadless areas and wilderness areas, not areas where people are living and building developments. But he pointed out that with the fires the size they are, they could have burned through some of both kinds of areas. I also told him that the U.S. Forest …

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