Umbra Fisk

Ask Umbra®

Advice for Living Green

Yours is to wonder why, hers is to answer (or try). Send your green-living questions to Umbra.

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

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. …

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 …

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