Skip to content Skip to site navigation

More Articles


Ask Umbra: Which milk alternative is the lightest on the land?

Fake cow, fake milk.
Fake cow, fake milk.

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Are any kinds of non-cow pseudo-milk (i.e. almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk) noticeably less environmentally harmful than cow’s milk? If so, which is "best"?


A. Dearest Benjamin,

To drink or not to drink? That is the question when it comes to milk and its suite of non-dairy substitutes, isn’t it? I must admit your query is a slippery one, without many clear, substantiated answers. But we can make some definitive statements about dairy and its imitators – ready to wade in?

Read more: Food, Living


Why is Chris Christie silent on climate change, even as New Jersey is threatened by rising seas?

Chris Christie
State of New Jersey

Look up anything about recovery from Superstorm Sandy on official New Jersey government websites and you might notice something odd. The word “resiliency” is everywhere, but certain words -- climate change, global warming, rising sea levels -- are notably absent. Climate and sea level are not mentioned in recovery documents on the websites of the governor’s office, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), or the Department of Community Affairs, nor do they appear in a recent report by New Jersey Transit on its poor preparation for Sandy.

Consider the New Jersey Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding “Resiliency” webpage. Here is how often a few choice terms appear there:

  • mitigation: 9
  • resilience, resilient, resiliency: 23
  • flood: 15
  • climate: 0
  • sea: 0
  • ocean: 0
  • rise, rising: 0

Press releases from the office of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) tout his “commitment to a strong and resilient shore,” but never mention why the shore is imperiled in the first place.


Looney tuna: Did anyone really pay $2 million for a fish?

Dennis Tang

Last year, a restaurateur bid nearly $2 million to buy the first tuna auctioned off at Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market. It made for a great story: Southern bluefin tuna are critically endangered, and there’s something grimly fascinating about watching humans hand over great wads of cash to eat a creature they’ve driven to the brink of extinction.

All that press increased demand. “People were lined up down the block and around the corner to get a taste of the million dollar tuna,” said Andrew David Thaler, a deep-sea biologist who blogs at Southern Fried Science. The story was perhaps a little too good to be true. After the first tuna is auctioned off, the rest sell for orders of magnitude less. Danny Bloom, a journalist who has worked in Japan, wrote that no money actually changed hands. He said this was what the Japanese call yarase: an entirely manufactured PR stunt.

Read more: Uncategorized


Wind power boom could see British factories operating at night

Inside a factory

Factory workers in the U.K. might be put onto graveyard shifts in a bid to make the most of the country's wind energy supplies.

The National Grid, the power transmission network in the U.K., is considering paying factories and other big customers to operate through the night and during other quiet times. That would shift some commercial electricity demand from peak times to periods when demand is normally lowest but wind continues to blow. Here's The Telegraph with an explanation:


It’s so cold, people are grilling their beer

Beer and Smoke

We get that super-loyal sports fans are still tailgating despite the extremely frigid temperatures in certain regions of the country. But maybe use a little common sense with your sub-zero snacking?

USA Today and the New York Post both have photos, taken Sunday before the playoff game, showing Green Bay fan Jon Eiseoe attempting to thaw a bottle of beer. ON HIS GRILL. We’re not sure what happened afterward. Best case scenario, Joe sipped his brew while reading a classic Umbra on his smartphone and learned that a beer bottle with a lime in it is still recyclable. (The more you know.) Worst case, his beer bottle exploded under the pressure and he suffered a fate worse than a Green Bay loss. (Insert ominous Law and Order sounds here.)

Read more: Living


This cafe charges you 5 cents a minute to hang out, but everything else is free

Kai Chan Vong

Ziferblat, a Russian company that just opened its first branch in London, works on an unusual premise: It charges you for the time you spend in its space, rather than what you consume there. TimeOut London describes it as a café, but it sounds more like a co-working space where you pay per minute rather than per month:

I’m led to a kitchen, told to consider the place a ‘social space you treat like your home’, shown how to use the espresso machine and urged to bring in a meal or make one using the food in the cupboards (hence the onions).

People wander about, helping themselves to drinks, two students pore over books and on one table there’s evidence of flower arranging. As a record player softly pumps out Motown and fairy lights twinkle from the walls, it feels like a relaxed common room. But you don’t get many common rooms decked out in such an impeccable selection of cool retro furniture: it’s part living room, part vintage homeware store, a lovely place to hang out without pressure to buy stuff.

Instead of being a patron, you're "a sort of micro-tenant," the website says. And it looks pretty cozy:

Read more: Cities, Living


Australian eucalyptus tree is totally a gold digger

If you try a little harder, tree, you can probably make something like this and sell it on Etsy.
Kirsten Skiles

We’re not saying this eucalyptus tree in Australia is a gold digger, but, uh, it has literally been drawing up gold from the ground and accumulating the metal in its leaves. PopSci writes:

Researchers recently discovered relatively high levels of gold in the leaves of a eucalyptus tree in Western Australia, before uncovering a deposit of the metal more than 100 feet beneath it.

“Finding such high concentrations of gold in the foliage of this tree growing over a gold deposit buried beneath 35 meters of weathered rock was a complete surprise,” Melvyn Lintern, a geochemist at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), told The Scientist.

Read more: Living


An Icelandic brewer is making beer out of whales, and it’s grosser than you even imagine

Arjen Toet

An Icelandic brewing company named Steðji and a whaling company named Hvalur have teamed up to make whale-flavored beer. Why would you want whale-flavored beer? Well, novelty, I guess? And, if you believe the brewery, because it's low in fat and because you want to be a "true Viking." (True Vikings watch their figures!)

A group called Whale and Dolphin Conservation thinks, not surprisingly, that this sounds pretty lousy; it thinks Hvalur is just turning to increasingly absurd products in order to drum up demand for whale meat, which has been getting less popular lately.

We'll note that the whale product used is "whale meal," which is sort of like the pink slime of whale meat:

Read more: Food, Living


Washington coal export project dumped by Goldman Sachs

coal ship

Goldman Sachs is looking a tad less evil. It has dumped its holdings in a shaky project that would build the Gateway Pacific Terminal near Bellingham, Wash., intended to be the West Coast's biggest coal export terminal.

It's not that the banking giant discovered a soul. Rather, it's realizing that coal projects in the U.S. are a dumb gamble. Last year, the group's commodity research team warned of "a sharp deceleration in seaborne demand" for coal in a paper titled "The window for thermal coal investment is closing."

Here's Oregon Public Broadcasting with the latest:


Food industry’s secret plan for a GMO (non)-labeling law

GMO label sign
CT Senate Democrats

The captains of the food industry have decided it's time for a federal GMO-labeling law. Specifically, they're aiming for a labeling law that doesn't actually require labeling at all -- but does pre-empt all of the more stringent labeling laws now making their way through state legislatures. In other words, they want a voluntary-labeling law that stops states from enacting anything else. (Yes, food makers can already voluntarily label their products as non-GM.)

This story comes from Politico, where Jenny Hopkinson and Helena Bottemiller Evich got their hands on a leaked description of the proposed law.

This isn't exactly a surprise -- it's precisely what the Grocery Manufacturing Association had planned to do. And there's no telling yet whether politicians have an appetite for this law.

Read more: Food