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Tofu, eh? Ask Umbra on going vegetarian in Canada

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, I am a new (one-year) vegetarian and need more info about the foods I am eating. I live in Ontario and am looking for information about food industries in Canada. Any help finding information online would be greatly appreciated. Thank you,Carol Pasechnick O Canada! Photo: Alan ChanA. Dearest Carol, Welcome to the meatless world! I'm sure other vegetarian Gristers would give you a high-five through the computer screen if possible. Animals, your arteries, and our air thank you (and that's just the letter A). Way to dig your teeth into the story …

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Your cable box uses more power than your refrigerator

If you have a cable box and a DVR, their combined power draw is a stunning 446 kWh per year -- more than a new refrigerator. And two-thirds of that energy gets sucked down when the boxes aren’t even in use. In fact, they draw almost as much power when the TV is off as they do when they're playing content. Eighty percent of U.S. households pay for TV, and cumulatively, we spend $2 billion a year on electricity for our set-top devices. Just eliminating the power they draw when not in use would reduce electricity consumption by the equivalent …

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Critical List: Al Gore praises Romney; a fifth Brazilian anti-logging activist dies

Al Gore is doing his best to ensure Barack Obama gets reelected. Yesterday, he endorsed Mitt Romney's climate stance. The Arizona wildfire is the largest in the state's history. A fifth anti-logging activist in Brazil was killed. Your HD cable box uses more electricity than your refrigerator. Only 30 percent of Pennsylvanians say that hydrofracking's environmental impacts outweigh its economic benefits. But 69 percent do support taxing gas companies, so at least they’re planning to get as much economic benefit out of it as they can. The next climate-change treaty could cover water issues, because with the droughts and floods …

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Getting their fair share: The rise of the barter market [VIDEO]

Barter markets -- where people bring stuff they don't want and exchange it for stuff that other people don't want -- are like urban sustainability Swiss Army knives. It's amazing how many things they can do. They reduce the amount of expensive new crap people buy. They help folks clean out unwanted junk from their homes and keep it out of the waste stream. They create a lively public space. And they build community. The only barter market I know of in the United States, the Really Really Free Market in the East Village (now defunct), was organized by anarchists, …

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The great unwashed: Ask Umbra on twice-weekly showers

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, My two sons, age 12, shower twice a week, with prompting. I told them most Americans shower daily, and one of them stated flatly, "That's crazy. It's wasteful." Now, I am all for saving water, but I told them it depends on the situation. What is your opinion -- should I respect their earth-loving impulses or, as they begin their teenage years, teach them to pay more attention to personal hygiene? Kathyno city provided Go with the low-flow.Photo: MatthijsA. Dearest Kathy, Well, I'll be. I've heard of adolescents taking long, hot showers, …

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Too good to be true: biodegradable forks

Methane spoils everything. Natural gas drilling would be less risky if it didn't have the potential to release clouds of methane into the atmosphere. Methane cow farts make even grass-fed beef a less-green option than no beef at all. And now it turns out that those biodegradable plastic utensils we've been telling ourselves are soooo much better than regular disposable sporks are releasing methane as they break down in landfills. There are two solutions here: Landfills could start doing more to capture methane. (Flimsy picnicware isn’t the only product that give off the gas.) Or people could stop using disposable …

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How to stay cool for next to nothing

Central AC is for suckers. Why are you cooling every inch of your house, even the dust bunnies under the couch, when the only part that actually needs to be cooled is your body? Having endured, sans air conditioning, countless summers in locations including the deep South and the middle of the gigantic urban heat island known as Brooklyn, I've developed the following ultra-simple method for saving myself hundreds of dollars a year in electricity bills. For lack of a better term, I'll call it the Personal Swamp Cooler, because it works on more or less the same principle as …

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Ask Umbra’s Book Club announces ‘The Joy of Less’ is next book

Dearest readers, Spring cleaning has gotten me thinking about de-cluttering -- and the larger minimalist movement. It sure feels great to get rid of things we no longer use or need, but what's to stop us from just filling up our lives with more stuff? Minimalism and environmentalism have a lot in common -- enough that I think you'll enjoy reading about the former and then talking about it with other Gristers in a few weeks. It's official: the long-overdue next selection for Ask Umbra's Book Club is The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, …

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Reno 9-year-old finds simple, smart water-saving solution

Two years ago, Mason Perez, then seven, went to wash deposits of ballpark ketchup and relish off his hands and face. The water in the Reno Aces ballpark poured out the faucet so hard and fast that it hurt his hands. His mom turned down the faucet, and that's when Perez had a brilliant, simple realization: Turning down a faucet valve means less water pressure, which means less water. You can save water just by making it not spurt out so fast. He tested this theory for a science project at residential and commercial sites and found that, yep, turning …

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What a hoe! — and other secrets of an orderly garden

Lookin' sharp!Can you keep a secret? I think I'm in love. The object of my affection is about 5'4", slender, and she's the sharpest tool in the shed. Did I mention she's a redhead? I've taken her out twice now, and we danced around the garden like we were made for each other. I'm talking, of course, about my new stirrup hoe. Equally enamoring is our new low tunnel -- a temporary structure made of curved metal and special fabric that lets light and water in. My partner, Brian, keeps exclaiming, "How did we ever grow anything without a low …