Living

Solid gold

Ask Umbra on engagement rings, straws, and napkins

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, My boyfriend and I are talking seriously about marriage, and he knows I don’t want a diamond ring (at least not a new one) because of the social and environmental impacts. You addressed this topic in 2003, saying the only good options were no ring or a used ring. I’m wondering if, in the past seven years of “green” innovation, there might be other options to consider. Thanks,SarahWashington, D.C. A. Dearest Sarah, You know, I just can’t get that song out of my head. If you liked it then you shoulda put …

Get a heart on

Ask Umbra’s pearls of wisdom on Valentine’s Day

Dearest readers, Sometimes when I’m down in the stacks researching answers to your latest dilemmas, I enjoy taking a stroll down Ask Umbra archives lane. Here are some sparkly tidbits I culled from my past advice on lessening your impact on that sweet little romantic holiday, Valentine’s Day. Have any of your own sustainable loving tips or stories? Let me know in the comments section below or shoot me an email. Break up with your blow-up doll. And that jelly vibrator, while you’re at it. Lots of popular sex toys are made of PVC — a fancy name for vinyl …

Fish for Thought

Editor’s Note: Anna wrote this post (and several others) before leaving on maternity leave. She gave birth to a healthy baby girl in December. To eat fish, or not? If you’re pregnant, nursing, or even thinking about becoming pregnant, it’s a Catch-22. Seafood is the best possible source of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is critical for a baby’s brain and eye development, both in utero and in the “fourth trimester,” while the baby is nursing and the brain is still developing. But there’s a catch: seafood contains contaminants that can be harmful to babies—particularly methylmercury, which can …

(IS IT REALLY SO) SMART GROWTH?

My whiz-bang light rail is your pain in the asphalt

Seattle light rail. Photo courtesy LeeLeFever via Flickr One train, two views: Getting to the airport from Seattle’s north side — its wealthier, whiter half — on public transit first involves a bus ride downtown. From there, as of two months ago, you can take a new light-rail line, instead of another bus, to Sea-Tac Airport. This north-side resident found the light rail underwhelming — the train chugs along at street level at a modest speed, stopping 10 times, even stopping at times for traffic lights. It’s still faster to take the express bus from downtown. So it was interesting …

grow job

The jobs are in the trees

With Congress and the White House considering spending scarce dollars to jump-start employment, they’ll need to get the biggest jobs bang for the buck to give Americans confidence that they’re spending our money wisely. Probably the biggest jobs generator of all, and one of the least recognized, is investing in forest and land restoration and sustainable management, with conservation, watershed projects, and park investment coming close behind. Heidi Garrett-Peltier and Robert Pollin at The Political Economy and Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts report the following numbers for jobs created per dollar of investment. To summarize, reforestation and restoration …

No reason to be hopeful?

On talking to our kids about the future

Now that the first month of the new year in the new decade has come to an end, a first month that has brought much to mourn and not much to celebrate, I’ve been thinking again about hope. What some were calling “Hopenhagen,” did not, as we all know, and perhaps should have known from the start, provide much reason for real hope. Daily there are more reasons to be worried — not just about climate change, but about genetically modified foods, ever-increasing rates of cancer, a great wave of extinction, the death of the oceans, and a hundred other …

Sweat the Small Stuff

How personal actions can kick-start a sustainability revolution

Step it up! Small is the new big.The environmental movement is divided over the importance of small steps — are they a critical starting point or a distraction from needed policy and institutional changes? A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but will small changes add up to the kind of massive shift needed to bring us toward sustainability? We say sweat the small stuff — but not because small decisions add independently to big change. Rather, because societal change isn’t just additive like stair-climbing, it’s transformative like metamorphosis, and small actions play a crucial role. …

Edible Oscar

Oscar smiles upon ‘Food, Inc.,’ stiffs ‘Mr. Fox’

Food, Inc., Robert Kenner’s hard-hitting exposé of the food industry, has snagged a Academy Award nomination in the “best documentary” category. (Full list of nominess here; Food Inc. is up against another food politics-themed film, The Cove.) This is a significant development. I know people in the food world who have taken a blase approach to Food Inc.--there’s “nothing in it I didn’t already know,” they grumble. That may be largely true of people immersed in food politics–but you have to give Kenner and crew credit for breaking the pink slime/ammonia burger story long before the mainstream media caught on. …

Buddy, can you spare two dimes?

Obama’s budget proposal serves up thin gruel for school lunch reform

Twenty of these won’t even get you an apple a day to keep the doctor away. As most readers of the Grist food section know by now, school lunches draw a meager share of the national budget. The federal government reimburses school cafeterias at a rate of up to $2.68 per student per day–a level that leaves administrators with well less than a dollar to spend per kid on ingredients. It’s no wonder that, to supplement the program, schools resort to offering all manner of “competitive foods”–e.g., chips, candy, corndogs, soda. It’s also no wonder that the quality of school …