Living

To half and to hold

I paid $50 for this book and all I got was this lousy feeling of hope and goodwill

I received a free review copy of The Power of Half, but it ended up costing me $50. Fifty bucks that won’t go toward a much-needed (fine, much-wanted) pedicure, about a dozen cinnamon lattes, a month of cable or my cell phone, or a couple of weeks worth of bus fare for my ride to and from work. The just-released book, written by former Wall Street Journal reporter and editor Kevin Salwen and his 17-year-old daughter Hannah Salwen (check out Ask Umbra’s Change Agent interview with Hannah), details the Atlanta family’s decision to jump off of the bigger, better, faster, …

Picking up the PACE

San Francisco commits $150 million to green homes

Monday night I was having drinks in downtown San Francisco with some seriously smart people — top-level IBM scientists and strategists involved in Big Blue’s Smarter Planet initiative.  Given the room’s collective interest in creating smart electrical grids, smart water systems, advanced electric car batteries and other green technologies, the talk naturally turned to how to create sustainable cities. Solar panel installation in San Francisco.Photo courtesy bkusler via FlickrThe technology largely exists, the IBMers agreed, but what’s really needed is a great leap forward in financial engineering to allow cities to finance all the cool stuff being developed in labs …

To Half and Have Not

Ask Umbra’s Change Agent: Hannah Salwen

What would you do with half? Half the house, half the lattes, half the TV watching, half the Tweets, half the email checking? More importantly, what would you do with the other half — the extra space, funds, and time? Dearests, meet 17-year-old Atlanta Girls’ School junior Hannah Salwen (you may have read about her in New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s column last month), whose family not only asked these questions of themselves but also answered them in a pretty grand way. Co-author of The Power of Half, released today from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hannah was the instigator behind …

One Less Car; One More Terrified Biker

Car free in Boston, for all the wrong reasons

I’m currently in transportation transition. By the end of the month, I will have transferred my aging VW into my partner’s name, and canceled my own insurance. I will have tuned up my bike, spent a good chunk of money on a metro pass, and signed up with the local car-sharing business. But I’m not here to moralize (unlike in most of my posts). I tanked the car for all the wrong reasons. It was an easy decision to make, after I took my soon-to-be-ex car into the mechanic for a tune-up and came out minus $2,500; and after the …

NEXT STEPS

Walking: A simple focus for the Smart Growth movement

I expected to hear a lot more about sexy green urban design projects at the New Partners in Smart Growth conference in Seattle last week. I expected more sleek design and big new developments akin to Dockside Green in Victoria, British Columbia, or Vancouver’s Olympic Village. Maybe American urban planners are better at keeping it real, or maybe the real estate market isn’t allowing many such ambitious projects, but shiny New Urbanist developments didn’t get a lot of attention. Instead, discussions kept returning to a recurring problem: Americans live too damn far from where they work. Decades of bad development …

we audi know better

The unheralded significance of the Audi ‘green police’ ad

Is it me or were the Super Bowl commercials this year unusually ugly, misogynistic, and, worst of all, unfunny? Some of America’s biggest corporations seemed to be trying to play to Teabag America, and the results were as bitter as the teabaggers themselves. Amidst the dreck was a commercial from Audi featuring the “green police.” Here it is: At first blush this seems like more teabagging — appealing to angry white men with the same old stereotype of environmentalists as meddling do-gooders obsessed with picayune behavioral sins. If you check in the comments under the video, that perspective is well …

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 …