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 …


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 …


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 …

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