Free Pass?

Ask Umbra on buying carbon offsets

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, I’ve been hearing about carbon offsets for awhile and even have purchased some for my car emissions through Terrapass. But I just got an email from my local power company saying that I can pay to offset my own carbon emissions at the low rate of just $8 per month. Is this a good idea? I hear such conflicting stories about the “greening” of coal power plants. How do I know what they are doing with the money? Mary B.Winston-Salem, N.C. A. Dearest Mary, Is your power company partying in the tropics …

Tank and File

Ask Umbra on replacing hot-water heaters

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, We are a family of five, with three little boys growing bigger every day. Which is the better environmental investment for our family: to replace our existing hot water heater with a solar model, or to switch to an on-demand, “instantaneous” hot water system? Thanks! Gillian and Grant Toronto, Ont. A. Dearest Gillian and Grant, Whaddaya mean, my bath is heated with coal?Solar hot water is the better choice and would still be so if your children grew not one inch taller. Solar hot water takes advantage of the sun hitting your …

No Holds Barred

The Yes Men reveal their next big stunt

Grist catches up with The Yes Men — those high-minded pranksters behind the faux climate-week New York Post and the notorious SurvivaBall — to talk about runaway climate change, that Big Apple arrest, their plans for Copenhagen, and their latest movie, The Yes Men Fix the World, which comes out on October 7. To get involved with The Yes Men in an effort they hope will be the largest international climate civil disobedience action of all time, visit

The assumption of inconvenience

Cross-Posted from Streetsblog. Early this week, I noticed a number of my favorite bloggers linking to this Elisabeth Rosenthal essay at Environment 360, on the mysterious greenness of European nations. The average American, as it happens, produces about twice as much carbon dioxide each year as your typical resident of Western Europe. Rosenthal attributes much of this difference to behavioral factors relating, it seems, to Europeans’ unique tolerance of inconvenience. She writes: But even as an American, if you go live in a nice apartment in Rome, as I did a few years back, your carbon footprint effortlessly plummets. It’s …

Acres of Apathy

Does anyone still care about “the land”?

So earnest it hurts.The new climate anthem is out — you know, the remake of “Beds Are Burning” that features such hip, 21st-century acts as Duran Duran, Bob Geldof, and Youssou N’Dour — and I can’t get it out of my head. Actually, it left my head pretty much as soon as the 4:02 video ended. But I was struck by, and can’t stop thinking about, the fact that the modified language in the song goes like this: “The time has come/to take a stand/it’s for the Earth/it’s for our land.” I expect this to resonate with exactly no one. …

A Non-Starter?

Ask Umbra on anti-idling campaigns

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, My daughter’s Girl Scout troop wants to start an anti-idling campaign at her school. We need help justifying why a car should be turned off for more than 30 seconds. Although they have found that it saves gas and wear and tear on the engine and other parts, very few people believe that 30 seconds is long enough. Most believe that their starter, in particular, will need to be replaced, thereby reducing the gas savings. Can you point us to definitive information about idling and when and why to turn off your …

Love in a time of cataclysm, part 2

Therapy on the Titanic

A recent Facebook exchange was striking. Someone posted a Washington Post article on the latest climate science. It predicted a temperature rise of 8 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century if no systemic changes are made to reduce our carbon output. The better case scenario — in which world governments implement their current promises to cut emissions — would keep the warming to only 6 degrees. Another person responded, “This is so heartbreaking I don’t know how I can hold it.” An increasing number of people note with horror the destruction caused by the current level of carbon …


Ask Umbra’s video advice on making lunch matter

Common wisdom tells us there’s no free lunch. But you can have a guilt-free lunch, thanks to Umbra Fisk’s recipe for midday munchers everywhere. You won’t have to swallow your pride — you can eat well, save money, and help this juicy planet we call home. “Ask Umbra” is the first video series produced by GristTV. Look for new video tips for greening your life from Umbra nearly every week. Watch it on the go! Subscribe to GristTV video podcasts via iTunes. Feed your mind with these links from the Grist archives: Ask Umbra on food storage options Let’s (re)do …

Loo and Behold

As Philadelphia goes, so goes the nation

More green on the streets will mean less brown in the rivers.Tony the Misfit via flickrPhiladelphia has a poo problem. Old, failing pipes plus a swelling population plus lots of rain equals — well, yuck. So the city has pondered its options, and now it’s poised to make a major splash in the world of sewage management. In a move described by an official from the state environmental council as “the most significant investment in transforming the city that we’ll see in our lifetimes,” Philly is proposing a $1.6 billion plan to radically alter the way it handles stormwater — …