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Umbra on food storage

Dear Umbra, I recently read about the possible effects of plastics on women and the fetuses they may be carrying. I'm ready to change my ways, but I'm not sure how. Do you have some good suggestions about other ways we can package our leftovers or pack foods for lunch at school and work? NataliePortland, Ore. Dearest Natalie, Time to go old school, perhaps literally. If plastic is the problem, the answer may be one compound word: ante-plastics. Before plastic became omnipresent, workers and students transported prepared foods in containers made from other materials. Those antiquated containers may be just …

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Michelle Nijhuis reviews Six Modern Plagues and How We Are Causing Them

Six Modern Plagues By Mark Jerome Walters Island Press, 206 pages, 2003 It's easy to look at disease outbreaks as acts of God, or fate, or chance. After all, diseases are often so capricious, so stubbornly beyond our full control, that it can seem as if we humans have little to do with them -- beyond suffering the consequences, that is. But in many cases, argues journalist and veterinarian Mark Jerome Walters, we have far more influence over disease than we think. In Six Modern Plagues and How We Are Causing Them, he contends that disease outbreaks are often triggered …

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Extract Marks the Spot

Development, Tradition on Opposite Sides in South American Energy Battles Given its vast reserves of oil and natural gas, the Amazon basin should be heaven for extractive industries. Instead, the people who make their home in the basin are trying to make life hell for energy companies. Over the years, Amazon natives have become both more sophisticated and more forceful in efforts to protect their pristine homeland -- efforts that include everything from protests and lawsuits to vandalism and kidnappings. At issue is the struggle to balance national growth with traditional culture, and the stakes could scarcely be higher: millennia-old …

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Bridge Over Bottled Water

Recycled Plastic Bridge Proves Inexpensive as Well as Eco-Friendly You may have heard of plastic bottles being recycled into fleece jackets, park benches, and, of course, more plastic bottles -- but bridges? Yep; that's one of the latest creative uses for old milk cartons, soda containers, and the like. A 56-foot-long, one-lane bridge over the Mullica River in southern New Jersey, built almost entirely of a special, super-strong plastic blend, has held up well for more than a year, and the team of Rutgers University scientists behind the project see a big potential market for small plastic bridges, though they …

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If Only Enron Had Known About This

New Erasable Ink Could Be Boon to Office Recycling Invisible ink was once the province of spies, then of children -- and now of environmentalists? Beginning Monday, tech industry giant Toshiba will sell a new, disappearing ink in Japan that is designed to enable easier reuse and recycling. The ink, called "e-blue," can be used in ordinary laser printers as well as in pens, and disappears when heated. The ink is made of three chemicals, two of which combine to give it its color, while the third, when heated, makes the ink turn transparent. Toshiba is also selling a desktop …

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Blue-CFL-Light Special

Sales Boost Expected for Energy-Efficient Products What's the perfect holiday gift for the loved one who has everything? Try five compact fluorescent light bulbs. With energy prices expected to balloon this winter, experts are predicting increased sales of energy-efficient consumer products in the U.S. over the coming months. Home Depot recently published a catalog showcasing efficient goods: "We've planned for a rush to these types of products this winter," said Craig Menear, the retail giant's senior vice president for merchandising. Sales of compact fluorescent light bulbs, for example, are growing fast -- though not fast enough. If every American homeowner …

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How to streamline your life and still enjoy the heck out of it

Editor's note: Ever wonder when We the People stopped being called citizens and started being called consumers? Take back your real identity, and take the consumption-crazy days from Thanksgiving to New Year's in stride -- with Umbra Fisk's guide to graceful (and limited) consuming. Consumption is one of life's great pleasures. Buying things we crave, traveling to beautiful places, eating delectable food, owning every Stevie Wonder album: icing on the cake of life. But too often the effects of our blissful consumption make for a sad story. Giant cars exhaling dangerous exhaust, hog farms pumping out noxious pollutants, toxic trash …

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Umbra on microwaves

Dear Umbra, We recently bought a new (to us) house and acquired a microwave oven. Having gotten this far in life without one, we figured we wouldn't use it all that much. Ha. We use it all the time. It's just so much faster than heating things on the stove. I do wonder, though, which is more energy-efficient. Is it more eco-friendly to heat milk for a minute in the microwave, or five minutes on the gas stove? And is there anything to the persistent rumors of stray radiation from microwaves? Z.B.Pittsburgh, Penn. Dearest Z.B., Microwaves and their ovens remind …

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Umbra on eco-friendly fish consumption

Dear Umbra, I recently turned 40 and have decided I need to pay more attention to what I eat on a daily basis. My diet has never been horrible, and I've always believed in all things in moderation, but a persistently elevated cholesterol level and my mortality now a smudge on the horizon have helped nudge me in this direction. And everywhere I turn it's fish, fish, and more fish: doctors recommending more omega-3 oils (in the form of fish-oil pills), Oprah lending her support to a heart-healthy diet full of salmon, and on and on. Not to mention that …

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Robert Redford gets heated up about the Bush environmental agenda, clean energy, and more

He played the Sundance Kid, the sharpshooter sidekick to Paul Newman's Butch Cassidy in the 1969 classic; he built the Sundance Village in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah; he founded the Sundance Institute for independent film and theater production and established the Sundance Film Festival. But all the while, Robert Redford has been doing an altogether more literal kind of sun dance: preaching the clean-energy gospel at the grassroots, in the op-ed pages of newspapers, on the big screen, and inside the Beltway. Solar is not a new fascination for the actor and director. As far back as 1975, Redford …

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