Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Dear Umbra,

I am worried that your hotness may be contributing to global warming. I’m not sure what can be done to fix this.

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O Zone

A. Dearest O,

You are making me blush. But I am using your letter as a springboard to report some exciting news: In an effort to make my operations more energy-efficient, I am combining my previous twice-weekly column into one weekly, multi-question column. Experts say the shift will result in 26 fewer milligrams of carbon emitted each week. I’ll also be popping up in other places on Grist during the week now, and asking you dearest readers for more input. So keep the questions, suggestions, and blush-inducing compliments coming — we’ll lick this climate thing yet.

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Q. Dear Umbra,

What is the most effective thing each of us can do over the next six weeks to help stop global warming?

Ned T.
Columbia, Md.

A. Dearest Ned,

I assume your six-week timeframe is pinned on the Copenhagen climate conference, to which we are all looking with bright eyes and big hopes. My advice for the interim is two-pronged: first, pledge to make one change in your own life that will reduce your energy use. Because I’m getting in the holiday spirit, I’ll even say changing one light bulb counts, though I’d like to see you take some bigger steps as well. Second, but only because I couldn’t blurt both ideas at once: Contact your representatives and senators. Tell them you support the passage of strong climate legislation, and tell them Obama would be insane not to go to Copenhagen. Tell them if they don’t do something about climate change immediately, you are going to distribute photographs of them in compromising positions. We all know you don’t possess any such photographs, but that sort of threat will always send a shiver down a politician’s spine. When it comes to the climate crisis, we are no longer above such maneuvers.


Q. Dear Umbra,

Do you have any recommendations on how to make the annual corporate ‘gift basket’ sustainable, yet memorable?

Erin K.
Portland, Ore.

A. Dearest Erin,

tower of giftsWant not, waste not.Good for you for thinking about how to make this consumption-y tradition more sustainable. The obvious choice, of course, would be to forgo the gift basket entirely. Can you get away with that at your company? Why not send your supporters and customers a gift certificate for a nice meal, instead, or donate to a worthy non-profit organization in their name. It seems to me that, in an age when 83 percent of people report receiving gifts they don’t want, the corporate gift basket has run its course. However, if you absolutely must dole out tangible items, see if you can draw any inspiration from our list of creative green gift basket ideas. If all else fails and a more traditional basket is required, make sure you are thoughtful about choosing local, sustainable products. You live in a land of good cheese, beer, and wine, so it shouldn’t be hard.


Q. Dear Umbra,

Can I recycle my receipts? I’m worried that the type of paper they’re printed on will contaminate the regular paper I’m recycling.

Richmond, Va.

A. Dearest Bad,

What a good question as we approach Holiday Shopping Madness. I can say with nearly 100 percent confidence that you cannot recycle your receipts — at least, those printed on thermal paper, which is the sort of shiny, sheeny paper that faxes used to arrive on. (Remember faxes?) However, as with all such “can I recycle this or that” questions, I’ll advise you to doublecheck with your municipality. Two more things on the receipt front, one creepy, one promising. The creepy one is that some receipts are coated with BPA, the estrogen-mimicking chemical found in baby bottles and can linings. At present, the best advice for avoiding this form of BPA exposure seems to be to decline receipts when you can, and wash your hands after handling them when you can’t. Now for the more promising news: I’ve been hearing about a business model in which you, the customer, can associate your debit card with an e-mail account and request digital receipts, so instead of ending up with a pocket full of non-recyclable thermal paper, you end up with an inbox full instead. Many people seem to be trying this notion, but I have not located one good, central resource that’s figured out how to get it up and running — readers, any insights?