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Dane County Office of Energy & Climate Change

Cutting Carbon Amid COVID-19


Allison Madison

Without overlooking the devastating impacts of coronavirus, perhaps we can embrace the opportunities afforded by a slower rhythm of life to better care for ourselves and our planet. In the past several weeks, our worlds have shrunk dramatically while impressing upon us the fragility and resiliency of life. At different time scales and through different manifestations, a global pandemic and an imbalanced carbon cycle both demonstrate the interconnectivity of life on our planet. My hope is that the suggestions that I offer below help you to expand and enrich your world as you act to preserve it for future generations. So take a break from the latest headlines, and take a step that shrinks your carbon footprint.


Tackle a repair project

Do you have a hole in a favorite pair of pants? An old computer or tablet that has been sitting in a drawer or back closet? Restoring function to a discarded item is empowering for all ages. At a time when kids (and adults) have many more unstructured hours at home than usual, repair tasks can be excellent independent study projects that incorporate hands-on exploration, online research, and tangible products. I am definitely not the most handy - nor was I a future engineer - but around age 12 my mom asked me to fix a lamp. Armed with a screwdriver and a few dollars I dismantled the lamp, purchased a socket at the hardware store, replaced it, and voila: there was light!

Today, online resources like offer free step-by-step tutorials with pictures and videos for repairs on everything from computers and tablets, to vacuum cleaners, bicycles, clothing, and umbrellas. If you don’t have a sewing machine with which to repair a clothing item, consider employing the Japanese art of boro stitching. All you need is a needle, thread, and a piece of fabric to make a patch; it’s a fun and meditative way to create wearable art and extend the life of your wardrobe.

Experiment with a new vegetarian recipe

After weeks of eating from home, it may be time to expand the repertoire. Why not add some meatless meals to the mix? Cutting meat consumption reduces our carbon footprint and can be fun and easy or elaborate and impressive. There are countless food blogs and meal planning apps (Vegan Recipe Club, Mealime, RealPlans) from which to draw inspiration. Wisconsin from Scratch, a new favorite of mine, is a local blog with great vegetarian recipes.

Walk/bike to the grocery store or indulge in a grocery delivery service

A carbon-free trip to get groceries may require a pinch of creativity. My friends often walk to the store while pulling a grandchild in a wagon or pushing a large stroller; on the ride home, these human-powered vehicles also transport a couple bags of groceries. If you’re riding a bike without panniers or baskets, consider using a backpack or a burley. I do not recommend biking while holding bags in your hands, it’s an unstable and risky ride for both you and your food items!

Graphic comparing personal vehicle travel to delivery travelGrocery delivery services can reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by decreasing the total number of vehicle miles traveled. This effect is most pronounced when trucks can optimize for route efficiency. When consumers choose their own drop-off time, route efficiency and carbon savings decrease. Several grocers in the Madison area offer delivery service: Instacart, Hyvee, Metcalfe’s, Pick n Save, and Woodman’s.

Slowing down our rate of consumption, eating less meat, and reducing vehicle miles traveled are ordinary ways to cut carbon emissions during these extraordinary times.


Allison Madison

Allison Madison


Allison has studied and taught sustainability for many years. From her native Wisconsin, she has ventured out to mountain ranges and lakeshores across the country and back again. She writes for the Dane County Office of Energy & Climate Change to give readers food for thought and actionable suggestions to be a part of the county’s work to address climate change. Together we can forge a better future. Together. Dane County.


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