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Countywide Climate Action Planning Starts at Home

Two weeks of planning for a Door County climate-action plan started with three hours of brainstorming plus a list of simple actions anyone can take.

Climate Change Coalition (CCC) members Deneen Wiske, Roy Thilly, executive director Jeff Lutsey and 30 workshop attendees this month determined what to do next to have the biggest countywide and global impact. With the goal of triggering a downturn in carbon emissions, the group formed task force teams and started planning actions in five distinct work areas – home energy use, food choices and food waste, tree planting and climate communications. 

One group will make a push for more solar production by regional and local utilities.

Also as a group, Lutsey said, workshop attendees chose to expand upon the annual countywide Big Plant tree-planting effort by fundraising to buy fencing materials as well as 2-year-old deciduous trees, and planting those where volunteers can care for them.

The group also plans to have volunteers present at as many Door County festivals and events as possible in order to compost more fruit and vegetable scraps.

Solutions for Every Household

As for what people can do at home, workshop attendees accessed a library of 100 ways to draw down carbon usage nationwide and worldwide, plus a list of ways to cut their own carbon footprints in half.

Based on research by Project Drawdown’s Climate Solutions series parts 2-4, food-related changes can have the No. 1 and No. 2 impacts.

CCC Co-Chair Thilly knows a lot about green strategies and saving energy as the former chief executive of WPPI Energy, but he emphasized, “The most impact is from wasting the food without eating it.”

He encouraged people to buy only what they need. He said grocery stores throw away food because people want perfect-looking fruits and vegetables. In Door County, some restaurants provide fruit and vegetable waste from food-prep to composting programs, but if people don’t take home leftovers, everything left on the plate goes in the trash.

Thilly said on a recent vacation he liked it when an Airbnb owner asked guests with unopened food to put it in a box for the food pantry.

Lutsey said 30% of trash is food and food-related – “meaning that it’s ready to go back to earth if you let it.” He said 150 pounds of food in a landfill can either send 60 pounds of methane into the atmosphere or, if composted, become four bags of compost.

Project Drawdown also emphasizes that if more people adopted plant-rich diets – not necessarily vegetarian – they could drastically reduce the amount of land devoted to monoculture crops that feed livestock. Wiske said the key is to teach people to make appealing and affordable plant-based meals.

Food-related strategies and changes (in green) and energy-related changes (in orange) can do the most to reduce the carbon footprint globally and in the home, according to Project Drawdown. Submitted.

Wiske said her husband still eats some meat three times a week – not from factory farms but from a local producer of grass-fed cattle. Thilly said changing the feed from corn also reduces the carbon footprint.

Although the climate-change workshop attendees will come up with broader goals for energy use, Thilly urges everyone to take one commonsense step.

“Use less energy,” he said. “That is by far the (best) action you can take.”

Better insulation and windows, finding heat leaks, and turning the thermostat down in winter, or the air-conditioner up in summer, can save costs – the Department of Energy estimates savings of about 1% for each degree of thermostat adjustment per eight  hours. Thilly said installing a programmable thermostat pays off within a year. Other steps at home include installing a heat pump if there’s enough space, and on-demand water heaters if a homeowner’s water quality is good enough. 

Workshop attendees discussed writing letters to legislators and utilities to add more renewable or carbon-zero sources to their mix, even nuclear. Thilly noted it was a big loss when the nuclear power plant at Kewaunee closed for financial reasons, including a drop in the cost of natural gas, a fossil fuel.

Electric and hybrid cars would further reduce Wisconsin’s carbon footprint if the state had greener electrical sources, Lutsey said. For example, he said replacing his 26-mpg car with an electric vehicle right now would reduce his annual automobile carbon use from 7 tons to 4 tons, according to his favorite carbon footprint calculator. In California, that footprint for an electric car would come in at 1-2 tons. 

Other solutions suggested by workshop attendees included taking fewer fuel-guzzling flights, driving less, carpooling, decreasing electric-generator use by vendors at festivals, urging garbage services to provide composting bins, supporting local multiuse trail development, bringing containers from home for restaurant leftovers, and asking bus drivers and truckers not to idle diesel engines while parked.

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