American Idle

“You go into a community and they will vote 80 percent to 20 percent in favor of a tougher Clean Air Act, but if you ask them to devote 20 minutes a year to having their car emissions inspected, they will vote 80 to 20 against it. We are a long way in this country from taking individual responsibility for the environmental problem.”William D. Ruckelshaus

Fact: The easiest way to clear the air of pollutants caused by automobile emissions is to stop driving.

Fact: Not everyone can ride a bike or walk to where he or she needs to be every day.

While it is very true that biking and walking reduce automobiles’ CO2 emissions, there are several ways to cut down the dirty air and still be behind the wheel. One such way is to always be driving.

Time spent idling your car’s engine not only hurts the air quality, but it also wastes away your gas. Overall, idling Americans burn 2.9 billion gallons of gas a year, worth around $78.2 billion, according to a recent report from Texas A&M. That’s nearly $27 per gallon — wasted. Looking at those figures in terms of air quality, Vanderbilt law professor Mike Vandenbergh says, “[US] drivers who idle their cars and light trucks in driveways, school pick-up lines, to ‘warm up’ a car or while waiting in fast-food or bank drive-through lines account for 17 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions each year.”

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

Some states have enacted anti-idling laws to curb drivers’ wastefulness, but in many places those laws aren’t stringently enforced. In response, many communities have organized their own “no idling zones” around churches and schools. And speaking of schools, as one of the biggest offenders, diesel school buses now face laws as well, since Clean School Bus USA launched the National Idle-Reduction Campaign to promote idle reduction, among other things.

Everyone can do his or her part to reduce emissions caused by idling whether under possible penalty of law or not. The Environmental Defense Fund states that idling for more than 10 seconds uses more gas and emits more global warming pollution than restarting your car. While it doesn’t make sense to turn off your car at every stop sign or stop light, you should cut the engine when stuck in traffic that’s not moving or when waiting outside for someone.

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

Another common idling time is before you head out on your drive on a cold winter day. The Environment Defense Fund argues against the typical pre-drive warm-up, stating that the best way to warm up a car in winter months is to drive it, but when the temperature is below freezing, give it 30 seconds — that’s all you need.

Vandenbergh says, “If every American can reduce his or her carbon emissions by one percent, we decrease our total carbon emissions by 41 billion pounds a year.” So the next time you’re waiting in the driveway for your special someone, shut off your engine. That one twist of the hand brings you one step closer to saving our environment.


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