Climate change is a global problem, but a big part of the solution
lies in the hands of individuals – including the millions
of people who drive vehicles. If you have ever left your
car’s engine running while waiting to pick someone up, if you
have ever been stuck in a traffic jam or if you have ever sat with
your car idling while waiting in line at a drive-through teller or
restaurant, then you are part of the problem.
Idling for five minutes a day in a small car will burn 38 liters
of gas a year and release 88 kilograms of carbon dioxide (twice
as much in a large car.) For every thousand small and large cars
that idle for five minutes a day, that’s 132 tonnes!
A recent study suggests that in the peak of winter, Canadians
voluntarily idle their vehicles for a combined total of more than
75 million minutes a day – equivalent to one vehicle idling for
According to Natural Resources Canada, for every liter of
gasoline used, the average car produces about 2.4 kilos of carbon
dioxide. If every driver of a light duty vehicle avoided
idling by five minutes a day, collectively over the year, we
would save 680 million liters of fuel and over 1.6 million tonnes
of greenhouse gas emissions.
Idling is Bad for our Health
Research has demonstrated a direct link between contaminants
in vehicle emissions and respiratory problems. Smog –
caused in part by vehicle exhaust – results in increased hospital
admissions, respiratory illnesses and premature deaths, particularly
in urban areas. Health Canada estimates that more than
5,000 Canadians die prematurely each year because of air pollution,
and thousands more become unnecessarily ill. The World
Health Organization reports three million people now die each
year from the effects of air pollution. This is three times more
than those who die each year in auto accidents. Children are particularly
vulnerable to air pollution because they breathe faster
than adults and inhale more air relative to their body weight (approximately
50 percent more per pound than adults, according
to an EPA information sheet on school bus idling.)
For that reason, school buses and parents waiting outside
schools create a major idling problem. Air pollution also causes
unnecessary difficulty for elderly people and those with respiratory
problems, such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
These health problems could become even more common
and pronounced as climate change progresses. That’s because
climate change results in more frequent and severe heat waves,
which tend to make smog and air pollution worse.
Most of the energy we use each day produces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. On average, each Canadian generates just over five tonnes of greenhouse gases per year by driving vehicles, heating and cooling homes, washing and drying clothes and using other appliances. By making choices that reduce our GHG emissions, we are doing our part to address climate change.
“Canadian motorists idle their vehicles an average of five to 10 minutes per day,” said a Natural Resources news release. “A recent study suggests that in the peak of winter, Canadians voluntarily idle their vehicles for a combined total of more than 75 million minutes a day – equivalent to one vehicle idling for 144 years.”
If idling was avoided – most cars are ready to go after 15 to 30 seconds – Canadians would save 1.8-million litres of fuel per day, preventing 4,500 tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions from entering the atmosphere. Natural Resources Canada goes on to argue that, beside wasting money, fuel and contributing to pollution, idling damages an engine. That’s because an idling engine runs at a cool temperature and does not burn all the fuel that leaves residue on the cylinder walls and can cause damage.
Furthermore, idling an engine does nothing to warm up other parts of the car. Other “myths” include the suggestion that starting and stopping a car causes wear and tear and that it uses up more fuel. “Believe it or not, more than 10 seconds of idling uses more fuel that restarting the engine,” Natural Resources found. More frequent use of the starter and battery adds $10 a year to the maintenance of a car, far less than the money saved by using less fuel.
- Transport – Cars travel about 15,000 km a year, creating six tonnes of greenhouse gases. You can cut greenhouse gas emissions now, by using your vehicle less.
- Drive less. Reduce the number of car journeys you make, by planning ahead. Can you do without your car? Live close to your workplace, use public transport, cycle, walk, car pool or use a taxi. They are all options for helping take vehicles off the road.
If we are strong enough, brave enough to do what is right we will set an example for other cities. If enough other cities each care enough, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire the moral standing to demand changes in behavior from others – from other people, other corporations, even other countries.