Smog an individual responsibility

It’s good to see Orillia City Council looking at the issue of smog.

Next month, council will consider a staff report on a smog-fighting policy and look at a draft bylaw to limit vehicle idling to three minutes.

In May, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is launching the "Turn it off" campaign to raise awareness about the effects of automobile fumes on human health. The health unit is doing something important during the campaign: putting a price tag on smog. The organization estimates it costs $16 million in health care to deal with bad air in the region.

Smog is such a huge problem, these small measures may seem like a burp in a hurricane. And no matter what sort of bylaw the city implements, it will be difficult to enforce. But in small measures, the actions raise awareness about the direct impact each of us has on our own environment. It also brings to mind some options for reducing our individual impact.

The upside of having yet another thing to feel guilty about is that acting to reduce the smog you create actually saves you money. Letting a vehicle idle for more than 10 seconds consumes more fuel than restarting the engine. With gas at a $1.06 a litre, turning the engine off has added value.

Perhaps one of the best things the city could do is legislate a moratorium on drive-thru windows at fast food outlets. And there be dragons. The windows are enormously popular, and they have proliferated in recent years. When it comes to idling, shutting down these systems would make a huge difference. But it would also be unpopular and controversial. Businesses have created entire operating systems built around the drive-thru window. Many buildings themselves are designed to accommodate the service.

Any local bylaw that doesn’t look at this aspect of the problem will be ceremonial at best. In some ways, Orillia’s attempt to deal with smog and the complications it involves is a microcosm for the challenges we face on a national and international level. But we have to start somewhere, and awareness is as good a place as any.

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