Reduced Idling – part of the solution to Climate Change

I think the majority of Canadians realize that Climate Change is a real issue and is a threat to the planet’s biosphere and our future generations. Later this month members of the new Federal Government, opposition leaders, and premieres of all the provinces will be going to Paris to participate in the latest rounds of talks on climate change. A reduction in idling is a simple behaviour change that people can do immediately and will a positive impact on the environment.

There are many big and little actions that contribute to Climate Change. The purpose of this blog post is to talk about one of the ‘little’ actions – idling our vehicles.

Climate change is being caused by the accumulation of an excess amount of greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. These gasses trap heat in the atmosphere and causes a global rise in temperature. Many, but not all, of these gasses are created by the combustion of carbon based fuels – oil, gasoline, natural gas, wood, etc – creating an excess of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

Vehicles and the fuel that we use to produce mobility have a heavy footprint. We should be using these resources more efficiently, with more respect, and less.

Many years ago I highlighted in a television series I was doing that an argument could be made to claim that the cell phone was a “green” device or at least have some “green” attributes. It allowed people to get directions, they could look up a map, they could phone ahead and see if the store they were heading to had the product they were looking for, that it allowed a person to be in more than one place at a time (though they should not operate while working with their phone), etc.

Over the last few years I have noticed a change in how some people idle. When some people get into their vehicle they turn on the engine and then check their cell phone – possibly to look up where they are going. Also when they arrive at their destination they will park their vehicle and then pull out their cell phone while their engine is idling. I call this type of idling “unconscious idling”. Most people don’t event think about it or realize that it is wasteful or polluting.

“Unconscious idling” is different than turning on your car to idle to achieve something – like warming up the interior.

I have created a petition that calls on the Government of Alberta to bring in a Province Wide excessive idling educational and enforcement program. If we want to reduce greenhouse gases lets start with the low hanging fruit. Idling gets you nowhere!

There are many municipalities across the world that have created excessive or anti-idling laws. There are even provinces that have brought in province wide laws. I am asking the provincial government to bring in a similar law and educational program. When we create a law and education program at the provincial or federal government level we reduce the number of jurisdictions that have to spend resources and implementing their own.

I am unsure if municipalities are the best equipped to bring in such laws – though cities have led the way on this issue. Also if the province brings in such programs it will move this issue up a couple of notches and get more bang for the buck.

I also call upon the municipalities, provincial, and federal governments to review their guidelines for idling for the vehicles that are under their control. They and their employees should be setting an exemplary example to the rest of the public on fiscal and environmental responsibility.

In February 2011 Earth’s General Store became one of the first areas to put up Idle Free Zone signs for our parking lot. idling car in front of store

The other day this vehicle was idling for over 15 minutes on the street in front of our downtown store.
The temperature was over 8C and as you can see I was wearing a light sweater (was outside the whole time sweeping the sidewalk). The driver was waiting for something and checking their phone all the while their vehicle was idling. This is an example of unconscious idling.

Check out the following resources on idling:

Natural Resources Canada – Why do Canadians Idle?

One easy way to cut fuel consumption, save money and reduce GHGs is to avoid unnecessary idling. If all drivers avoided unnecessary idling for three minutes a day, we would save over $630 million per year (assuming a fuel cost of $1/litre). What’s more‚ collectively‚ we would prevent 1.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) from entering the atmosphere daily and contributing to climate change. This would be equal to saving over 630 million litres of fuel and equivalent to taking 320,000 cars off of the road for the entire year. Clearly‚ individual actions‚ when taken by millions of Canadians‚ can make a difference.

Conference Board of Canada – A Long, Hard Road: Reducing GHG Emissions in Canada’s Road Transportation Sector by 2050

This article from the Washington Post is quite good as well.

Vehicle Warm Up from Natural Resources Canada. Note what they say about transmissions and wheel bearings.

What is agreed upon is that a vehicle can be driven shortly after start up but that you should avoid sudden acceleration, your windows are clear, and that it is safe. Your catalytic converter (a device in your tail pipe that burns up incompletely burnt fuels) needs to be warm for it to work. Operating at initially slower speeds allows it to warm up as the exhaust gases warm up the pipe and the converter.

Though transportation accounts for a portion of our contribution to the ever increasing concentration of carbon in the atmosphere and idling a very small percentage of that amount the reason that idling is an issue is because idling does not really serve any purpose (other than creature comfort).

Most vehicles in Canada have an engine block heater to help warm up the engine (can you believe it that this is an OPTION when you buy a new vehicle). This is an efficient way to warm up your engine in cold weather (I usually only use the block heater when it is under 40C). You ONLY need to plug in or turn on the block heater for a few hours prior to starting to be effective. I am also a proponent of battery warmers which warm up the battery at the same time the block heater is warming up the engine. A warm battery is significantly stronger than a very cold battery. Use a timer to turn on those items so that they are only on for a short period of time (maximum of two hours).

As for creature comfort there are people that want to heat up the passenger space – take the chill off. While others want the heaters to melt the snow and ice off their windows. There are a few more efficient ways to achieve both of these goals while not idling or greatly reduce the idling like in-car plug in heaters and an ice scraper/snow brush.

Just in case you didn’t know where the heat for your heater comes from – it is waste heat from the very inefficient chemical-mechanic engine. The burning of fossil fuels and friction in your engine generates huge amounts of heat.  This heat is moved to radiators in your heating system and fans push the warmed air into the passenger space and onto your windshield. What we are using is waste heat but at a very poor return on investment.

In the summer time your radiator and fan spend most of its time trying to keep the engine core down – the opposite of the winter.

Just think of the money that would be saved if we, as a nation, didn’t idle our vehicles. It might be only 10 – 50$ a year but collectively this would be a substantial amount being denied to the petrochemical corporations. This aspect kind of makes me feel quite good. Over half a Billion Dollars being used for something more constructive and useful than idling.

So please – do not idle your car.

Consider other actions you can do to reduce your contribution of greenhouse gasses, an action you can take to sequester carbon, and/or call on governments and industry to get with the program.

One of the most effective actions you can take immediately is to reduce your meat consumption. Please check out this article by George Monbiot in the Guardian and/or watch Cowspiracy on NetFlix.