(Don’t) Leave It Running

            During the long, cold months of winter in New England, it is safe to say that when many car owners step out of their cars to run a quick errand or step into their cars to have a chat with friends or send a text or email from their phone, they are tempted to leave their car running. As a fellow New England resident who has the cold tolerance of a tropical fish, I can attest to the blissful feeling of sitting in a warm car for a few minutes after tromping around in the bitter cold. However, this bliss comes with a price, more so than one might think.  

            First and foremost: idle running cars produce greenhouse gas emissions and other toxins that impact air quality. Tailpipe emissions from your average car consist of mostly carbon dioxide (CO2) but also contain methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), which are even more impactful greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. According to the EPA emissions, from an idling vehicle are very similar to a moving vehicle, without the benefit of doing its intended work: transportation.  

            Aside from the massive environmental impact of car idling, there is also a significant financial blow. It is no secret that gas prices have skyrocketed to $3-$4 per gallon in Maine, and even as high as $5/gallon in other states.  At the same time, inflation has caused the costs of other life essentials like housing, food, and healthcare to soar, tightening many Americans’ budgets like a stretched rubber band about to snap.  In this context, why would one want to leave their car idling, when it’s burning precious, expensive fuel and not even getting their drivers anywhere?  

            Every driver can do their part to stop wasting money, fuel and emissions, but what can institutions do? In recent years, many universities nationwide have begun implementing no idle policies. These serve to eliminate or drastically reduce the practice of vehicle idling.  University of Maine’s no idling policy was enacted in 2007, and, according to the UMaine Sustainability Office website, has helped contribute to notable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In its no-idle policy, St. Lawrence University includes guidelines for enforcement and the rationale that fuel use and emissions are greater after only 30 seconds of idling than restarting the engine. Most policies make exceptions for emergency vehicles and extreme cold weather conditions. It’s clear that vehicle idling contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, fuel and financial waste and that institutions can create a culture of conservation through policy.