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Fall Theme: Energy

October Topic: Transportation

Why "No Idling" Makes Sense . . .

"I'm only here for a few minutes…why should I bother to turn off my car while I’m waiting?"

Maybe you just have to hear the end of the game or that song you like so much. Or maybe you are using your car phone charger because your cell phone battery is low. That is why there is an “auxiliary” spot on your ignition—this allows you to turn off the engine and still accomplish these things.

Ever notice how warm it is when you walk by a car that is running? It is an internal combustion engine and it produces lots of extra heat that adds to the air temperature and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.  

Vandenbergh, et al. (2008) provides interesting and insightful comments that paint a clear and factual statistical picture of the monetary impact of engine idling related as the Number One on their list of "Individual Carbon Emissions: The Low Hanging Fruit" (PDF)Learn more by this author »

Air pollution has many causes. Some are natural occurrences, like volcanic eruptions and forest fires, but much of what spews into the air comes from humans burning things for energy—coal-fired power plants, wood burning, vehicle engine emissions, and more.

Smog, auxiliary heat, pollution, and engine emissions, particularly in densely populated areas, result in increasing rates of asthma and breathing difficulties. These alarming rates of air pollution and rising numbers of people with respiratory ailments—even deaths—are directly associated with greater amounts of burning of fossil fuels. The health community has expressed increasing concern over the rates of asthma, particularly in children; see references from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control.

One smart thing to do is to turn off your engine, simple yet effective. Fuel (gasoline, diesel) is wasted by remaining stationary in one spot and letting the engine idle. Engines still burn fuel and emit pollutants, but the vehicle has remained stationary and the whole point of our cars is to move, right?

If you must sit in the car, find a shady spot, put the windows down, and turn off the engine. Think about it: You can save fuel and cut down on pollution if you go inside to conduct bank transactions or pick up food. 

Many cities have gone to vehicle-free zones, banned drive-thru windows, and implemented "No Idling" zones to reduce engine emissions and improve air quality. Ohio State University, our state’' largest higher education institution, has very clearly stated “No Idling” policies for vehicles on campus in their OSU Scarlet, Gray & Green Initiative.

At Wright State University, we are also in the process of developing policies to minimize vehicle engine idling time as part of our commitment to reduce GHG emissions, reduce our campus carbon footprint, and become a more sustainable university community.

So, do your part. Rethink the need to leave your engine running, even for a minute if you are just waiting to pick up a friend.

In fact, one of the contributing factors for traffic on campus is caused by the practice of driving a girlfriend or buddy to campus—dropping them off, circling the parking lot, heading home, then coming back a couple of hours later and waiting (with the engine running) until they show up to again. Think again about the need for that trip which is probably less than two miles—save the wear and tear on your car and the environment. 

Cast a vote for cleaner air and fewer cars running on campus by leaving the car parked at the dorm or your apartment complex and encouraging use of the shuttle, bike, or walk. Good for you, good for the environment, and makes our campus a more sustainable and enjoyable place.

Look around on the Sustainability website for information about Miami Valley Rideshare, shuttle service, bike rack locations on campus, and more!

So Many Cars . . .

Did you know that according to the U. S. Bureau of Transit Statistics, in 2008 there were nearly 256 million registered passenger vehicles in the U. S.? 256 Million! 

Cumulative data from the United States Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration and the National Automobile Dealers Association show that since 1960, the number of motor vehicles has steadily increased. Since 1972, the overall number of passenger vehicles outnumbers licensed drivers at an ever-increasing rate. Very recent data indicates that this trend is slowing.

You are thinking, it’s always been like this, well, at least for as long as you can remember.  But, if you ask your grandparents or think back on your U.S. History classes—there weren’t always gasoline-powered engines and the first cars weren’t produced in the late 1800’s.  Check out for interesting information, like the fact that in 1910 Bailey completed a 1,000 mile run without a breakdown—remarkable given the unreliability of early “horseless carriage”. In fact, Thomas Edison thought electric cars would triumph over “ill-smelling oil buggies” but gasoline-powered engines won out for many market-driven reasons...but back to our discussion...

Around 1860, everything in terms of energy changed when oil fields began producing in Titusville Pennsylvania and at the Spindletop site in Texas. When the processes to refine the crude oil into useable hydrocarbon fuels that could produce sources of energy much more powerful than horses or human muscle power. Particularly after WWII when the U.S. was still geared up to produce manufactured goods, the personal automobile was a symbol of living the good life. For an overview look at:

So in the 1950’s, the Big Three American auto manufacturers, with the help of the new U.S. interstate highway system, saw the sky as the limit for producing all kinds and types of cars and trucks. With the explosion of huge luxury cars and sporty muscle cars, and with no apparent limit to the amount of oil available, gas-guzzlers reigned supreme in the U.S. From 1950–1970, in just twenty years, America’s consumption of oil nearly tripled from roughly 6 billion barrels a year to more than 16 billion. At the beginning of that time span, coal accounted for more than 65 percent of global energy use; by 1970, the roles of the two leading fossil fuels had been reversed—it was now oil that comprised 65 percent of our energy usage.

— “Power Trip” (2009) by Amanda Little is a terrific source of information on this topic is a very informative read, the history of how we got here and the implications.
Q?  Why do we need more vehicles than we have drivers?  Good question.

We have to rethink this trend today, when the number of vehicles on the roadways have staggering costs—costs to purchase and operate the car, licensing, insuring, maintenance and upkeep (priced tires lately or transmission replacement?), costs of building, paving and maintaining roads, parking lots and bridges, increasing air and water pollution caused by burning millions and millions of gallons of fossil-based fuels and blacktop. Talk about unsustainable!

There are also costs, environmentally and to our wallets for the production of the cars from the mining of metals, production of plastics, used of water sources, transporting these materials and the finished vehicles—that is a lot of resources and energy.  Not to mention getting those fuels and the refining and distribution costs, monetary and to the environment, as the BP Gulf Oil Spill painfully just showed us. 

And any engineering student can tell you that the internal combustion engine that powers our cars is very, very inefficient—we get only a small percentage of the “work” out of the fossil fuel that is burned.  Mostly we get combustion by-products like a lot of waste heat and tailpipe emissions like air pollutants. 

These statistics speak volumes, in fact they roar, like a big V8 engine in a black '64 Cougar with 10 mpg. Think Ride Share—just organize a group to ride together—more efficient use of energy resources and it saves money. There are plenty of other options like using mass transit, riding the shuttle or bus or your bike, or walking. Better for the environment and healthier, more active transportation options for you. Look around on the Sustainability Website for information about Miami Valley Rideshare, shuttle service, bike rack locations and more!

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