Everyday enviro with Elise: idle moments

Everyday enviro with Elise: idle moments

By Elise Catterall  October 20th, 2021

How one tiny action could dramatically reduce your emissions.


Imagine this: you're driving in your neighbourhood (in this scenario, you aren't using an electric car). As you're about to turn into a side street, you see that a pedestrian is also approaching to cross it, but you have right of way and are slightly ahead of them. Do you pause, idling the car, and wave them across ahead of you or safely turn in, letting them cool their heels for a few moments before they can cross? Well, if you are trying to do the better thing from the environment — and remember this is relative, because you're in the emissions-producing car and they are on foot — you'll take the right of way and let them wait. This is better because every moment that we idle the engine when we don't need to, we produce pollution and emissions and gobble up fuel.

For most of us, cars are a necessary part of life even though we know that most aren't kind to the environment. Considering this fact, it helps to also know that one small change can help a little — that change is not idling. It is reported that turning off your engine, for even as little as 10 seconds, will reduce carbon dioxide emissions as well as petrol consumption.

This understanding has led to newer internal combustion engine cars (fuel consuming cars) having built in cut-off systems, so that when you come to a stop at traffic lights, for example, the engine cuts out and you don't idle the engine. However, there are many scenarios when people do idle their engine and we need to be mindful of this. It might be that you are waiting to take a parking space, or sitting in the car while someone pops into the shop, or waiting to pick up your child after school. In each of these situations, turning the engine off is the best option.

This is especially true in the last situation. There are multiple campaigns lobbying for parents to shut off their engines during school pick up due to the impact on air quality. This is where the effects of idling go beyond the environment to also potentially impacting children at a time when they are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of poor air quality on their health and development.

Cars emit around 2.3 kilograms of CO2 for each litre of fuel consumed. The most effective way to lower those emissions is to turn the engine off when it is not needed. Canadian statistics indicate that if all motorists (in Canada) avoided idling for 3 minutes each day, there would be a reduction of 1.4 million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year — the equivalent of taking 320,000 cars off the road for a full year!

Fuel costs, air quality and greenhouse gas emissions are the main reasons why electric cars are so desirable. But as the current cost of entry for a fully electric car is out of reach for many, we need to find ways to minimise our impact while using internal combustion engine cars and avoiding idling is definitely one of those ways.

So next time you are waiting to pick someone up, for someone to pop into the shop, or stuck in traffic (for more than 10 seconds), turn the engine off. If it's hot, crack a window or wait outside the car. It may take you a moment longer to get going, but unless you're driving a getaway car during a bank robbery, it's worth it.

Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.


Positive Actions

Elise Catterall

Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

Related Stories

Stay up to date

Whether you're looking for positive inspiration at home, at work or in the community you’ll find something in our suite of e-newsletters.