Idling our future away

When it comes to actually making changes to the way we live to lessen the impact we have on the climate, I can typically see both sides of the argument.  Take wind farms as an example.

As a child I used to look round at the views on Anglesey and strain and struggle to find any view that did not contain signs of human activity.  Even looking into the skies did not help as I realised that the slowly dissipating stringy clouds were produced by planes soaring across the heavens.

So I totally get why people would not want our beautiful landscapes further derided by human structures with the erection of turbines*.

What I don’t understand and really can’t abide is where people needlessly waste energy and pollute.

In particular: idling cars.  Bloody people sitting in their cars with the windows down in a car park with the bloody engine on.  What on earth are they thinking?  Really makes my blood boil.Exhaust fumes - do not loiter - smaller

I have at times resolved to ask people, or confront them.  I’ve tried a lot of different tactics.

I might open with “Excuse me, I hope you don’t mind me asking, what is the reason for you having your engine on at the moment?”

“What’s it to you?” would come the rather indignant reply.

“I’m worried about the fumes and the effect on the climate, not to mention that it’s wasting your money”

“Good point, thank you” was a recent response from someone sitting in a sports centre car park in their car.  They left the engine running.  I left them to it.

Or I might say “Excuse me, could you please turn your engine off?  My children are walking past your car and I’d rather they didn’t have to breathe in the fumes”.  More success with that one, but people can still get a little uppity.

Not many people realise that you only need to be stationary for 10 seconds or more before you would have saved money had you switched the engine off.  It is almost always worth switching off your motor if you stop at a traffic light (other than a pedestrian crossing – you don’t get much time to walk across the road), let alone when you are waiting outside someone’s home, or in a car park.

If you stop at a traffic light 10 times a day, and sit idle for 20 minutes a day on average, you would save between £180 and £632 per year on your petrol bill (depending on the efficiency of your car)**.  And your engine would last longer.  Imagine how much taxis could save.

I know at some times of the year people have the engine on to run the air conditioning or the heater.  Seems utterly daft to me – running a large petrol engine to heat a car?  Imagine doing that in your home, you’d feel a little daft.  But it’s when people leave the car running for no reason at all that really gets under my skin.
small image - no idling car sign
Oh, and by the way, it is illegal in the UK to have your car running while being on the mobile, even if it isn’t moving.  You need to switch it off and take the key out.

Thoughts on how (or whether) I should approach people much appreciated.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

* The way I think of it, though, wind turbines are temporary.   If we want to cook, heat, watch telly, have loads of lights on in the house – we need electricity.  So we have a choice, do we generate that electricity in a way that will arguably spoil some views for 20-30 years?  Or do we instead burn gas, oil and coal, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to damage our climate – and hence our views – effectively forever?  Nuclear is another matter – I say let’s put a load of reactors round the coast as well as build the wind farms.  Bring on nuclear fusion.

** Calculation: 10 stops of 20 seconds per day = 20 hours per year.  20 minutes idling per day = 120 hours per year.  140p per litre of petrol = £6.36 per gallon.  Saving between 1/5 or 7/10 of a gallon per hour = saving of £180 to £632 per year.


6 thoughts on “Idling our future away

  1. I think there are many complex factors at play here.
    1. Fuel consumption at idle lacks scientific data and is often speculative (from my reading, because I was already interested in this) and seems wildly egagerated. It would be nice to get someone to do a proper fuel-flow measurement.
    2. Convenience will always win out. Changing peoples behaviour here will be harder if you cannot give them a personal advantage to turning the engine off. Merely saving a few pence (or the world) is not enough.
    3. Certainly in Manchester an additional two seconds at lights is enough time for five cars to pass you by and get honked at. Further, they fight for car park spaces and are terrified of traffic wardens so idling is the norm largely due to the environment.

    Perhaps it is worth noting that some new cars do automatically stop the engine when the car stops and have a super-quick start system so that pressing the accelerator fires up the engine instantly. Having never tried this I dont know the effectiveness but seems to provide an answer worth promoting.

    And since I am responding I might as well add my own grumble: Speed bumps. I have a low-slung car (factory, not a mod) and need to do about 3mph or ruin my catalytic (again!). Watching my MPG meter constantly swing off the scale below 5mpg every time I accellerate back up to 20/30 mph drives me nuts! It must happen thirty times a day I reckon. Horrible unfriendly things in so many ways! Slow ambulances, increase fuel consumption, cause damage. And the boy racers just hammer over them at 50mph anyway?! Gah.

  2. Another interesting point is nuclear energy. I was talking not long ago with some NNL reps and that is something we are definitely (as a country) going to expand upon. The problem we face is that there are only a handful of viable sites and at present the best of those are occupied by aging, poorly documented reactors that are, by modern standards, highly inefficient.

    In other words they need to be taken down and replaced. But we face the issue that they were built at a time when we didnt really understand nuclear energy and we didnt document our construction very well. In addition the nuclear industry is highly conservative and opposed to any risky modern technology. Even simple robots. Further, radiation renders most modern technology useless. So, tearing these down will require bold new minds bearing creative technology and then, eventually, we can put reactors that are much cleaner and much, much more efficient in their places.

    Still. Even this is a stop-gap really but at least it is one measured in centuries, not decades.

  3. Hypermiling. Challenge people to see how efficiently they can drive. I have had some success in this area – driving to london my friend and I had a challenge of who could get the best mpg. I won by tailing a large lorry at 56mph. Admittedly this will only really work with geeky males (such as me).

    Idling is bad I agree but I get more annoyed by people flooring it between lights. Totally unnecessary and wastes a lot of fuel. I constantly look ahead when driving to anticipate red lights, traffic etc and slow down well in advance to give the blockage a chance to clear. It means on a road, I might cruise along at 20 mph (the average speed of traffic) and everyone else will be constantly starting and stopping.

    • Good work. I’ve started driving more slowly (when I am forced to drive) – figuring that the safety, monetary and environmental benefits are worth the few extra minutes in the car.

  4. It seems a lot of manufactures have and are developing electric cars – if we all went electric in say 20 years time, how would our power stations cope with the highly charge of millions of cars? Without the infrastructure in place this seems like it could be a problem waiting to happen.

    Also, thinking about hydrogen powered cars, their byproduct is water, if we had millions of cars all generating just water wouldn’t this cause new problems such as vey humid conditions? In small scale tests I can see this not being a problem but with millions in the UK alone I wonder what the effects are.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t try and work on a good solution but I just wonder if the current ideas are suitable to cater for millions of cars on the road, just thinking ahead.

    • The idea with electric cars longer term is that they are used as the batteries to store the intermittent energy produced by renewables, thus dealing with the problem of unpredictable peaks and troughs in e.g. wind power.

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