Turning Off the Ignition is a Gift of Love

Turning Off the Ignition is a Gift of Love
By Audrey McCollum
I was mortified. When my husband Bob came out of the Etna post office last week, I noticed the quiet vibration of our car’s engine. As the driver, I was heedlessly allowing it to idle. I understand the many ways in which idling is harmful, so this was a humbling lesson in how hard it is to make our behavior conform to our beliefs.
This happened soon after Thanksgiving, which ushers in the season of shop-’til-you-drop — the season in which the celebrations of Hannukah and Christmas are intertwined with the exchange of gifts. To be sure, it can be fun to pick out a special something that will delight the recipient. Many gifts are welcome and some are truly needed. Yet a lot are simply set aside or cast into our overflowing landfills.
During those first shopping days, remembering my carelessness in the car, I reflected about alternative forms of giving. Gifts of action may be more valuable than gifts of “stuff,” and may involve simple but habitual behavior. The practice of no-idling is an outstanding example. Turning off the ignition when you stop for more than ten seconds will provide:
* A gift of maintenance for your car. An idling engine is not operating at peak temperature and incomplete combustion may cause fuel residue to condense on engine parts. Frequent re-starting does not harm the engine, and fuel-injected engines need only 30 seconds to warm up.
* A gift of preservation for your bank account. Fuel prices are high. When a vehicle idles, it gets zero miles per gallon. Idling a compact car for only 10 minutes per day wastes more than 30 gallons of gasoline per year.
* A gift of enhanced health for others. Vehicle emissions are toxic. They contribute to ground-level ozone that irritates eyes and worsens respiratory and heart problems. Since children breathe more quickly (and often) than adults, they are more vulnerable to harmful effects from ozone.
* A gift of security for our nation. Our addiction to gasoline (and oil) is a major cause of our aggressive embroilment in political and economic conflicts abroad. That embroilment has stirred world-wide hostility against the U.S.
* A gift of conservation of myriad species — humankind included — that inhabit planet Earth. Automotive emissions form a major component of the greenhouse gases contributing to destructive global warming.
The seeds of my own understanding of the noxious effects of idling were planted well over a year ago. Here’s how it happened.
In June ’06, the Hanover Selectboard voted to sign on to the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, a national movement of municipalities committed to reducing greenhouse gases by 2012 (in accord with the Kyoto Protocol). The selectboard also voted to support the Sierra Club’s Cool Cities Campaign, an effort to help mayors develop conservation strategies. Hanover’s Cool Cities Campaign then morphed into the Climate Protection Campaign (CPC), a voluntary group in which all are welcome.
Soon, a no-idling initiative was spearheaded by Roger Lohr and Marjorie Rogalski, backed up by Carol Weingeist and other CPC members. Lohr and Rogalski identified schools, banks, and convenience stores as prime locations in which idling took place.
In collaboration with Hanover school administrators and teachers, they engaged members of the Hanover High School Environmental Club as well as primary school students in distributing informational signs and bookmarks. And spontaneously, pupils began coaching their parents about idling!
The Lebanon and Hanover Chambers of Commerce became involved in informing businesses about the damage caused by idling, while three banks sought permission from their officers to post signs at their drive-in windows.
Town Manager Julia Griffin agreed that idling information cards would be inserted in the 7,400 vehicle registration mailings sent to residents each year. Too, she proposed that idling signs be displayed on public property such as parking lots, the garage and the Howe Library.
The word is spreading fast. The public works department has established a no-idling policy for maintenance vehicles and other signs are appearing around town. But even well-informed and well-meaning drivers are likely to slip up, just as I have done. When Carol Weingeist spots an idling car, she taps on the window and explains the town’s conservation effort with a smile. One or two per cent of drivers are grouchy, she tells me, but most are glad to comply.
But we can’t count on smiling passersby — we must change our habits for reasons that are personally important. For example, I was once a dedicated smoker, continuing after the Surgeon General’s report about the dangers of smoking was published. Even with a physician husband and two children — one with asthma — I rationalized my noxious habit. Then one day our daughter was shown images of cancer-riddled lungs in her school health class and came home in tears. “I need a mom,” she sobbed. “Please, please stop smoking.” So I struggled to do it as an act of love, and I did succeed.
I need a personal reason to avoid idling too, even unintended idling. Maybe a sign on the windshield saying, “Stop Idling for Your Grandsons’ Sake” would do it. Or do my readers have other ideas? Please send them on e-mail if you do.
This article was published in the Connecticut Valley Spectator on 12/06/07. Audrey McCollum is a writer and retired psychotherapist living in Etna. She can be reached at amccollum@valley.net.