Omitting emitting is good for what ails us

Cool Tips for a Hot Planet

By Ginny Colling

Ginny Colling was passionate about the environment before retiring from teaching college communications students. After retiring she trained with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and has presented to numerous groups about the climate crisis.

Imagine you’re in a game show, facing two doors.  Behind door No. 1 is a gas-powered car, engine running. Behind door No. 2 is an identical electric car, also running. To win your choice of car you must spend two hours inside the hermetically-sealed room with that running vehicle. Now the choice becomes life or death.

The planet is not hermetically sealed, but it’s not as well ventilated as it used to be, thanks to our burning of coal, oil and natural gas — fossilized carbon that had been safely stored underground for millions of years. Since the Industrial Revolution we’ve been burning the stuff and releasing that ancient carbon back into the atmosphere.

Our atmosphere is like a porous blanket, keeping in just enough of the sun’s heat to make life on Earth possible. Adding that ancient carbon has thickened our atmospheric blanket. And you know what happens when you put on a thicker blanket. Today we’re all feeling the heat and seeing the climate disruption.

So what can we do about it? Not everyone is ready to run out and buy the car behind door No. 2. But as drivers we can make low-carbon choices right now, without replacing our cars.

  1. Drive the speed limit or close to it. Studies show that when driving at highway speed, for every 10 km/h we slow down, we can save 10 per cent in fuel costs while polluting less.
  1. Accelerate gradually/use cruise. Acceleration burns the most fuel. A light foot and consistent speed burn less.
  1. Avoid idling. Get out of the car at Tim’s to order that double-double (or better yet, support a local coffee shop instead). You’ll save on significant emissions and get some exercise. And don’t worry about burning more fuel turning the engine off and on than idling. Stopping and restarting consume less gas and emit less C02 than idling for more than 10 seconds.

Experts suggest that when idling to warm the car, keep it to three minutes or so and then ease into your trip. That’s enough to warm up most vehicles quickly. Or, instead of idling, install a block heater. When I lived in Alberta, almost every car had one. You plugged your car in and when you were ready to leave, voila — easy engine start and quick heat. As an alternative, use a portable car heater to warm the interior. To save energy, plug it into a timer so it comes on a couple of hours before leaving, so it’s not plugged in all night.

If all Canadian drivers reduced their idling by just three minutes a day it would be the equivalent of taking 320,000 cars off the road, according to Natural Resources Canada.  And it would improve health. Pollution contributes to lung and other health problems and each year causes some 15,000 premature deaths in Canada. It’s especially important to keep children and their young lungs away from idling vehicles, because tailpipe pollution is denser at kid level.

The Big Picture

If you really want to make a long-term difference, support government ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) standards. They require a gradually increasing percentage of vehicles sold to be zero emission (electric, plug-in hybrid, hydrogen). The federal government recently mandated that all new car sales be ZEVs by 2035. B.C. and Quebec have adopted interim sales targets. In the first year in Quebec, not only did all manufacturers comply, but many also sold more ZEVs than required.

And when you’re ready, choose door No. 2. Because it can be a life or death choice for our kids and the planet.

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