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Idling and CO2 emissions

Idling and CO2 emissions

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In 2004, my wife and I took a week off to go fishing in the Baskatong Reservoir, about 20 kilometers northeast of Mont-Laurier, Quebec. On site, the lodges were not all close to the lake, so the outfitter lent us a small, gasoline-powered golf kart-type vehicle to carry our fishing gear from one spot to another. Its engine had the particularity of completely shutting down when the kart came to a full stop. As soon as the brake pedal was released, the engine magically sprang back to life. I found the whole thing pretty cool.


This kind of technology is now found on most hybrid vehicles such as the Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius. With these cars, you only create pollution when the gasoline engine is running. Obviously, you need the engine to be running when driving from place to place, but when you stop at a red light, everything shuts off until you let go of the brakes again.

In theory, all motor vehicles should operate this way. Yet...

Idling or not idling, the choice is clear
Year in, year out, one liter of fuel burned produces about 2.4 kilos of carbon dioxide (CO2). A car engine that idles for 50 minutes burns on average exactly one liter of fuel. CO2 is the most noxious of all greenhouse gases (GHG), affecting air quality and human health. The more we burn fuel, the more we create CO2. The average Canadian driver travels 20,000 km a year, which results in four tons of CO2.

Given the cold temperatures here in Canada, people tend to let their engine running for a couple of minutes in order to sit in a warm interior before taking the road. They should know better, as idling not only creates huge amounts of pollution, it might also damage the catalytic converter because the latter operates below the recommended temperature range.

That's why a growing number of cities have adopted a regulation against idling. True, this kind of law is not always easy to enforce, especially during winter. There are too many drivers who let their cars running on cold mornings and it's virtually impossible for authorities to catch every offender. Taking the road just a few seconds after starting the engine is a more economical approach -- even in the middle of January -- as is shutting the engine when you find yourself in a gridlock.