Friday, July 25, 2008

Idle Free New Jersey

Preschool is over at 11:30, but I arrive early to join the others on line waiting to pick up our two-year olds. The day is comfortable, and I turn off my car to wait for the line to move. But something is wrong. The Escalaides and Lexus SUVs in front of me leave their cars on , spewing exhaust into my windows for fifteen minutes. Choking on their fumes, I began to wonder: At what point is it better to leave my car on or turn it off? Is there a point at which it is more efficient to idle? On that day in 2002, my quest to understand idling was born.

Over the next few years, I gathered information, engaged other local officials, and partnered with nearby communities to build momentum to educate everyone about the problems with idling. According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, vehicle exhaust is the leading source of hazardous air pollution in New Jersey. Based on the successful model developed by Natural Resources Canada’s Office of Energy Effiency, the Idle-Free Zone, Millburn Township (15 miles west of New York City), along with other nearby municipalities, has been working to disseminate information about the problems with idling vehicles to schools, municipal officials and citizens.

Idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel than restarting the engine. Also, fuel injected vehicles, unlike carbureted engines of old, only need 30 seconds to circulate the oil, and then can be driven slowly to warm up the other parts of the vehicle (transmission, tires, suspension, steering and wheel bearings) besides the engine. Idling can actually damage engines because the engine isn’t at peak operating temperature, and fuel doesn’t undergo complete combustion. Idling also leaves fuel residues that can contaminate engine oil and damage engine parts, while excessive idling can allow water to condense in vehicle’s exhaust, which can be seen after a long light when the car in front advances and water drips from the tailpipe.

Idling is especially hazardous at schools because children breathe at the tailpipe level and intake more air per pound of weight than adults. Breathing polluted air causes asthma, lung problems and allergies. An interesting report by the International Center for Technology Assessment found that exposure to most auto pollutants, including volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide, is much higher inside vehicles than at the roadside.

In the face of climate change, preventing any of the 19 pounds of carbon dioxide generated by using a gallon of gasoline, or preventing the nitrous oxide produced by catalytic converters, is a good enough reason for me. Ten minutes of idling uses as much fuel as traveling 5 miles. The Canadian idling slogan is “Idling gets you nowhere”, which is true because you get zero miles per gallon.

Sometimes I will catch myself sitting in the car, messing around, at the beginning or end of a trip. After the moment I realize that idling has been happening by my own hand, I am overcome with the guilt of having left my car running. I turn it off with a snap, promise to try to do better, and vow to ride my bike or walk for a trip instead of driving.

We can all reduce our greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change by remembering to turn off our engines and eliminate unnecessary idling.

For more information about the NJ campaign, please visit

Monday, July 14, 2008

So Why the Guilt?

This book is called the guilty environmentalist because it discusses the guilt associate with certain activities once faced with the wisdom that there is another, more eco-friendly way. Not only will we now know what is wrong with our products and activities, we will now be plagued with guilt when we ignore our knowledge. I used to be blissfully ignorant of my ways. Having chosen a socially responsible major of civil and environmental engineering, I was confronted with what I call my "shift in paradigm". The more knowledge about the environment my brain uploaded, the more guilty I felt about things I now knew were wrong.

How can you be guilty about health and beauty products? As discussed in the chapter on Personal Care Products, we will explore the guilt at buying cosmetics with parabens and fragrances. What kinds of guilt are associated with food? We will discuss pesticides, transport and waste associated with food. By interviewing experts in specific fields about what they do to be more eco-friendly since their "shift in paradigm", we will learn from them easy ways to be more green. We will also learn their guilty pleasures that they are working toward changing.

What is my guilty pleasure you ask? Every morning I am confronted with my guilty moment that drives me to write this book. A product of an American upbringing, my guilty pleasure is taking a shower every morning.

As the perfectly warmed water pours down my face, past my body and down the drain, I am reminded of the miracle that brings this water to me and takes it away to become someone else's shower. The droplets that fall from my eye lashes have traveled from the clouds, through the landscape, to the reservoir, through the water filtration system, into the pipes, through the pump, into the water tank, through more pipes and pumps, into my hot water heater, up to my shower, over me, to the drain, to the sanitary sewer, to the water treatment plant, to the river, to the ocean, and back to the clouds. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense Web site <>, letting your faucet run for five minutes uses about as much energy as letting a 60-watt light bulb run for 14 hours.

To appease my guilt, I have been experimenting with methods to minimize my showering water waste. Recently, a five minute water saving device, made its way onto my shower door. It is actually just a five-minute hourglass sand timer, inserted into a plastic casing that you can rotate at the beginning of the shower and race to finish before the sand runs out. Unfortunately, you can close your eyes and forget about the timer. I guess I need one with a buzzer.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Beginning of My Book Adventure

Welcome to my new blog. You have joined me toward the beginning of my book writing adventure. The Guilty Environmentalist has an outline!

Who am I to be writing such a book? One of my professors once me if I am a a naturalist, a conservationist, and an environmentalist. At first glance, these identities may seem similar, but when evaluated through the lens of Wikipedia, a naturalist is one who follows the principle that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws, a conservationist is one who seeks to protect natural resources including plant and animal species as well as their habitat for the future, and an environmentalist is one centered on a concern for the conservation and improvement of the natural environment, both for its own sake as well as its importance to civilization. I am definitely an environmentalist.

For the past two decades, I have been studying the environment, paid for work in the environmental field, volunteered for the environment, written for the environment, campaigned for the environment, and dedicated my life to the environment. Please join me on my adventure writing The Guilty Environmentalist and becoming a more enlightened in this journey of life.