Parking Lot Idling Contributing to Climate Change, IQ Decline


Amanda Young, Editor-in-Chief

Moraga mornings can be chilly, especially during the 3rd quarter. A thick layer of fog hangs in the atmosphere and ice coats cars’ windshields as the sun rises. But, blasting the heat while your car idles in the parking lot is a problem.

Even more fossil fuels are being emitted as we sit on the brink of irreversible environmental disaster. Sustainable America reported that 3.8 million gallons of fuel are wasted daily in the United States because of idling cars; this is equivalent to 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide ending up in the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide is a harmful greenhouse gas, and it leads to air pollution, which can have detrimental health impacts, from lung disease to asthma attacks. Excessive amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 1 of the leading causes of climate change, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

For the past 2 years, California has been haunted by deadly wildfires and the poor air quality that stems from them. Australia is burning up as we speak; millions of acres have burned, over a billion animals have died, and the air quality there is at toxic levels – I know this first hand having visited down under over winter break. If something as simple as turning off the car for 15 minutes can help alleviate these natural disasters, it would seem a reasonable request. While it might not be a magic bullet in the face of our global crisis, it certainly can make a difference.

My peers post Instagram images of koalas dying in the Australian bushfires, and it appears that many consider themselves climate activists. However, some are people who sit in their cars before school for hours at a time, engine running, heater blasting, burning a hole into the atmosphere.

“I think [students] shouldn’t [let their cars run] because it’s wasteful,” said senior ASB Commissioner of Sustainability Lexi Yokomizo. “We have the library, which has heat, and the cafeteria, so there are other options, and it seems kind of wasteful and not very great.”

You can listen to music on your phone without needing the engine to run. You can talk to your friends without letting your car idle. And if you’re cold, you can head inside or bring some extra sweatshirts and bundle up.

Beyond environmental consequences, letting your car idle has steep financial costs. EcoWatch reported that Americans collectively spend $13 million on idling every day because of wasted gas. And, for every 2 minutes that you let your engine run, you burn through enough gas to drive 1 mile. It appears that idling a car for a week in the parking lot is just as effective as burning a pile of cash.

The worst thing about walking from your car into school is the Walk of Pain: inhaling all the carbon monoxide from the idling cars. Surprisingly enough, turning off our cars would not only alleviate this dance with death but also make us smarter.

In a 2011 report published by The Wall Street Journal, scientists linked vehicle exhaust inhalation with higher rates of autism and brain-cell damage. Furthermore, Drs. Frederica P. PereraZhigang LiRobin WhyattLori HoepnerShuang WangDavid Camann, and Virginia Rauh of the American Academy of Pediatrics found in a 2009 New York City study that children with high exposure to engine byproducts had lower IQs by the age of 5.

So turn off the engine when you park your car. We need smart people to reverse the impact of our wasteful behavior. The world is warm enough.