by Tammie Bostick Cooper, Guest Blogger
DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in the community.
Ten years ago, my niece came to my mountain home and announced her class was campaigning to stop the dirty, old school buses from idling at her Morningside Elementary School. She talked expertly about carbon footprints, asthma, and PM 2.5. I was getting my first education on the dire effects of idling from a nine- year-old activist! Over the last year, I would say I have become an Idle-Free activist, too. My college kids call me the Idle-Free Fairy, passing out Idle-Free stickers and knocking on idling car windows and asking, reminding, and sometimes retreating from annoyed drivers.
There is almost no reason to idle while parking (there are exceptions). Each year, Americans burn over 6 million gallons of gas going nowhere—they are simply idling. Estimates in Utah say that one-quarter of our emissions are a result of idling. If you can see something coming out of the tail pipe, it’s particulate matter and it’s dangerous, especially to developing lungs and vulnerable populations.PM2.5, the tiny particles you can’t often see, lodge in the lungs and cross the blood barrier.
This month marks the ninth annual Idle Free in Utah Declaration, signed by the governor and a record 50 Utah Mayors. This is historic, and it shows that Utah leaders do care about Utah’s air. It is plain to see that the simple campaign started by Utah Clean Cities ten years ago is sensible and improves bad air by helping individuals make the choice to turn off their vehicles after ten seconds of parking. Utah school bus drivers have been trained in Idle Free and have a 100 percent Idle-Free busing policy. This year, two major school districts, Granite and Canyons, have declared their campuses 100 percent Idle Free.
Utah Clean Cities works to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and conservation is one of the key educational tools we recommend for reducing consumption through driver awareness. We encourage the 10-second rule when parked, especially at our schools. School become hot spots for pollution, where students and teachers literally come face to face with toxic emissions outside and inside their schools.
Our current work with the University of Utah, Salt Lake County Health, and a group of pilot schools will soon be getting accurate measurements of the air-pollution levels inside and outside Wasatch Front schools. We have to have a base measurement to begin our real work on improving our air. Science classes will scientifically collect, measure and decipher data. They will become critical thinkers and informed citizenry. The young people I speak with desperately want to be engaged and do something to save their world. And they can.
The call to stop idling is urgent and everyone can do it. Turn your own key and be Idle Free. Visit our website to see what your can do at your school to support Idle Free.
I am the Northern Coordinator for Utah Clean Cities, promoting alternative vehicles and clean air strategies like Idle Free. I believe there has never been a more compelling time to be involved with transportation and to answer the urgent call to change our dependence on imported fossil fuels. There are no perfect fuels, but there are practical solutions leading to them.
I grew up ranching and close to nature. I graduated from the University of Utah and worked with children on the Ute Indian Reservation. I raised two bright children in a small, off-the-grid cabin in the high Uintas. They all live in Salt Lake. Alexia and Cole attend Westminster College, where they continue to reflect on their childhood.