Consider your daily routine – do you warm up your car before getting in? Leave the engine running when stopped at the train? Keep your car on when quickly running into the post office, ordering coffee, or dropping off your kids?

Running cars on idle is a harmful habit that we as a community need to kick. And we can.

Americans waste 3.8 million gallons of gasoline by idling every single day – a whopping 13 million dollars. Individually, we waste up to $115 annually. Aside from dumping money down the drain, idling is simply unnecessary.

Contrary to common belief, letting a vehicle idle for more than 10 seconds burns more fuel than turning it off and restarting it. Today's electronic engines need no more than 30 seconds of warm up time, even in the winter months, and many car manuals have specific recommendations to not idle for reasons of fuel economy, and engine wear and tear.

Plus, not idling is much more pleasant. Walking around town is much quieter without listening to engines running and smelling harmful exhaust fumes. Not idling improves our quality of life and community well being as a whole.


Furthermore, idling cars harm the environment and threaten our mental and physical health by releasing pollutants into the air we breathe. In fact, 10 minutes of idling equates to 1 pound of CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere. This issue is a problem worldwide but especially pertinent to our community because of inversions.

Missoula is surrounded by the Sapphire, Bitterroot, and Rattlesnake mountain ranges. While beautiful to look at and fun to explore, the mountains unfortunately act as walls, causing warm air to flow upward and create a cap which traps cold air, fine particles and pollutants low within the valley floor. There, they accumulate to contaminate the air we all breathe. Inversion is the worst in the winters when more people are driving and idling their vehicles.

Long-term exposure to polluted air heightens risks of developing allergies, asthma and other serious respiratory problems as well as heart and lung disease. In this way, unnecessary idling adversely affects the health of our community members, ultimately shortening life spans.

Kids and seniors are especially vulnerable to health risks because their bodies are still developing or fragile. Idling at school drop off and pick up times creates pollution “hot spots” of particularly harmful air quality, so it is extremely important to not idle in school zones.

The main sources of these particles and pollutants are vehicle exhaust and wood-burning stoves. Missoula Country implemented strict regulations to reduce the amount of pollutants coming from wood burning stoves by designating rules to remove old woodstoves and replace them with efficient pellet stoves.

However, no such restrictions exist for combustion engines within the valley. Reducing the amount of pollutants coming from transportation sources can be greatly improved and is the primary focus of Missoula In Motion’s work.

For these reasons, Missoula In Motion and the city of Missoula are committed to being a part of the solution and dedicated to reducing the amount of unnecessary idling that takes place in our community.

Missoula In Motion offers a wide variety of resources to inspire organizations to join these efforts. For example, no idling signage is available at no charge to local non-profits and small businesses interested in raising awareness at their establishments.

Furthermore, the agency provides materials and guides employers can use to educate employees or customers about the issue; an online pledge form that can easily be shared; assistance in drafting and approving organizational no-idling policies; and a month-long community-wide challenge focused on reducing transportation related emissions.

Beyond reducing idling, choosing sustainable transportation modes such as walking, biking, busing or carpooling greatly reduces your transportation footprint. To encourage these options, Missoula In Motion invites community members and employers to participate in the 2020 Clear the Air Challenge happening the entire month of January.

If you’re able to walk, bus, bike and carpool in the chilliest time of the year, you’ll feel much more confident doing it in June. Show your commitment to clean air (and your competitiveness to win cool prizes) by signing up here. And remember, next time you’re stopped for more than 10 seconds or choose to warm your car up in the morning, consider the long and short term impacts of your actions. Together, by committing to this one small change, we can make a difference in keeping our air clean.

Margaret Hoyt is the Missoula In Motion Program Specialist

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every Friday by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Upcoming Sustainability Events

Every Friday.  Missoula Friday Climate Strike. Noon – 1pm. Join us at the Missoula County Courthouse as we stand in solidarity with climate strikers around the world.  Watch this space for strikes in other locations as well!  More here.

Now through January. Dear Tomorrow Missoula letter writing project, sponsored by Climate Smart Missoula and Families for a Livable Climate. Dear Tomorrow is a global storytelling project focused on sharing personal messages about climate change to inspire action. Details here.

Now through January. 2020 Clear the Air Challenge all month. See above!

January 12. Fixit Clinic. Coaching & tools for sewing/mending, 3-D printing, soldering & more. Registration encouraged here. Home Resource Community Room, 1515 Wyoming St. 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Free and open to all. 

January 13. City Club Missoula: Longer Wildfire Seasons, More Floods, More Crazy Weather…How Do We Prepare for Our Changing Climate? Climate Smart Missoula, Missoula County, and City of Missoula will release Missoula’s Climate Resiliency Plan, discuss insights and launch a new community conversation. 11:30am – 1pm, DoubleTree Hotel conference room. More information and tickets HERE.

January 13. Climate Change and how it affects our native plants and animals. Free talk by Kelsey Jencso, MT state climatologist & lead author of Montana’s Climate Assessment. 7 pm, UM’s Gallagher Business Building room 123. A joint meeting of the Five Valley’s Audubon Society and Montana Native Plant Society.

January 16. UM’s Seeking Sustainability Lecture Series kicks off. Meets Thursdays 7 - 8:30 pm Jan 16 - May 7 in Gallagher Business Building room 122. Open to the public. Learn how UM, local government, nonprofits and businesses are working together to create a more sustainable community and how you can help. See the weekly schedule here.

February 19. The Big Climate Change Event. Join us at the Wilma. 7pm. Presentation you won’t want to miss + climate commitments and what we can do. Save the date and learn more

February 22. Running Up for Air endurance event sponsored by the Runner’s Edge and in support of Climate Smart Missoula. 3, 6, or 12 hour up and down event on Mt Sentinel. Join us by signing up to participate or pledge to support the willing!