American Idle Less: New Canaan teen launches sophisticated campaign against car idling
In four months, a local high school student observed something he viewed as harmful to the world around him and created a sophisticated public awareness project with a PSA on TV and help from some of the nation's highest-elected officials.
Reed Schultz just completed his junior year at the Brunswick School in Greenwich. He recently started an environmental awareness initiative, called American IdleLess, geared toward educating people about the waste, pollution and money loss that result from leaving cars idling instead of turning them off.
"(The idea) came about when I noticed unnecessary idling in town -- at the dump, at the train station -- and it sparked me to look up the air quality of Connecticut," he said.
He found a searchable air quality database compiled by the American Lung Association called "State of the Air," www.stateoftheair.org/2013/, which grades Fairfield County with an "F" for the amount of ozone in the air and a "C" for the amount of particulate matter -- the type of visible pollution that in high quantities results in smog.
More Information40,000 cars could drive from Midtown to JFK Airport with the gasoline wasted daily by NYC idlers
Annual pollution from idling in New York City:
940 tons of smog-forming NOx (nitric oxide)
2,200 tons of smog-forming VOC (volatile organic compounds)
24 tons of soot (Particulate matter)
6,400 tons of carbon monoxide
130,000 tons of carbon dioxide
Source: Environmental Defense Fund
"That kind of struck me because of the beauty and wealth of Fairfield County," Schultz said.
Blumenthal got involved after Schultz reached out to him and his staff about the idea. Schultz said Blumenthal loved the idea and his staff helped him with press releases and media connections.
"I've been playing a supportive role," Blumenthal said. "Reed's the guy in front leading the charge, but I've helped him by giving him access to media outlets and introducing him to people ... What is so staggeringly impressive about Reed is his initiative and ingenuity."
Part of the reason Schultz started the project was his interest in environmental science. At Brunswick School, he's taken Advanced Placement environmental science and a two-year course called "Advanced Science Research." In that class, the students work for a full year conceiving, designing and creating a project for the Connecticut State Science and Engineering Fair. One year, the class made a new biofuel composed of organic oils that would burn cleaner than many of the biolfuels available now. This summer, he will travel to the Amazon rainforest for a biodiversity program with his school.
He created a public service announcement with the help of his father, Bob, who is in the advertising industry, focusing on nonprofits. He used actors and shot a 30-second PSA. The PSA shows several people in cars choosing to turn their cars off rather than leave them idling, and explaining why they chose to do so. It ends with a voice-over, which says, "Be a part of the American Idle Less movement with just a turn," and shows a hand shutting off a car.
With the help of Blumenthal, Schultz said the PSA recently aired on CBS during "The Dr. Oz Show."
"This PSA ... will help inform and raise awareness all around the state and perhaps the nation," Blumenthal said.
There are already some laws on the books against idling. New York has banned idling for more than three minutes since 1971, and in 2009, passed a law cutting that limit to one minute. According to a report by the Environmental Defense Fund, a large environmental advocacy group, idling costs New Yorkers $28 million per year in wasted gasoline.
"Every year, unnecessary idling in New York City causes as much smog-forming pollution as 9 million large trucks driving from Hunts Point in the Bronx to Staten Island," the report, "Idling Gets You Nowhere: The Health, Environmental and Economic Impacts of Engine Idling in New York City," stated.
But Schultz was not wedded to the idea of passing laws or ordinances, so much as educating people so that they change their behavior on their own. Blumenthal agreed.
"Hopefully, we can achieve voluntary action without new laws. I think clearly there's a need for less engine idling when people are stopped, waiting to deliver or pick up items. I'm not sure we need a law," the legislator said.
Shultz said the project, which he is unsure whether or not he will include in his upcoming college applications, is just getting started. He plans on expanding to more towns, and hopefully getting signage about idling put up.
"The goal is to educate, to point out the instances where people can stop idling and make people aware that it is more cost efficient and better for the environment. In the future, I'd like to see Fairfield County have better air quality."
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