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Some very important idle chatter

Leaving your engine running is illegal if the vehicle is unattended. That’s the gist of Colorado’s “puffer law,” enacted in 1995 to cut down on auto theft, and amended in 2016. (Durango Herald file)

Dear Action Line: Boy, are we trying to reduce our carbon emissions here in Durango! The Trolley has been free; there are incentives for e-bikes; our town has quite a few charging stations with more approved for the future; and the state and feds are getting generous with tax credits to incentivize buying an electric vehicle. But there is one glaring (and fairly easy to amend) issue we are not considering: idling vehicles. OMG, walk through any parking lot and you will find vehicles with a person just sitting there polluting while someone else does the shopping. It is very common. I saw a person put money in a meter downtown, then lock and leave his EMPTY vehicle idling – I guess so it would be cool when he returned. “Puffing” is against the law in Colorado, but who knew? Signs in parking lots cost money. An ad campaign costs money. Do you have any ideas on how we can get the word out? – Turn It Off, Man

Dear Turn It: Action Line reaches an estimated 1.5 million viewers.* That’s per minute. So you’ve hit the jackpot. (* Why do you doubt Action Line’s estimate?)

But what Turn It Off may not understand is that people have a need – if not a right – to keep their surrounding environment between 69 and 73 degrees.

At all times.

No exceptions.

So if that means a downtown shop has to keep the A/C on full so it can leave the front door open on a hot day and be more welcoming to potential customers, so be it. If all rooms in my 4,000-square-foot hovel need to be heated to 70 all winter – even when I’m in Aruba – then that’s the way it is.

This is America, by gum, and it’s our right to live this way. We earned it, because we … because we’re … well, just because. OK?!

And if we want to arrive back in our cars to find them chilled in the summer or nicely heated in the winter, then “puff” we must. If we can’t sit comfortably in our vehicles while wearing no more than a T-shirt – even if it’s minus-10 outside – then something is horribly amiss.

A few years ago, a study published in Nature Human Behaviour said that the perfect air temperature for humans is 71.6 Fahrenheit (that’s 22 Celsius, for you Canadians reading). “It is the least taxing temperature for the body to regulate its own temperature,” said University of Melbourne (Australia) psychology professor Nicholas Haslam. One interesting tidbit: A city’s mean temperature affects residents’ personality traits, the study found.

For an expert voice on humans adapting to their environment, we turned (as we often do) to Brian Burke, professor of psychological science at Fort Lewis College.

“As has become even clearer after this scorching summer, humans will be called upon to adapt to ever-mounting levels of heat on the horizon (pardon the pun),” Burke said. “Technology takes over where our bodies fail. … One consequence is that people with access to such cooling gadgetry – notably more affluent people living in developed countries – will have an easier time dealing with the extreme heat.”

Burke said a big question for the future is: “How can we help people enhance their psychological tolerance for being uncomfortable?”

Action Line would say, “Just deal with it,” but maybe that’s too harsh. Use shade where possible. Park your vehicle facing away from the sun (or toward it in the winter). Sometimes just rolling down a window works to get a breeze flowing through. Fill your Yeti with ice water before leaving home. Action Line is flabbergasted by the lack of sunshades in use on parked vehicles.

OK, now we return to the original question. Something about idling vehicles.

Leaving your engine running is illegal if the vehicle is unattended. That’s the gist of Colorado’s “puffer law,” enacted in 1995 to cut down on auto theft, and amended in 2016. Some towns have anti-idling ordinances. In Telluride, for example, you can only idle for just 30 seconds – 3 minutes in cold weather. La Plata County governments have no such ordinances.

Just to make readers squirm a bit, Action Line offers this moral dilemma: Is it legal to reach into someone’s unattended vehicle and turn the engine off? Some kind of good Samaritan law apply there? Probably not, but Action Line dares someone to try.

Some study by someone somewhere showed that personal vehicles – there are 250 million in the U.S. – generate around 30 million tons of carbon dioxide every year while idling.

Idling vehicles bug the heck out of Action Line, but unfortunately, up to this point Action Line has not been declared benevolent overlord. There is still time to establish Action Line in this role, and this would be the best way to “get the word out.” Otherwise, it’s up to local authorities to ticket or at least warn offenders. Or put up more signs.

Check out the website enginesoff.com for more information, and to see how you can help improve air quality. You will read things such as, “Idling for even 10 seconds uses more fuel than restarting the engine.” And maybe the enginesoff.com folk have some ideas about lobbying for signage.

That is all. Have a nice day.

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. Important note on the idling subject: Eric Idle and Billy Idol are not related, although Billy Idol the singer first chose the name Billy Idle but didn’t want to be confused with the Monty Python star.