Tailpipe exhaust

In 2006, New Yorker George Pakenham was walking home, when he noticed a limo idling at the curb, with only the driver inside.

It upset him to see fuel being wasted. This was during the Iraq war, which he believed was about oil, and his brother had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer. So Pakenham resented the air pollution. He rapped on the driver’s window:

Pakenham: “We had a very civil conversation about his behavior and what he was doing, and after about ten minutes I just said, ‘well, you know, all things considered, why not just shut the engine off?’ and he goes, ‘ok,’ and he did … and it was an emotional moment for me.”

So for six years, Pakenham kept asking idling drivers to turn off their cars – with surprising success.

Pakenham: “The results were eighty-percent! If I were a baseball player, I’d be in the Hall of Fame.”

Now he has a new motivation: New York City recently passed a law that allows citizens to provide proof that someone is breaking idling laws …

Pakenham: “… and be awarded a twenty-five percent bounty on a three-hundred-fifty dollar fine.”

Pakenham has already earned thousands. He says the fines motivate companies to instruct their drivers to avoid idling, and the money gives concerned citizens another reason to get involved.

Pakenham: “If you see ecological injustice, for goodness sakes, speak out.”

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo credit: Ruben de Rijcke.

Jan O'Brien was assistant editor and website manager at Yale Climate Connections from 2007-2022. She brought more than three decades of experience in environmental publishing and policy research and more...