Smog alerts are becoming a regular feature of life in the city. But you can be part of the solution: even small changes in your daily routine can help us all breathe easier this summer.
1. Get a summer tune-up
"The biggest source of [polluting] emissions in Canada is passenger road transportation. It's 49.9 per cent," says Chris Wolnik, Executive Director of Sarnia's Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention. One way to cut pollutants is to keep your vehicle maintained year-round: Ontario's compulsory Drive Clean program has reduced emissions in the Toronto area by 15%.
2. Don't idle
Do you keep the car running while dashing into the store for milk? "Even that 30 seconds makes a difference," says Wolnik. "If you accumulate that for everyone, that's huge." For example, if citizens of my own community, Whitby, Ontario, idled our cars 5 minutes less every day, we could make a cumulative annual CO2 reduction of 4,209 tonnes -- and save $1.3 million in gas.
3. Review your driving habits
Aggressive driving -- hard braking and sudden acceleration -- eats up fuel. Owners of manual transmission vehicles should also not be driving in a too-low gear.
4. Think aerodynamic
Increased air drag on your car causes the engine to burn more fuel. According to Environment Canada, simply keeping your tires properly inflated can reduce vehicle emissions by 5 per cent. You can also make a difference by emptying the trunk and removing roof racks when they're not being used.
5. What do you drive?
According to the Clean Air Partnership, SUVs produce 20 per cent more CO2 (6 tonnes per year) than a mid-size car (5 tonnes) -- and that difference translates directly into how much you pay at the pumps.
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6. Leaving the car at home
What if you didn't drive at all? Big savings: according to the Clean Air Day website, a year's worth of city bus tickets typically costs less than $1,000 -- whereas the average car eats up nearly $7,000 per year. But you don't have to scrap your car completely -- on the pollution front, even small changes add up. Occasional carpooling, walking the kids to school, or cycling are other ways to get where you're going.
7. How far do you drive?
I was shocked when I calculated my family's air pollution quotient on Environment Canada's One-Tonne Challenge website. Commuting 40 km into the city, our small car is spewing out 1.63 tonnes per year more than it would for a trip half that distance. Living closer to work, schools and shops makes a difference.
8. Keep your lawn green
According to the Clean Air Foundation, one hour out on the lawn with a gas-powered mower produces emissions equal to driving an average car for 550 km. Finding an alternative has more benefits than merely saving gas: electric mowers are generally quieter, and push mowers give a workout.
9. Save power
In every province except B.C., QuÃ©bec and Newfoundland, coal-burning power plants contribute to the electricity grid. Save power, save the air. Ways to cut electricity use in summer include planting trees around the house, running ceiling fans instead of an air conditioner, installing window blinds for daytime use, opening windows at night, and hanging clothes to dry.
It takes energy to create and to dispose of products, which means electricity used, coal burned, trucks driven, and more. Environment Canada says reducing your garbage by 1 kg saves 2 kg of CO2 emissions.
"I think most people don't realize every little bit makes a difference," says Wolnik. "No matter how small the action is, if a thousand people do it, they're going to make a bigger difference. Pick the actions you can do quickly and easily, and work with those. Make it feasible for yourself. It's possible!"
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