By day, George Pakenham is a mild-mannered Senior Loans' officer at a major international bank in New York and in his spare time, he is the world’s most famous engine idling vigilante. Four years ago, after witnessing the USA go to war over oil, George could no longer tolerate the senseless waste of fossil fuel from vehicles participating in unnecessary idling, so he took matters into his own hands.

Since then, he has been working in the Big Apple to raise awareness about the need to reduce unnecessary engine idling. We caught up with George Pakenham, one of our all time heroes, to find out more about his engine idling crusade in New York City.

Please tell us about your anti engine idling efforts in New York.

My role in the environmental movement is quite focused on idling. Focused and personal. It began more than 4 years ago when the USA went to war over oil in the Middle East for a second time and it became ever more aggravating for me to watch fellow New Yorkers, mindless at the wheel, idling their engines and wasting gas or oil as I saw it. I felt it was disgraceful on many fronts — bad air, health issues, wasted money.
One evening, I became particularly fed up with a stretch limo parked in front of my apartment house, idling, as his customers were inside a nearby restaurant. It was spring and around 50 F. degrees outside. I knocked on the window and the limo driver and I had a 10-minute discussion. Ultimately, I convinced him to shut off his engine.

This first success gave me courage and for the next six months I would follow the same procedure on my way to and from work and on the weekends. I found myself becoming more and more successful.

One evening, I asked someone who appeared to be a limo driver to shut off his engine. It was an undercover policeman. I backed off but the officer said, “Did you know there is a law against it? Fines too? But I’m not sure how much the fines are.”

That was a true catalyst for me. I had actually been enforcing a law, as a vigilante, so to speak, without even knowing it. I then did extensive research and worked with the State EPA to learn more about the law and fines.

Once I had a clear handle on the law and fines, I had cards printed. These cards describe the law on one side and penalties on the other. The creation of the cards was a potent tool and it gave me courage to keep approaching engine idlers.

It also pushed me to create an excel spreadsheet of my activities so I could keep track of each encounter. I knew sometime I would stand before elected officials, police, or nonprofit environmental groups with my findings and I wanted to be accurate. With statistics in hand, I approached the Department of Transportation, then City Hall and got nowhere. I began approaching nonprofit groups and for the most part, got the cold shoulder. But I eventually found an open door at the Environmental Defense Fund which endorsed my work. It was then I knew that someday we would have revitalized anti-idling laws in NY.

That moment came on February 10th 2009 when Mayor Bloomberg signed three new bills into law.

Is the bylaw effective?

I have checked statistics on tickets written. For example, the combined efforts in 2007 of the DEP and NYPD produced just over 500 tickets. I had over 700 encounters during the same period of time as a solo individual with a success ratio of 80%. By comparison, the NYPD criminal staff has more than 30,000 employees.

My issue from the start has been the use, or in this case, the lack of use of the 2300+ NYPD traffic agents who patrol the streets of NY and issue traffic violations for parking at a fire hydrant, for example. They were never given the authority to write an idling ticket, yet they pass idlers each day and must breathe the foul air from an idling engine. The laws which Mayor Bloomberg signed last winter did NOT include law 881A that compelled the 2300 agents to write tickets. I find this a tragic waste of manpower and a great loss to the city coffers.

Do you think people will continue to idle despite the bylaw?

In my view, New Yorkers will continue to idle their engines until tickets are written and word of mouth publicity about the stiff penalties begins to echo throughout the streets of NY and into the households of New Yorkers.

What needs to change before people stop idling?

I think the swiftest way is to hit their pocket book. Hefty fines will make them feel it. It will enforce that fact of how much money they waste each year in this mindless practice.

How do you approach people?

With my encounters, I always start off my conversation by saying, “Excuse me for bothering you but are you aware that it’s against the law to idle your car engine in NYC for more than 3 minutes?”

No matter what happens in-between, I always give them a mild command: “It would be great if you could shut off your engine. Better for the environment, you save money and you’re a good citizen obeying the law.”

How do people respond?

In well over 1800 encounters, people have lashed out at me on only a handful of times. I get a ‘thank you’ quite often. 80% of the time I wait and watch to see people shut off their engines. Imagine being successful 80% of the time in any sport, or game, or competition? It’s an unheard of statistic. It just goes to show that most people need only a little nudge. From time to time I am cursed, but it is rare.

What advice do you have for people who are trying to stop engine idling in their communities?

A few things. Find out if there is a law. A local law could exist but it might be buried or forgotten or perhaps there is a state law. If there is a law, get to know it and also get to know the penalties. Visit with the chief of police to make sure he knows about the laws and the penalties.

Visit the website for the Environmental Defense Fund. They have a unique study called Idling Gets You Nowhere that lists all the statistics and harmful facts associated with idling.

If you want an easy start, you can focus on a school where parents idle waiting for their kids. Buses also idle waiting for students. There are school kits available that have pre-written letters to bus drivers and parents. You can work on a campaign and, most likely, see some success.

Letters to the editor of a local paper can help in this initiative.

Anything you would like to add?

Yes, I am creating a documentary film on the struggle to halt idling in NYC. I have been in this process for 2.5 years. All footage has been digitized and is in my editors’ studio. I liken the end product to the documentary film Supersize Me, which grossed $29,000,000 US in box office receipts. I am selectively seeking limited partner investors in the film who will generously share in the profits.

Visit: www. verdantvigilante. com

Via:www.greenmuze. соm

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