How Bad is Idling Your Car REALLY?


We have all heard it plenty of times. Don’t idle your car! Children are breathing that exhaust! YOU are breathing that exhaust! But yet, when you show up to school or to the airport and you are just sitting there, surrounded by all the other people idling their cars… it becomes pretty darn hard to turn off the engine! So, how does idling REALLY affect air pollution, and what difference does turning off the engine really make?

Well, let’s take a quick look at the EPA statistics on driving versus idling to see how much pollution you can emit while idling your car. We will use NOx (nitrogen oxides) as the key pollutant to measure, since it is a major component of car exhaust. We will also only be looking at personal vehicles, or light duty passenger vehicles in EPA language. Two key facts: For every mile driven in a passenger vehicle, your car emits 0.69 grams of NOx. And for every minute of idling, your car emits about 0.059 grams of NOx.

Put more clearly:

1 mile driven in car = 0.69 g of NOx emitted

1 minute idling in car = 0.059 g of NOx emitted

So where the heck are we going with this? Let’s look at how the two compare. 1 mile of driving puts out about 12 times as much pollution as idling for a minute. So, if you sit there idling for 12 minutes, it is like driving 1 mile in your car!

Let’s paint a picture of this real quick. Another school day has ended, and there are a bunch of cars lined up waiting to pick up kids after finishing classes. BUT, instead of sitting still, they slowly circle the school at 5 miles per hour for 12 minutes, spewing out pollution from their tailpipes as they go. Of course, they do not want to turn their engines off, so they must keep circling and putting out pollutants. No parent would willingly circle a school for 12 minutes at a 5 MPH pace waiting for their child, because that would be a ridiculous waste when you could just be sitting still. Can you imagine running into parents at a school and having them wave at you as they go by, saying “Just doing my laps before the kids get out!” Furthermore, school administrators would be outraged that parents had gotten there early just to drive in a circle and put pollution into their school’s environment for kids to breathe!

The bottom line: it may not feel like anything is happening when you are sitting there, hanging out in an idling car, but the reality is that sitting in an idling car is just like driving around slowly and putting out pollution needlessly as you wait for the person you want to pick up. And all you have to do is take out the key when you are waiting for 30 seconds or longer, and the problem is solved!

(or buy an electric car) 🙂

This one feels like it is going to need a video to accompany it. Look out for one in the next couple weeks!


Image credit:

–The Vivergy Team


Latest Evidence From Lead Air Pollution Researcher Shows That Vivergy Air Pollution to Cigarettes Conversion Is An Underestimate

A new review by C. Arden Pope of Brigham Young University, the leading voice on the health impacts of air pollution, calls into question the relevance of his previous work of converting air pollution exposure to cigarette inhalation based on raw exposure statistics.

In one of our previous blogs, we walked through the method we use to convert air pollution exposure to an equivalent number of cigarettes inhaled. This was based on published work of Dr. C. Arden Pope of BYU. But this week, on the MyHealth Beijing blog, Dr. Pope pointed out that under further review, this exposure-based calculation is insufficient for describing the incrementally larger health problems that people who inhale air pollution experience compared to health issues that they would expect to experience when inhaling an equivalent amount of fine particulates from cigarettes.

This all started a few weeks ago when Dr. Richard Muller at the University of California, Berkeley published a study that showed an estimated 4000 Chinese die per day due to outdoor air pollution. Dr. Muller observed that the deaths measured in his study went far beyond the expected number of deaths that these Chinese citizens would experience if they inhaled an equivalent amount of cigarette smoke. In fact, his study showed that based strictly on the health impacts, a Beijing resident inhaled about 40 cigarettes of air pollution every day. This stands in stark contrast to Pope’s estimate, which was around 1/6 of a cigarette a day. A difference by a factor of over 200!

After a discussion, Pope wrote the response posted on MyHealth Beijing which points out the challenges of the strictly exposure-based model versus calculating the exposure based on the resulting health impacts (a chicken or the egg problem). One thing is certain: Pope’s original cigarette calculation is not accurate based on the actual health issues that people experience from outdoor air pollution. The original calculation is an underestimate of the number of cigarettes, but by how much is unclear. Which means the Vivergy air pollution to cigarettes conversion is too low!

A few factors make this calculation complex. First of all, children inhale air pollution 24 hours a day, 365 days a year while their lungs and heart are still developing and have weakened defenses. But you are not going to find any children that smoke cigarettes, so it is challenging to design a controlled experiment since air pollution has a head start by getting into children’s lungs at a more vulnerable point. Also, making the assumption that every unit of air pollution or cigarettes inhaled leads to a directly related increase risk for death may be unfair. It may be more of a logarithmic relationship, where air pollution or cigarettes inhaled at lower levels leads to exponential increases in risk, but as you inhale more of each, the health risks become less per unit of pollution inhaled since your body is already overwhelmed by the pollutants entering the heart and lungs.

That being said, there is one way that we may be able to draw similarities between the two: second-hand smoke. Since there are plenty of children who have inhaled second-hand smoke, scientists can easily study the health effects compared to outdoor air pollution. Pope notes, “In fact, the elevated fine PM [particulate matter] exposures and excess mortality risks for SHS [second-hand smoke] and air pollution are remarkably similar”. Secondhand smoke may be a much more accurate tool for comparison than cigarette smoking itself.

Be on the lookout for an announcement in the coming weeks when we decide how to fairly update our air pollution to cigarettes calculation to reflect this new knowledge. We are very glad to see that an unprecedented level of research is going into this field, and we are happy to be transparent as we try to stay up to date with the latest science.

–The Vivergy Team

What Is Causing Air Pollution Levels To Go Through The Roof in the Northern U.S.?

Map of air pollution in Northern U.S.

After the release of the Share My Air live pollution map last week, processing air quality data instantly and “seeing” trends has become far easier for those of us who don’t know how to query an air pollution database! As we checked out the live map over the past two days, we noticed a distinct trend. Monitors across the Midwest and Northeast were getting more red in a hurry, meaning their pollution levels were spiking. This was not just a few monitors, it seemed to be every monitor. We looked for an explanation in national or local news, but we could not find any reports on the phenomenon. Are we crazy?

To test whether this is an actual pollution wave hitting many states across the northern U.S., we decided to do a little investigation. We took a random sample of 50 monitors across 10 states (5 per state). States sampled include: MN, WI, IL, IN, MI, OH, PA, NY, NJ, and KY. We looked at daily averages for the past two days (Aug 30, 2015 and Aug 31, 2015) and compared them to daily averages for every other day of the month. What we found was startling, to say the least.

Out of 50 monitors sampled, 40 (80%) experienced their highest daily pollution value for the month over the past 2 days. Considering that this study sampled 10 states, this a quite a land area for pollution to spike simultaneously. This is not a local pollution event in any one place – it is a blanket of pollution covering many communities within these 10 states.

Two questions followed: is anybody reporting on this across the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic? We could not find any definitive articles. Also, where is the pollution coming from?

Here is our theory: the wildfires in the Northwest and California release tons of fine particulates into the air. The West experienced their air pollution event last week, but these tiny particulates can stay in the air for weeks. They likely entered the jetstream and began a journey across the rest of the U.S., getting deposited into communities along the way.

What do you think? Is this caused by the wildfires, or something else? Is anybody experiencing the effects of this pollution right now? Has anybody else done a report on this? Let us know! Shoot an email to, tweet @vivergy and talk to us on Facebook at Would love to hear your thoughts!

-The Vivergy Team

One Of These Filters Is Full Of The Pollutants We Breathe Every Day


We talk to a lot of parents on a daily basis. I mean A LOT. One of the most common reactions that we get from Ann Arbor parents is the utter shock that their outdoor air has the same amount of pollutants as living with a smoker for 3 months of the year (see how we calculate that here). So, we did a simple little experiment to show that you are breathing air pollution even if you cannot see it. Try it yourself if you want! The results are the picture above. Which do you think comes from outdoor air?

Materials Needed

-Coffee Filters

-Rubber Bands

-Vacuum with hose attachment

-Power Source



For each treatment group, you must use a coffee filter to cover the open end of the hose attachment on your vacuum, and use the rubber bands to keep it in place. This simulates the function of a lung – the vacuum “inhales” air when it is turned on, and the white coffee filter shows any impurities in the air that it is sucking in.

Treatment 1

Attach a coffee filter to your vacuum in the manner described above. Bring your vacuum cleaner outside (if you will be present for the entire experiment), or open a window and put the hose attachment out the window (if you will not be present). Turn on the vacuum. Ensure that it is not running at full power so that it does not destroy the coffee filter. Let the vacuum run for 16 hours in this manner (or for any time of your choice). Make sure that the vacuum does not overheat by checking on it a few times through out the experiment.

Treatment 2

Attach a coffee filter to your vacuum in the manner described above. Bring your vacuum cleaner outside and turn it on. Ensure that it is not running at full power so that it does not destroy the coffee filter. Light one end of your cigarette to simulate smoking, and hold the hose 2-3 feet from the burning end. You may need to relight the cigarette intermittently to keep it burning. Continue to do this until the cigarette has burned down to the filter.


Inspect each coffee filter afterwards. Did your filters change colors like ours did? In the picture above, the first filter resulted from running the vacuum outdoors in Ann Arbor for 16 hours at an average outdoor particulate matter concentration of 9 micrograms per cubic meter. The second filter resulted from “inhaling” a cigarette that burned all the way down to the filter. Makes the pollutants entering your lungs a little more visible, eh?


Air pollution becomes pretty darn visible once you are able to trap it on a medium visible to the human eye! You can run this easy, low-cost experiment if you want to see air quality for yourself. Try this experiment on days with average PM2.5 levels of 5ug/m3, 10ug/m3 and 15 ug/m3 or greater and see how the results differ. And that filter changes color after only 16 hours! Imagine what happens when you breathe that stuff every single day…

–The Vivergy Team

A Playbook for Facing Serious Societal Threats

(This is part 2 of 5 of a new series called “The Vivergy Difference”, which will go into detail on how we decided to build Vivergy)

Last week, we covered the challenges associated with current environmental messaging tactics. We then proposed a new, local health-oriented way of thinking about these issues. But what evidence do we have that this is a better approach? And, why hasn’t any major group tried it out yet? The stop-smoking movement faced many similar challenges in their decades-long fight against Big Tobacco, and struggled to find a way to change the cigarette smoking habits of Americans. But, in the early 1980s, public health messengers began to use a new tactic that would forever change the way Americans perceived cigarettes.

Beginning in the early 1920s, cigarette smoking began a sharp and steady increase in popularity that would continue through the 1960s. At the peak of the trend, around 42% of American adults were smokers. Simultaneously, scientists began to develop a body of research that proved that cigarettes caused lung cancer, and were therefore deadly. By the 1950s, scientists had collected a definitive body of proof that cigarettes were, indeed, cancer-causing and deadly. Big Tobacco responded with an anti-science campaign of epic proportions, meant mainly to confuse the issue and create skepticism among Americans. Tobacco companies even came together to promote other social and health issues to take the attention away from cigarettes. Sadly, there was no measurable decrease in smoking habits by the year 1980 compared to the mid 1950’s. But, by the early 80s, a new concept called “passive smoking” or “secondhand smoke” soon enveloped all non-smoking Americans in the fight against Big Tobacco.

Secondhand smoking was first mentioned as a concern by the Surgeon General in 1972, and smoking began a precipitous drop from there. Smoking receded from a popular public activity, to something done only in private, and then to quitting entirely. Secondhand smoke interfered with some fundamental American values, like the right to breath air that was not cancer-causing, and the ability to protect the well-being of innocent children. The cultural perception of cigarettes quickly shifted from a cool, popular activity, to one that made non-smokers uncomfortable. Cigarette companies tried a variety of campaigns to win back public perception and rally active cigarette smokers, but there was no going back.

After 20+ years of messages related to personal health and cancer prevention with proven science, cigarette smoking remained, resilient as ever. Within 10 years of secondhand smoke, cultural views towards cigarettes had changed rapidly. Current environmental communicators could learn a lot from this message. Smokers did not disagree with the overwhelming scientific consensus or think that smoking was not cancer causing, but yet, they remained smokers. As soon as the cultural connotation of their actions changed, smokers quit en masse. Vivergy is trying to emulate the past success of public health messengers against cigarette use. Air pollution, which shares the same carcinogens and lung irritants as cigarette smoke, enters our atmosphere every time we use energy. It is this fact, much like secondhand smoke, that motivates us to push forwards towards a more concentrated effort against air pollution. We hope that you will join us!

–The Vivergy Team

Next week: How does Vivergy use this success story to make energy issues more relevant?

Further Reading:

Why talk about health when it comes to energy use?

(This is part 1 of 5 of a new series called “The Vivergy Difference”, which will go into detail on how we decided to build Vivergy)

It has been quite awhile since our last post! Don’t worry, we are about to get much more active in the blogging game. You might have already noticed that Vivergy explicitly focuses on the health of loved ones and community members, rather than traditional environmental metrics. Ever wonder why we decided to go down this route? Or what about the difference between our work and typical energy-oriented projects? This post is for you!

We were initially frustrated with trying to wrap our minds around current environmental topics. It was difficult for us to process large-scale, long-term environmental phenomena like fracking, plastic in the ocean and deforestation. We really care about these issues, but they always feel so distant, and hard to address through our own means. In addition, the units of measurement are huge! Tons of garbage, hectares of forest… these are hard to imagine from here in Ann Arbor. It turns out we are not the only ones that have a hard time translating our passion into meaningful action. In a phenomena known as the ‘value-action gap’, multiple studies have shown that pro-environmental attitudes may not have any impact on actual ecological footprints across a population(!!!!). To put that another way: people who care about environmental issues (there are a lot of them) may not actually be making any significant impact on their own environmental footprint. Yikes. This could be due to a few reasons: misinformation on current actions,  lack of information on more impactful actions or lack of interest in taking on more impactful actions. Regardless, we wanted to get to the bottom of this, so we started talking to parents. Lots of parents.

After over 100 conversations with parents with varying degrees of environmental interest, one truth emerged. Every single parent we spoke to expressed a greater passion for their child’s current health than any passion for environmental issues. Not exactly a surprise! In fact, many parents related to environmental issues by considering the future well-being of their child. But current well-being was always number one. For the reasons described above, we felt that it would be exceptionally difficult to connect the current way of thinking to current children’s well-being. So we took a different direction.

Air pollution is a little different. First of all, it tends to be local. For example, when you drive your car around, those pollutants will only go so far. Your decisions turn into your pollution. Second, the link to current health is much more direct. Particulate matter, the major air pollutant we consider, is also what makes up cigarette smoke. The clear path of this pollution into your body allows for people to easily grasp the current dangers. And finally, we have an awesome network of air quality monitors in the United States that puts out free air quality data every hour. And, next thing you know, we can serve every person in the United States localized air quality translated into cigarettes.

–The Vivergy Team

Next week: what other movements in the United States have used this strategy to their success?

Further Reading:

Launch of Official Vivergy Beta

After 6 short months of development, it is that time! Today, I am proud to announce that we are officially beta-launching the first version of the Vivergy platform at For those of you who are hearing about this for the first time, or who are just now getting back in touch, here is the deal:

Vivergy is a complete re-imagination of personal energy and fuel consumption as an issue of community health. On Vivergy, you can discover how your energy choices impact the health of community members through air pollution, and team up with others around you to reduce childhood asthma attacks.

If this is news to you, here is one way you can look at it. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, where we are located, children breathe in 7 cigarettes worth of air pollution over the course of the year. This is equal to living approximately 3 months out of the year with a smoker. Even though Ann Arbor has far from the dirtiest air in the country, and you can rarely see any sort of smog, it is still there. Children with asthma are especially susceptible. Need a full summary? Check out our video.

On Vivergy, you can

  • get your V Score, which symbolizes your personal impact on human health due to air pollution
  • get a live report, up to the latest hour, on air quality in your area in terms of cigarettes
  • compare to others in your community
  • get custom suggestions for actions you can take, and what impact they have in terms of V Score and dollars
  • team up on our Groups feature to create a bigger statement

We really like focusing on air pollution for two distinct reasons. Number one, it is a localized phenomenon. Pollution is much more likely to stick around the area where fuel or energy is being burned. In other words, your community gets a shot at improving its own air. Secondly, you can get a dynamic air quality reading every hour. This is a reminder that this issue is very real right now, but can also be addressed right now.

So of all the things we could be doing with our lives, we choose to do this. Why? Well, once we discovered that we could develop a credible system to give people the opportunity to improve the health of other human beings, we felt a huge emotional pull to spread our tool to others. It is something about the concept of affecting the life of another person, whether we know them or not, that resonates deeply within us. We thought about our experiences as athletes, and the excellent feeling that comes with staying in good health. Given the fact that those with asthma may not be able to enjoy this as often as others, we want to do whatever we can, within reason, to take a part in reducing their burden. And we want to give that feeling for the greatest amount of time possible. So check out our product and join us!

Got a question? Email us at info (at)

-The Vivergy Team

Creating a healthy human habitat