Idle Threat: Man on Emission

George Pakenham became an environmental activist one evening in 2004 when he became fed up watching a stretch limo idling in front of his apartment building in New York City on a nice spring evening while the driver’s customers were inside a nearby restaurant.


Screen Shot 2013-11-01 at 10.11.34 AM“I knocked on the window,” Pakenham says. “The limo driver and I had a 10-minute discussion. Ultimately, I convinced him to shut off his engine.”


This initial encounter touched off Pakenham’s personal campaign against curbside engine idling in New York. A 1971 city law says idling must be restricted to under three minutes, but the law wasn’t being enforced, costing motorists money in wasted fuel and engine wear-and-air–and unnecessarily polluting the air we breathe. According to data from Argonne National Lab, idling engines waste more than 6 billion gallons of gasoline and $20 billion each year in the U.S.–staggering figures.


Pakenham was determined to tackle this problem in his neighborhood by confronting New York City’s lax enforcement efforts of its idling regulations. Over a two-and-a-half-year period, he bravely confronted some 1,800 drivers of idling vehicles in New York, handing them business cards printed with the city law and penalties on them. He asked the drivers to turn off their engines, keeping careful records of the results of his encounters and receiving international media attention for his efforts.


Now, Pakenham is sharing the story of his anti-idling campaign in an extraordinary new documentary film called Idle Threat: Man on Emission. The film chronicles his challenges and

Screen Shot 2013-11-01 at 10.10.39 AMtriumphs –and demonstrates how one person taking small steps can lead to big collective change. It features commentary from popular radio personalities Click and Clack from NPR’s Car Talk, as well as a cast of characters ranging from lawyers from the Environmental Defense Fund to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.


On November 20 at 7 p.m., the Breathe Project will be co-presenting Idle Threat at the Three Rivers Film Festival as the film makes its Pittsburgh premiere. The screening will take place at the Harris Theater in Downtown Pittsburgh and will be followed by a question and answer session with Pakenham, who will attend the screening.


Tickets for the film and Q&A are available here:


Don’t miss this inspirational–and entertaining–evening!

Comments (3)

  1. Zane says:

    This is a very good cause. Engine idling is a very serious issue and is a big contributor to the release of harmful emissions in the air. This is particularly a very common habit among truck drivers who had to resort to idling to heat their sleep berths and keep their diesel from gelling during the cold months. I think placing attention on the negative effects of engine idling can make more people realize the weight of the subject. I for one have done a lot of research on this topic as well. One of my articles covered the negative repercussions in idling. You can check it out at

    • admin says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments! Any suggestions on encouraging truck fleets to adapt idle reduction technologies, particularly smaller fleets that operate on a more local or regional level?

  2. We are working with fleets large and small to use an anti-idling sticker they can affix to their windshield, like an oil change reminder sticker. It’s a visual cue that works well. We’re in conversations with a large fleet of delivery trucks, as well as with city government in a couple of places, and would love to keep spreading the word nationally. See what we’ve come up with so far at

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