Persnickety chic

Little engine, don’t sit idle.

Little engine, don’t sit idle.

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

Persnickety—everyone knows what that means. Auntie Ruth learned it from her father: “Don’t turn on the water for your shower until you’re ready to get in, I don’t care if you’re naked and shivering, get in right as it’s getting hot,” or “Keep the thermostat at 68 degrees,” and “Turn off the lights when you leave the room,” and the ultimate authoritarian clampdown on dreamy teenagers everywhere: “Take a shorter shower.” In those days, this was acceptable as Republican frugality, as surely yer Auntie’s papa was (and is) a Nixonian, Reaganian, Bushian dude from the other side of the aisle.

Aunt Ruth and her papa have had some nifty discussions over dinner. Still do.

These days? Persnickety is not just for Republicans eyeing their SMUD bills. It has got itself a new synonym: eco-awareness. For those of you whose minds wander, whose attention to detail is faint, who tend to forget where you’ve left your wallet, who would rather pay attention to something glittery in the distance than something right there in front of ya, well, take heed. It’s become unaffordable. Environmentalism is a marked triumph for persnickety people everywhere.

Persnickety applies to your personal comfort on these cold winter mornings. How long do you leave your car idling with the heater on? With idling cars and trucks emitting 58 million tons of carbon dioxide a year and U.S. fast-food drive-throughs causing customers to burn an extra 50 million gallons of gas annually (just turn the damn thing off while you talk to Jack), how warm does your car need to be before you motor off to work?

Aside from your personal comfort zone, your car is probably ready to go before you are. Slate’s eco-columnist tackled the issue of engine idling, stating that for modern fuel-injected engines, there’s simply no good mechanical reason to warm up a car for more than 30 seconds. If you need more on this—especially you NPR listeners out there—Car Talk’s Click and Clack concur.

In a terrifying world where one of the greatest congressional champions of solar power can be shot in the head in front of a Safeway—“Gabrielle Giffords is one of the strongest advocates for solar in Congress,” noted Solar Energy Industries Association president Rhone Resch shortly after the shooting—all this may seem a little … persnickety.

’Tis. And it ain’t. Welcome to the era of persnickety chic.