Joseph Romm applauds a call by the Secretary of Energy to reduce the urban heat island effect through the use of reflective roof coatings. He notes that along with shade tree planting, white roofs are a low cost “adaptation” strategy.
Photo: Joseph Alhamba
It has long been known that white-roofed buildings, like this one in Andalusia in Spain, stay cooler in hot weather. Could painting white the roofs and pavement in the hot parts of the planet significantly offset global heating and stave off an Albedo Flip?
Geo-engineering, as a strategy to lessen the impact of global heating, is controversial among scientists. Nevertheless, adding “green space”, e.g., reforestation, creating greenways, etc. is a generally accepted form of geo-engineering. Diminishing the heat island effect with this simple form of geo-engineering is not only a means by urban populaces to adapt to increasing “heat waves”, it is one of the 12 to 14 wedges needed to stabilize near 2°C total warming. After conservation, a.k.a., negawatts, it probably is the cheapest to implement. Yet, while reforestation is commonly accepted as appropriate geo-engineering, scientists at the UC Berkeley Environmental Energy Technologies Division have a more technological solution. They contend that every 1,000 square feet of white roof offsets 10 tons of CO2 emissions.
California Energy Commissioner Arthur Rosenfeld is Professor Emeritus in the Physics Department at UC Berkeley. The former Berkeley Lab scientist was director of the Center for Building Science (Environmental Energy Technologies Division). He now works “with EETD’s Hashem Akbari on reducing the effects of global warming through the application of white and cool-colored roofs.”
So, can a vigorous white and cool roof program significantly cool the world? Well, Professor Romm was delighted to read that Professor Chu wants “to paint the town white.” And, CP commentator John Mashey favorably describes the strategy with the phrase “low hanging fruit”:
- Doesn’t need much, if any new technology.
- Doesn’t need big government funding.
- Can be done by:
- Tweaking building codes sensibly, like we’ve already done here in CA
- Using light paint where geographically sensible, when updating buildings.
- Simply needs numerous people to understand there is value in doing this.
- Even saves money.
Other commentators took potshots at the Climate Progress post. (Can you imagine!) None of the critique took issue with what (to this blog) would seem an obvious complication. (But, then, this blog recently repeated the complaint about denial at a federal level being unregenerate.) Adding / restoring green space is more of a challenge due to pollution. Those dumb plants don’t like what we already have done to our living space.
For example, take Washington, D.C. (please). President Obama has proposed new fuel efficiency standards for motor vehicles that eventually could have an impact upon pollution, yet the biggest single source of carbon emissions in the city, the Capitol Coal Plant, is operated by the federal government. It would seem that more white roofs and green space in the nation’s capitol would be better with measures to reduce carbon dioxide, particulate matter, and other detrimental emissions from the ongoing consumption of fossil fuels.
In fairness to Professor
Sausage Romm, his emphasis on white roofs and green space reflects a well-developed position elaborated in previous posts, i.e., possibly 2 wedges from an end to deforestation, whereas only 1 from an increase in vehicle efficiency and only 1 ascribed to the clean coal myth, a.k.a., CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage). (And, in his more recent update, Romm acknowledges that CCS will require major advances in applied research to be practical and scalable.)
Click here for higher resolution, color images.
One of global warming’s most immediate and devastating effects comes from the melting of glaciers. For instance, loss of glaciers in the Andes mountain range threatens 30 million people with loss of a water supply.
Still, there is a reluctance to address coal and tar sands and the various ways that consumption of these fossil fuels impacts upon climate change and water resources. If there is a chance of reducing the worst consequences, we need to stop mining and consuming these fossil fuels. Yes, it means finding ways to confront and reduce denial by the American people. Yet, it would seem unconscionable to be selling them reflective paint while tip-toeing around the coal sludge.