There has been a lot of press coverage of the decision by the National Academy of Science to study the feasibility and safety of large-scale geoengineering as a means to address climate change. It is hard to believe that we are at a stage where we must consider such drastic strategies.
Much of the conversation has revolved around the idea of albedo modification — that is, increasing the amount of solar energy reflected into space rather than absorbed by earth. Conceptually, this is the same process that keeps light colored roofs and pavements cooler. However, the scale of the geoengineering being considered is staggering — we are talking huge swaths of the earth brightened by man-made clouds. Since only 1% of earth’s surface is urban, even a wildly successful global cool roofs and pavements campaign would be nearly 70 times smaller in scale than what is under study now. There really is no comparison.
And yet, focusing efforts of deploying more cool roofs and pavements would have a tremendously positive impact on the planet. They help cut cooling energy and peak electricity demand, improve heat resiliency of people living in unconditioned buildings, and cool down communities and help reduce air pollution; all while safely offsetting the warming effect of atmospheric greenhouse gases.
The scientific debate is on about whether we have reached a point where we must consider drastic measures to combat climate change. Either way, we should be taking the simple and affordable first steps to improve our buildings, communities, and planet by installing cool roofs and pavements anywhere it makes sense to do so.
National Public Radio’s Rachel Martin spoke recently with Michael Oppenheimer, the coordinating lead author of the synthesis report of the IPCC’s Fifth Climate Assessment. During the interview, Oppenheimer noted that the urban heat island effect will become more of a threat in the years to come, warning that heat waves will become more frequent and more extreme…
MARTIN: Up to this point, it’s been hard to pin down where the effects of climate change are going to be most profound. Does this report tell us anything about specific places in the world that are especially at risk?
OPPENHEIMER: Well, I would first point to three types of places…
The third area I point to which effects people particularly in cities anywhere in the United States, which already have an urban heat island effect – well, I’d point to the extra frequency with which we’re getting already and are going to get more in the future – heat waves. In Europe in 2003, about 40,000 people died in the heat wave. We just can’t afford to have that risk increasing over time. We’ve got to get on top of our missions or else it’s going to get out of control.
Oppenheimer closed by noting that we’re making progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but that we’re not moving fast enough. He described this report as a wake-up call to governments, noting that the opportunity to avoid a dangerous warming is disappearing. The time to act is now.
You can listen to the full interview here.
Several recent reports have shed light on the many ways climate change is affecting our way of life, and these reports have people talking about strategies for dealing with extreme heat and the resulting health problems. We expect extreme heat events down in Atlanta, GA or Los Angeles, CA. But we’re also hearing of concerns over the urban heat island effect and extreme heat in northern cities like Minneapolis, MN and Chicago, IL.
Atlanta is better able to handle these extreme heat events, with most buildings and homes equipped with air conditioning units. But cities further north may not have the cooling infrastructure to handle more extreme heat waves. Schools (which don’t have air conditioning) are shut down and children stay home. People living on the top floors of un-air conditioned buildings are in greater danger of illness or even death from this extreme heat.
Extreme heat is also affecting places like London, England, and studies tell us that unless something’s done to mitigate the impact of climate change, mortality will increase significantly. London could be looking at 800 deaths per year by 2050. Another study tells us that London could see their heat-related mortality rate jump 257% by 2050 unless steps are taken to address the effects of extreme urban heat.
The good news is that more people are beginning to understand that – even in cooler climates such as London –cool roofs can bring down the temperature in buildings, increasing comfort and reducing the chance of heat-related illness and death. It also brings down energy consumption, which means less carbon in our atmosphere.
You can learn more about extreme heat around the United States, by visiting NOAA’s extreme heat tracking site HERE.