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One of the world’s most influential scientists suggests an incredibly simple, yet often overlooked geo-engineering climate solution. Nobel Prize winning scientist and US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu says painting the roofs and roads of the world white can effectively combat global warming. While many other experts push for solar, wind, and other expensive climate solutions, Steven Chu contrasts with this pragmatic, simple, and (relatively) low cost advice.
Back in May of 2009, President Obama’s climate guru spoke to the St James’s Palace Nobel Laureate Symposium in London regarding climate change. According to Dr. Steven Chu, the US Secretary of energy, making all roofs and pavement white would have the equivalent climate impact of taking all cars off the road for over 11 years. Dr. Chu stated that “if a building is air conditioned it’s going to stay cooler and use 10 to 15 percent less electricity”. He also stated “by making roofs and pavements white you make the earth more reflective”. Making cities more reflective would reduce the urban heat island effect and result in reduced power usage, which would offset carbon dioxide emissions by over 44 billion tons.
Above: white rooftops in Greece. In hotter climes white roofs are often the norm. According to Dr. Chu, painting roofs, roads and other city surfaces white could substantially conserve energy.
According to Dr. Chu “When sunlight is reflected off a white or light-colored surface much of that light will pass through the atmosphere and back into space, unlike the infrared radiation emitted from the Earth’s warmed-up surface, which is blocked by greenhouse gases and causes global warming”. What we’re doing is that, as we put in more greenhouse gases, we’re putting in more insulation for infrared light. So if you make white roofs and the sunlight comes in, it goes right through that [insulation].”
Dr. Chu says this principle can even be applied to automobiles: “The principle could also be extended to cars where white or ‘cool colors’ designed to reflect light and radiation could make vehicles more energy efficient in summer. If all vehicles were light-colored, there could be considerable savings because then you can downsize the air conditioning… and downsizing the air conditioner means more efficient air conditioning and a considerable reduction in energy,”.
Dr. Steven Chu also recommends regulations that all roofs should be white, and that asphalt roads should be lightened as well (as much as possible without blinding drivers). In hot climate countries such as Greece, most roofs are already painted white.
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