Monday, October 3, 2011

Cooling the Planet with Cool Roofs

Cool roofs (like those from Conklin) and other reflective surfaces could help mitigate global warming by physically cooling the planet. Increasing the reflectivity of roofs and pavements in all North American cities with populations greater than 1 million would achieve a one-time offset of 57 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions — double the worldwide carbon dioxide emissions total of 2006.

"Cool roofs are one of the quickest and lowest cost ways we can reduce our global carbon emissions and begin the hard work of slowing climate change," says U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.

The advantage of reflective surfaces as a method of physically cooling the planet is that it's actually a double-barreled attack. By reducing the temperature in urban areas, less air conditioning energy is used, and therefore fewer carbon dioxide emissions are produced. In addition, because cool surfaces reflect the sun's energy back to space, the actual temperature of the planet is lowered.

A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study found that raising the Earth's average reflectance by 0.3% would result in an average temperature decrease of 0.01 degrees Celsius. That may sound like a modest temperature change, but it's also a relatively modest reflectance change. And, as Andre O. Desjarlais says, "every little bit helps."

The Cool Roofs Roadmap lays out plans to work with India and China on research to try to determine how cool surfaces can not only cool the planet, but also reduce pollution.

"If we do the research, and if the research shows what we suspect in terms of urban heat island mitigation and global cooling, policy can be based on this research," says P. Marc LaFrance.

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