Opinion

The Great Debate

Painting Bill Clinton’s “white roofs” into reality

By Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza
The opnions expressed are his own. White Roofs Project volunteers paint the roof of the Bowery Mission in New York City. Photo courtesy of David Epstein.

If you’ve been outside recently, you probably realize that this summer is hot. With the latest heat wave now spreading across the country, it’s worth pointing out that many Americans are unknowingly contributing to the soaring temperatures. How? Millions of rooftops in America are made of black tar; and they absorb and trap an enormous amount of heat during the summer months. It’s also worth pointing out that there’s an easy fix to the black roofs problem that people of all political stripes can get behind: paint the black roofs white.

Painting black tar roofs with a white, solar-reflective coating is a low cost, quick and tangible way to reduce the risk of power grid ‘brown-outs’, save millions of dollars in energy costs, and curb climate change. The statistics are as simple as they are staggering: A roof covered with solar-reflective white paint reflects up to 90% of sunlight as opposed to the 20% reflected by a traditional black roof. On a 90°F day, a black roof can be up to 180°F. That heat has a major impact on interior building temperature, potentially heating your room to between 115 – 125°F. A white roof stays a cool 100°F. Plus the inside of the building stays cooler than the air outdoors, around 80°F in this example, reducing cooling costs.

White roofs also reduce the “urban heat island” effect in which temperatures rise in dense urban areas because of the proliferation of heat-radiating, black tar surfaces. For example, the Urban Heat Island effect causes New York City to be about 5 degrees warmer than surrounding suburbs and accounts for 5 to 10 percent of summer electricity use.

In New York City alone, 12% of all surfaces are rooftops. It’s estimated that implementing a white roof program in 11 metropolitan cities could save the United States 7 gigawatts in energy usage. That’s the equivalent of turning off 14 power plants, and a cost savings of $750 million per year.

Recently, former President Bill Clinton wrote in Newsweek, “Every black roof in New York should be white; every roof in Chicago should be white; every roof in Little Rock should be white. Every flat tar-surface roof anywhere! In most of these places you could recover the cost of the paint and the labor in a week.” The former president regularly touts the white roofs as one of those win-win scenarios that could also help create jobs and stimulate the economy.

Helping Haiti: Stop the handouts

HAITI/

By Danielle Grace Warren
The opinions expressed are her own.

The people of Haiti have a name for the earthquake that rocked their country: Goudougoudou, an onomatopoetic creole nickname invented for the earthquake meant to emulate the sound of the earth rumbling, the buildings falling. There are numbers for it, too: 230,000 deaths, 59 aftershocks and 1.5 million people who remain displaced nearly a year later.

While over a billion dollars in US aid was promised was for rebuilding Haiti is tied up in the umbilicus of Washington, Port au Prince residents are settling between piles of debris — 98% of which still has not been removed. Haitians pick through the rubble for building scraps to reinforce torn tarpaulin.

Many who were displaced by the disaster and came to the Haitian capital for aid have tried to re-settle in the small towns and villages of their birth. But they have been forced to return to the capital yet again since it is still where most of the food and aid in the country can be found.

Bottom-up biodiversity

ENVIRONMENT-BIODIVERSITY/

By Karol Boudreaux
The opinions expressed are her own.

At the recent UN biodiversity conference in Japan, participants were tasked with finding a new approach to preserve threatened ecosystems.

In the end, government and UN officials, NGO representatives and others reached an agreement that some are calling historic. The executive director of the UN’s Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, said: “This is a day to celebrate in terms of a new and innovative response to the alarming loss of biodiversity and ecosystems.” But how different is it?

The new “Aichi Target” (named after the prefecture in Japan where the meetings took place) creates a 10-year strategic plan to meet 20 goals for stemming species loss. It is set to take effect in 2020 but will need to be ratified by nearly 200 signatory nations, then implemented at the national and local levels by government officials, and then funded in order to work. This is yet another highly complex and inefficient process to address a very important problem. A more effective model would be to keep things simple.

from MacroScope:

Will China make the world green?

Workers remove mine slag at an aluminium plant in Zibo, Shandong province December 6, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

Joschka Fischer was never one to mince words when he was Germany's foreign minister in the late '90s and early noughts. So it is not overly surprising that he has painted a picture in a new post of a world with only two powers -- the United States and China -- and an ineffective and divided Europe on the sidelines.

More controversial, however, is his view that China will not only grow into the world's most important market over the coming years, but will determine what the world produces and consumes -- and that that will be green.

Fischer, who was leader of  Germany's Green Party, reckons that due to its sheer size and needed GDP growth, China will have to pursue a green economy. Without that, he writes in his Project Syndicate post, China will quickly reach limits to growth with disastrous ecological and, as a result, political consequences.

Why the coast is key to the survival of New Orleans

USA-RIG/LEAK

The following is a guest post by Mark Davis, a senior research fellow and director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy at Tulane Law School. The opinions expressed are his own.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill the importance of the ecosystems surrounding New Orleans, and their vulnerability to mankind’s manipulations and mistakes, has never been clearer. Equally clear is the fact that for New Orleans to transform itself and create a better future, the metropolitan area must enter into a new, wiser relationship with the land and water surrounding it.

The fate and fortune of New Orleans have always been, and will always be, tied to the coast. In the past, New Orleans has had a troubled relationship with its watery environs. The proximity to the Mississippi River and the Gulf made the city’s founding and its rise to prominence possible. But the risk of flooding from the river, torrential rains, and the Gulf made it a hard bargain with nature from the beginning.

from The Great Debate UK:

Why Pakistan monsoons support evidence of global warming

-Lord Julian Hunt is visiting Professor at Delft University, and former Director-General of the UK Met Office. The opinions expressed are his own.-

The unusually large rainfall from this year’s monsoon has caused the most catastrophic flooding in Pakistan for 80 years, with the U.N. estimating that around one fifth of the country is underwater.  This is thus truly a crisis of the very first order.

Heavy monsoon precipitation has increased in frequency in Pakistan and Western India in recent years.  For instance, in July 2005, Mumbai was deluged by almost 950 mm (37 inches) of rain in just one day, and more than 1,000 people were killed in floods in the state of Maharashtra.  Last year, deadly flash floods hit Northwestern Pakistan, and Karachi was also flooded.

from The Great Debate UK:

Heather Rogers on fixing “Green Gone Wrong”

BRITAIN/

How can human production be transformed and harnessed to save the planet? Can the market economy really help solve the environmental crisis?

Author Heather Rogers argues in a new book that current efforts to green the planet need to be reconsidered.

The growth-based economy can't help but add to the problems the planet faces, Rogers writes in "Green Gone Wrong" published by Verso.

Smart grid skepticism derails Baltimore plan

Maryland Public Service Commission highlighted the political resistance smart-metering advocates must overcome when it shot down proposals for compulsory smart metering submitted by Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BGE).

Smart grids are essential for the Obama administration’s and power industry’s plan to meet rising electricity demand while integrating more renewable generation into the grid.

Creating flexibility on the demand side to match increased intermittency in supply is the only way to maintain reliability without having to build enormous amounts of expensive back-up gas-fired generating capacity and disfigure the landscape by installing thousands of miles of transmission lines.

from The Great Debate UK:

How much damage will the BP oil spill cause?

-Kees Willemse is professor of offshore engineering at Delft University. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Last month’s explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig continues to result in the leakage of an estimated 200,000 gallons (910,000 litres) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day.

According to U.S. President Barack Obama, “we are dealing with a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster”.

from The Great Debate UK:

Impact of the volcano disruption on the airlines

Joris Melkert

- Joris Melkert, MSc BBA, is assistant professor in aerospace engineering at the Delft University of Technology. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Despite the announcement that air space could begin to re-open in Northern Europe, the Icelandic volcano eruption could prove to be a major turning point for the global airline industry with short- to medium-term questions already being asked by some about its future financial viability.

One of the biggest questions, which engineers will be grappling with right now, is whether there is a cost-efficient way to ‘design out’ the current problems that aircraft experience with dust clouds.

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