Monday, September 22, 2008

Simple answers to global warming

One of the biggest problems in dealing with any complex question is that many simple, common sense measures are dismissed because they are not a complex, comprehensive solution- a corollary of the axiom "the perfect is the enemy of the good enough". There are always people who, when your house is on fire, want to debate the root causes of house fires, and create blue ribbon panels to draft legislation about home building codes and materials- putting the fire out would be "too simplistic".

I have written here before about one such simple partial solution: giving tax breaks to encourage people to replace their black or dark colored roofs with white or light colored roofs. I have been talking about this program (and many other similar ones) since the days of the first gas crisis thirty years ago, when the issue was just saving energy. I've even put it on the internet before- when I was a guest on a radio show to discuss school vouchers , the host suggested before the show that I ought to put it on a website, and he would give out the address on the show; to flesh out the site, I included many of my other proposals, including some on passive solar energy .

Back then, when people wrote my proposals off as "too simplistic to have any real effect", I didn't have the resources to put numbers to it. But now some researchers have, and the numbers are even bigger than I had guessed. According to these stories from Science Magazine and The LA Times , replacing black roofs with white ones and replacing black asphalt roads with white concrete would offset 44 metric gigatons of greenhouse gases!

One of the best things about this proposal is that it can be done immediately, and we don't have to wait until it's finished to reap some benefits- even the smallest beginning will yield big results right away. "According to Hashem Akbari, a physicist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a 1,000-square-foot roof -- the average size on an American home -- offsets 10 metric tons of planet-heating carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere if dark-colored shingles or coatings are replaced with white material."

Is this a solution in itself? No. But this, (any many other similar, easy programs) can have a huge effect, can be done immediately, and require no new scientific breakthroughs, no new research programs- it's all off the shelf stuff, using materials already in mass production. But will any of our politicians adopt them? No, they're too simplistic. They don't buy votes in wavering congressional districts. They don't result in new government plum jobs to hand out to supporters. They won't get your name put on a new government office building in your home district. Better to just keep debating Kyoto.


Robin Edgar said...

"replacing black roofs with white ones and replacing black asphalt roads with white concrete would offset 44 metric gigatons of greenhouse gases!"

Wow that's impressive! I wonder how many gigatons of greenhouse gases would be offset if people fitted their houses with gigantic tinfoil hats? ;-)

Joel Monka said...

About the same; silver isn't much better than white for reflecting heat. Gold or bronze foil, however, would be much more effective; that shade is a near perfect reflecter of infra-red.