Archive for ‘Environmental Bites’

September 15th, 2008

White Paint: It’s Not Just For Apartments Anymore

by Venomous Kate

Looking to lower your cooling costs and help save the planet? The answer may lie in a few buckets of white paint.

According to a Lawrence Berkeley Labs study, painting roofs white may not only help cool the planet but may also reverse “global warming”. It works for t-shirts, after all. And there’s no doubt a reason why Mediterranean homes are primarily painted in light colors. Painting your roof white could work the same way, too.

Hashem Akbari, a physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley lab, just released a study showing that the average American 1,000-square-foot white roof could offset 10 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

According to his data, roofs constitute 20 to 25 percent of urban surfaces, while pavement is about 40 percent. Therefore, if all of those surfaces were switched to a reflective material (or color) in the 100 largest urban areas in America, his calculations show, this would offset 44 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide. That’s more than all countries emit in a single year. Further, that’s worth about $1.1 trillion at current carbon trading rates.

Of course, first we’d need a study to find out whether painted roofs leak toxic emissions into the air when subjected to high summer temperatures, particularly once the paint begins to decay.

July 31st, 2008

Seattle’s “Car-Free” Sundays

by Venomous Kate

Seattle seems determined to convince everyone that it’s nickname “The Emerald City” really means it’s greener than thou. They’ve already switched to hybrid-powered public transportation and free curbside compost recycling, and now the city plans to implement car-free Sundays starting next month.

One problem: the news came as a bit of a surprise to businesses and residents of those “select” areas who had no idea their roads would be closed to cars from noon to 6 p.m. Restaurant owners were quick to point out that summer Sundays tend to be high-earning days, but the timing of the road closings might cost them business. Residents are of mixed opinion, with many wondering how they’d travel in the event of an emergency.

That’s not going to be a problem, according to the city’s mayor. Residents in the closed areas will be allowed to travel to/from their homes, and emergency travel will still be permitted. In the meantime he’s reminding everyone to “It’s just for one day, just chill. Get out of the car and walk.”

Initially, I read the news and felt my blood pressure jumping. How dare the government close down roads??? But then it dawned on me, well, why not? They’re the ones that put them there in the first place. Yes, residents pay taxes that get used to fund those roads but if you read the story you’ll realize the residents aren’t being deprived of the use of those roads. Those living in the neighborhood can continue to go about their regular day, while those who don’t live nearby will have to park and walk.

Big deal.

Personally, I’m an advocate of rethinking this sprawl-based culture we have. The culture that leads us to live far from where we work. The culture that places grocery stores, pharmacies and coffee shops miles away from residential clusters. The culture that moved schools out of neighborhoods, enlarging and weakening them in the process, and forced many parents to drive their kids to school. The culture that killed the corner bar.

I’ve long believed that sprawl is one of the primary reasons America is so overweight, and not just adults: sprawl is one of the reasons our kids are fat, too.

Yes, my first reaction to learning about Seattle’s green-y, tree-hugging idea to close certain city streets for a day was the typical knee-jerk reaction of any person who dislikes government interference. But then it dawned on me that for many of us, the only real exercise we get in our car-oriented lives comes from engaging in knee-jerk reactions to eco-friendly initiatives.

So what’s wrong with a city closing down a neighborhood for a day if it doesn’t deprive the area’s residents of their autonomy? Is that really a bad thing, or is it a sign that cities are beginning to realize, because their planning initiatives contributed to the problem of sprawl in the first place, it’s also their responsibility to do something to ameliorate its effects?