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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: I Had This Idea Too! It Can't Be Good.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I Had This Idea Too! It Can't Be Good.

From Paul Wagenseil of Fox News, ("Energy Secretary's White-Paint Proposal Puzzles Climate-Change Experts," May 28, 2009), we learn that,
Energy Secretary Steven Chu stunned the audience at a London scientific conference Tuesday with a radical but simple proposal to combat global warming: Paint all the roofs of all the buildings in the world white.If we did so, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist said, and if we also made sure the world's roads and sidewalks were light-colored, it would have the same effect on global warming as taking all the cars in the world off the world's roads for 11 years.

The idea is to harness the "albedo effect" -- the theory that a reflective planet warms up less as heat from the sun is bounced back into space.

Palace Nobel Laureate Symposium, said the calculations are based on work done at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he used to work and where three researchers concluded last year that changing surface colors in the world's 100 largest cities would offset 44 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

But at least one science expert thinks Chu is nuts.

"It's past simplistic -- it's ridiculous," says Steven Milloy, publisher of and an avowed climate-change skeptic. "Imagine the glare on roads, in urban areas, imagine the UV radiation bouncing around. Snow blindness would be replaced by road blindness."

But Dr. Gordon Bonan, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., says there's a kernel of truth in the science behind Chu's idea.

"That's been a pretty standard idea many for many years now," says Bonan. "It's related to the idea of an urban heat island -- that a big city will generate a large amount of heat. In urban planning and urban design, the idea is that painting roofs white will absorb less solar radiation and keep the city cooler."

"In terms of roads, that does work," he continued. "You can test it yourself by walking barefoot on a hot summer day. The asphalt is going to be much hotter than the concrete and the white lines painted on top of the asphalt."...


  1. I like the idea presented in this article, but there is one problem not mentioned. All these surfaces must remain clean to work. Dirt and rubber from tires would compromise the effect of this idea and just dirt and debris on the roofs of houses would do the same.

  2. Wouldn't it be nice if global warming could be fixed so easily? Of course everthing has a catch. The light roads would definately cause trouble because I notice I have a hard time seeing the lines on some of the lighter roads here in Waco. Its really simple things that can help stop global warming. I think if everyone would do just a little to contribute to slowing it down our world would be in much better shape.

  3. Cameron Curry2/6/09 4:26 PM

    It all sounds like a good idea, but where would everyone get the money to pay for all the paint. Honestly do you really think GM can afford to pay for the paint to cover their whole rooftop, they would need another bailout. Another thing, what would be the opportunity cost of such a big project?