White is the "new black" in the fight against Climate Change

I wish I had a better picture, but this is "The Skunk," a mostly black Toyota Camry with a white stripe of paint covering the hood, roof and trunk space. It looks like a police car but it's cool - literally. It's a real life example of everyday folks (in this case, my girlfriend's family) taking advantage of the albedo effect to keep things cool, and it's a small example of the much larger albedo change we need to start integrating into everyday design if we're going to fight climate change.

Josh Romm, at Climate Progress, names "1 wedge of albedo change through white roofs and pavement," as one of his 12-14  "wedges" the entire planet must achieve if we are to keep carbon dioxide levels at 450ppm (an important number because it allows us to avoid runaway, catastrophic climate change).

Think of the wedges as chunks of a pie chart that add up to a stable, climate friendly energy supply (that's what climate change is all about - how we get our energy). Other wedges include fuel efficiency (e.g. "...all cars 60 mpg, with no increase in miles traveled per vehicle.") and forestry,  "End all tropical deforestation. Plant new trees over an area the size of the continental U.S." See all of Romm's wedges and his larger climate solution here.

Whitewashing - Tom Sawyer Style

Greenwashing is a popular topic in conversations about sustainability, but it's small potatoes compared to the importance of whitewashing. Move over Tom Sawyer - here's how Romm breaks down the value of a good whitewash:

"Over 50% of the world population now lives in urban areas, and by 2040 that fraction is expected to reach 70%. Pavements and roofs comprise over 60% of urban surfaces (roofs 20 to 25%, pavements about 40%). Akbari et al. estimate that permanently retrofitting urban roofs and pavements in the tropical and temperate regions of the world with solar-reflective materials (e.g. white and light coloured surfaces, my addition) would offset 44 billion tonnes of emitted CO2, worth $1.1 trillion at $25/tonne."

Put another way:

"Permanently increasing the solar reflectance of urban roofs and pavements worldwide would offset 11 billion car-years of emission. This is equivalent to taking the world’s approximately 600 million cars off the road for 18 years."

As a climate solution, Romm notes that his albedo change is technically geoengineering, although he prefers geo-reverse-engineering, "...since we are mostly undoing the albedo decrease caused by all the dark roofs and dark pavement we have covered the planet with."

White is the "new black" in the fight against climate change. It's what's cool.