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White roofs sure do appear lovely in the hills of Greece or Spain. But it’s hard to imagine that same look working in Shaw, Capitol Hill, or (insert most other D.C. neighborhoods here.)

Nonetheless, US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was out yesterday in London extolling the virtues of white pavements, lighter car exteriors, and white roofs. Here’s a bit from his speech:

“Now you smile, but if you look at all the buildings and make all the roofs white, and if you make the pavement a more concrete-type of colour than a black-type of colour, and you do this uniformly… It’s the equivalent of reducing the carbon emissions due to all the cars in the world by 11 years,” he said.

“It’s like you’ve just taken them off the road for 11 years. It’s actually geoengineering.”

Personally, I’m confused: All these years, we’ve been told about green roofs! But I guess if you can’t put a bunch of plants up there, and build a fancy drainage system, the white alternative does wonders too.  And I’d like to see one of these things in real life, so if anyone’s ahead of the ball here, and managed to paint their roof white years—-you know, on purpose, like on a slanted, townhouse roof—- before Chu told us to do, please contact me. I already have got a listserv lead. For now, ponder this (which is again from The Independent, like the clip above):

Professor Chu said that his thinking had been influenced by Art Rosenfeld, a member of the California Energy Commission, who drove through tough new building rules in the state. Since 2005 California has required all flat roofs on commercial buildings to be white; the measure is being expanded to require cool colours on all residential and pitched roofs.

Dr Rosenfeld is also a physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, of which Professor Chu was director. Last year Dr Rosenfeld and two colleagues from the laboratory, Hashem Akbari and Surabi Menon, calculated that changing surface colours in 100 of the world’s largest cities could save the equivalent of 44 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide — about as much as global carbon emissions are expected to rise by over the next decade.

Image by marcelgermain, Flickr Creative Commons