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It Only Takes One

April 16, 2012 - I don't know about you, but I've had my doubts about Steven Chu at various points along the way.  He has sometimes come across as a "go along to get along" kind of guy.  (Then again, it may be naive of me to believe that science and politics shouldn't have a bearing on one another.)  Be that as it may, sometimes all it takes is one good idea to make a world of difference.  Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy, is enjoying a bit of recognition these days for an idea he proposed two years ago while speaking to the Royal Society of London.  A team of scientists, led by Dr. Hashem Akberi of Concordia University in Canada, has since delved into Chu's proposal.  Their conclusion?  It's the real deal.

Beautiful in its simplicity, Chu's suggestion sounds eminently doable.  By painting roofs white, and by paving roads with light-colored materials, Chu says gargantuan amounts of energy can be saved.  As much energy, in fact, as would be saved by taking all the cars in the world off the roads for the next 50 years!  Roads are periodically resurfaced anyway; maybe the answer is to cover them with cement, rather than asphalt.  As for the roofs on our homes and business buildings, perhaps white shingles can be developed, to be used when reroofing is in order.  There is one more part of the equation which I confess mystifies me: if greenhouse gases are raising the earth's temperature by trapping heat that ought to be reflected back into space, how would heightened reflectivity, also called "albedo," help?  Wouldn't the heat still be trapped by greenhouse gases?  Do the brighter materials give heat a concentrated "bounce" back out into space, thereby circumventing the greenhouse gases?

According to Akberi and his colleagues, this is a workable solution.  While white roofs and pale surfacing materials cannot make the air we breathe cleaner, slowing the rate at which the earth is warming could be highly significant.  Do we really need to take a vote as to whether or not we'd like the oceans to rise 20 feet by the end of the century?  Who is it that needs convincing that more frequent droughts are a bad thing?  As tornadoes and windstorms kick up in increasing numbers in response to ever-tightening temperature gradients, is there anyone who thinks this is a terrific development?  Secretary Chu has been awarded the validation necessary in order to sell his idea to the public.  Now he and the Head Salesman need to get busy.

This simple, workable approach deserves to be talked about.  Chu needs to hit the (resurfaced) road with his revolutionary concept, as do many other employees of the Department of Energy.  Types of materials and methods of application can be debated on university campuses, and at trade fairs.  President Obama should issue an executive order regarding immediate implementation. Companies capable of making the necessary materials need to be identified and encouraged.  Once these initiatives are underway, government should place orders for roofing materials, and cities ought to pass ordinances requiring the usage of highly reflective materials when roads are resurfaced.  Global warming must finally be  addressed with the war-time urgency it requires.  There will never be a better time to begin mitigating the effects of our overblown way of life than right now.

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