A couple of years ago, I wrote about a book of photographs by Matt Logue called Empty LA. He took photos of prominent LA intersections and edited all of the people out, which is significantly harder, and quite a bit more interesting than it sounds. The project turns well-known areas and turns them in to ghost towns. It calls special attention to the intertwined relationship between people and built environments; these environments don’t exist in a vacuum, they are intimately and always tied to the people who inhabit them. That’s what makes a project like Logue’s so interesting, it presents us with the built environment as we might design it: ideal and orderly, but the effect winds up being haunting. Places without people are awesome and peaceful, but they aren’t our places.
But if you didn’t identify particularly with Empty LA, I don’t blame you. Much of the effect is a product of seeing places you know turned upside down, and if you don’t live in LA…well, then they’re not really that interesting. But lucky for you, Thrash Lab has embarked on an epic project to bring that eerie feeling of emptiness to your town, not just in photographs but through time lapse video. In their Empty America series, they made it to the Northwest and produced an awesome little video called Empty Seattle. It features some of the most famous and well traveled areas of the city, only there isn’t a person or car in the video. It’s definitely worth a watch:
Last month, Scientific American published an article that describes the effect that cool roofs can have on regional rainfall patterns. Cool roofs, in this case, mean roofs that are painted white, in order to increase their albedo, or solar reflectivity. Normally this is a good thing, because more reflected light means more reflected head, resulting is less localized warming and a reduction in the urban heat island effect.
But this new research points to a disturbing side effect of a concentration of cool roofs. Essentially, the more solar reflectivity, the less evapotranspiration, the process in which water evaporates from the ground and is absorbed into the air. Without as much water in the air, it doesn’t rain as much, which is bad news for the kind of hot, arid regions that typically utilize cool roofs. In the extreme outcomes of the situations modeled in this research, cool roofs accounted for up to a 4% decrease in rainfall.
Fortunately, that doesn’t mean that they’re a complete write off. What the scientists behind the study have taken from the research is that we need to utilize a more ground-up, localized method of collecting data and generating climate models, in addition to the global climate models being produced by the IPCC. If we can do that, we’ll be able to develop a deeper understanding of the particular nuances of each climate area, and be able to tailor our engineering strategies accordingly. Cool roofs might work well in some places, and not so great in others.
The big takeaway for me in this article, is a reminder that we can’t think about applying simple solutions to complex problems. We live in a complex world, and there are almost always countless interconnected variables that we need to be attuned to. It’s hopeless to think that a global approach to climate change will be comprehensive in each and every part of the globe. We need global regulation and policy, but it needs to be predicated on the idea that different climate and population areas require different strategies in order to effectively combat global warming while maintaining a sustainable regional biosphere.