LA Mayor's Brilliant Idea: Fight Global Warming by Painting Streets White

P. Gardner Goldsmith | April 16, 2018
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Los Angeles. The wellspring of entertainment. The place where the majority of the world’s visual fantasy is created – well, unless one counts the network news. But regardless, LA is where the action is for folks who want to create tales out of whole cloth, and so one can rest assured that wild ideas will crop up from that checkerboard of roads. But what if there aren’t enough outlandish ideas coming from the studios?

Leave it to the politicians, baby. And this time, look no further than the roads themselves.

Yep. As James Murphy writes for The New American, the brilliant central-planners, led by LA Mayor and aspiring national politician Eric “The Red” Garcetti, are into a new fad: they want to paint the streets white.

This isn’t some kind of racial KKK thing. It’s about being cool, or so they think. See, the politicians running the show in LA believe that by decreasing the albedo, or reflectivity, of the streets, they can do two things, one that might be practical and real, and one that might be pie-in-the-sky fantasy, based on a faulty premise.

The first, immediately practical, hope is that by painting the streets white, the city government will decrease the amount of heat captured by the dark pavement and released back into the air, especially at night. By increasing the albedo of the streets, they hope to lower the temperature of the heat-cup city by three degrees Fahrenheit.

The second, fantastic goal, is to decrease “global warming”, which, of course, has been retitled to “climate change” because of the nearly twenty years of satellite data showing no statistically significant increase in global temps. Politicians believe that not only will their attempt to lower temps in LA bring about lower overall average temperatures on Earth, but will decrease demand for air conditioning, which will decrease demand for power, which, in turn, will decrease, they believe, the burning of fossil fuels, specifically, coal.

So in May of 2017, they decided to start painting streets white, with the goal of whitewashing vast numbers of streets in 15 city districts.

Kevin James, the President of the LA Board of Public Works said at the time:

I’m thrilled to be here. This is a great day for all of us.

Of course it is. This scheme keeps his gang busy and employed painting streets.

And city Councilman Bob Blumenfeld said at the time:

It’s awesome. It’s very cool — both literally and figuratively.

Unless you pay taxes and look at the details.

See, at a cost of $40,000 per mile of road, the city’s 6,500 miles of pavement could ring up a hefty price tag of $260,000,000, and that doesn’t include the 800 miles of alleyways in Tinseltown. All in a city which was recently listed as having the second-worst roads in the US.

If the Mayor and his pals can’t handle upkeep of the roads, and the streets are in dire need of repair, why are they spending taxpayer cash (the total budget of the “whiteface” street project is not known) on painting roads that are in dire need of repair and will have to be repainted, not just in seven years, when the paint wears out, but earlier, when (if the city politicians get their act together) the streets are repaired?

And there are more fundamental questions here.

Let’s get a hint of those questions by reading what Alan Barrecea, a professor of environmental sciences at University of California, Los Angeles, and supporter of this grand idea to keep people "cool", is noted as saying:

Not everyone has the resources to use air conditioning, so there’s concern that some low-income families will suffer… That bothers me on a moral dimension.

But science is pretty clear about the problems connected to this “paint the town white” concept.

First, increasing the reflectivity of the streets could mean increasing the amount of energy reflected onto buildings, which would heat the buildings, and increase the need for those buildings to, yeah, you got it, use energy to stay cool.

Second, as noted at

Scientists in Berkeley Lab's Heat Island Group, in collaboration with the UC Pavement Research Center (UCPRC), the University of Southern California (USC), and thinkstep Inc., conducted life cycle assessments of conventional and cool pavements. Looking at the technologies over a span of 50 years, including manufacture, installation, use, and disposal/recycling, they found that the extra energy and emissions embodied in cool pavement materials usually exceed the expected energy and emissions savings from reduced space conditioning (cooling and heating) in buildings.

One of the co-authors observed:

I was surprised to find that over 50 years, maintaining a reflective coating would require over six times as much energy as a slurry seal. The slurry seal is only rock and asphalt, which requires little energy to produce, while the reflective coating contains energy-intensive polymer.

So LA is ready to spend up to a quarter of a billion dollars painting the roads that are already in disrepair, using paint that could reflect heat into buildings that would then require more energy to stay cool, and would have to re-paint the roads every seven years, and Professor Barrecea says he is concerned about the fact that not everyone has the resources to stay cool?

In economics, we see how people get the ability to stay cool. The unfettered free market allows consumers to test inventions at high price points when they start, shows profits to others who enter the field to compete and lower the price, and continues to incentivize higher efficiency at lower price, resulting in all kinds of formerly expensive things to become available to more and more people down the income ladder. 

Instead, the central planners are taking people’s money and resources to invest in their heavy-handed, utopian ideas.

Here’s an idea. Leave people alone to keep their earnings and spend them on the resources, products, and services they want the most.

Including roads.