Sustainability

White Roads: Is Sustainability That Simple?

7 months ago

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White Roads: Is Sustainability That Simple?

White roads.

When it comes to sustainability, it seems that The Rolling Stones got it wrong. No, we shouldn’t ‘paint it black‘, but actually ‘paint it white’.

Of course, I’m referring to the quirky idea of ‘painting’ roads with a special white sealant.

White Roads

This idea gained a fair amount of interest towards the end of 2017, as LA started painting their roads with ‘CoolSeal‘, a clever compound that aims to reduce inner city temperatures.

In what seems like an idea straight from the mind of a 10 year old, there’s actually some sense to it. I guess sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.

After all, we know that black things absorb heat. I’m reminded of that every summer when getting into my jet black car. It’s horrible.

The problem is, with asphalt, it’s even worse. On a hot day, its not uncommon for roads to reach up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This contributes to the ‘urban heat-island’ effect, where cities are significantly warmer than their surrounding areas.

Surely then, if we want to combat the effects of global warming, we need to cool down our cities.

So let’s paint them white.

White Roads In LA | Jason Wicks

Does it work?

The short answer is yes. Roads ‘painted’ with the special white coating reflect the suns heat instead of absorbing it. That can make them around 10 degrees cooler in summer. Scale that up to a whole city, and it could be worth talking about.

Remember, the effects of white roads are not just environmental. Cooler cities could reduce cases of heat related deaths and also lower household electricity spending.

Surely then, it’s a no brainer?

The Catch

Not necessarily.

The thing is, this special coating costs around $40,000 to cover a mile. I have no idea how main miles of road there is in LA, but it’ll surely cost a fortune. Yes, you could argue that this would be offset in the long run, but you can’t ignore the sizeable upfront costs.

Secondly, the problem with reflecting the suns heat is that you also end up reflecting its light. With white roads, surely they’ll be instances where drivers are completely blinded? Especially when the sun is low in the sky. It’ll be like driving in the snow.

Finally, this raises a key question regarding sustainability. Sure, white roads may help us deal with the effects of global warming, but will they help us actually tackle it? It’s an old cliche, but prevention is certainly better than cure in this instance.

Considering the financial investment needed, would that not be better spent on things like renewable energy?

It’s an interesting thought.

Getting The Right Balance

The thing is, it’s a bit too simple to say that prevention is better than cure. I mean, yes, it is, but it’s more complex than that. If we spend all of our money on preventing tomorrows problems, we won’t have any left to cure yesterday’s. So whilst white roads might not be the perfect long term solution, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a place. In fact, maybe they’re exactly what we need to buy us some time until we’ve found a more sustainable way to solve the problem.

For me, this is how we need to look at sustainability.

Of course, we need to know what the long term solution might look like. We need to actively be working towards creating it. However, we can’t just stop there. If our ideal solution takes 25 years to come up with, we also need to neutralise the damage in the meantime.

White Roads Video

If you want to see this in action, take a look at the following video:

Summary:

  • Global warming is raising temperatures, which is particularly problematic in big cities.
  • Painting roads with a special white coating can significantly reduce temperatures.
  • However, it costs a lot of money which could be better spent on preventing the problem.
  • Finding the balance between prevention and cure is key to a sustainable future.

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Hi! I’m an author and blogger within the fields of social impact and responsible business. I believe that businesses can be a force for good in the world, and this website contains my thoughts on how that can work.

3 Comments
  1. Bruce R. Jackson

    What do these "White Roads" look like now, after they have been driven on with BLACK tires??

    • Jason Wicks

      It's a good point! I would imagine that the sealant is relatively resistive to tyre marks. Naturally, the roads will need some maintenance, but I suppose time will tell.

  2. […] like my article on White Roads, this concept has split opinion. As always, the most notable concern comes down to cost. As people […]

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