State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

MPA Students Leave Their Mark on New York City Rooftops

ESP students participated in a NYC Cool Roofs volunteer day.

On Sept. 29, members of the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy Program partnered with NYC Cool Roofs to paint a roof white in the South Bronx. NYC °CoolRoofs is a collaboration between NYC Service and the NYC Department of Buildings to promote and facilitate the cooling of New York City’s rooftops. By applying a reflective surface to a roof, the project aims to reduce cooling costs, cut energy usage and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

“It was a great opportunity to apply concepts we learned in class to the real world,” said Katie Edmond, a member of the ESP Class of 2014. “Instead of just discussing albedo, which is the reflecting power of a surface, in climatology class, we’re actively increasing New York City’s albedo. This reduces the urban heat island effect, and helps our community.”

As the students learned, at the peak of the day, a white roof is approximately 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than conventional roofs, as much of the ultraviolet radiation is reflected back into the atmosphere.

ESP students Margaux Nguyen and Katie Edmond apply white paint to a rooftop in the South Bronx.

“As policy students looking to measure environmental impact through inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes, I wanted to organize a hands-on experience for my classmates with an organization that does just that.” said Christophe Jospe, a member of the ESP Class of 2014, who coordinated the event.

Since 2009, NYC Cool Roofs has leveraged volunteers to paint over 4 million square feet of roof white in the five boroughs. A “cool roof” can reduce internal air temperature by as much as 30 percent, and can reduce air conditioning costs by 10 to 30 percent. As they applied coats of white paint onto the roof, the students learned about the organization’s current endeavor of putting a dollar value on the annual savings as a result of energy that is not consumed.

Approaches that can identify cost-saving measures while reducing energy use will assist in New York reaching its PlaNYC goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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