walmart cool roof.jpgA cool roof over a Walmart | Creative Commons

Fighting to Keep L.A.'s Cool: Climate Change and the Plan for a Healthy City

This is part of series exploring issues surrounding the Plan for a Healthy Los Angeles, produced in partnership with the California Endowment.


Los Angeles is one cool town. Palm trees, surfers, and movie stars -- Los Angeles defines cool. But, we could always get a little cooler.

As a cultural, economic and environmental trailblazer, all eyes are always on Los Angeles. Now is the time for us to be a leader in the face of a rising public health challenge: climate change.

Increased temperatures in Los Angeles are a real threat to the health of Angelenos and our communities. As temperatures increase, we can expect to see adverse effects on human health, including increases in heat stress, respiratory diseases, and infectious diseases. As temperatures increase, the region and its most vulnerable residents -- the poor, the young, the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses -- will feel the impact. It's important that we take steps now to make sure Angelenos can adapt to changing temperatures and be safe from the health effects of climate change.

It's all about keeping our cool.

Climate Resolve is Southern California's climate change organization, working to make our region more livable and prosperous by inspiring residents and our elected leaders to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and prepare for climate impacts.

We have been working hard to ensure that residents understand what the climate future holds for Los Angeles. The science is stark: by mid-century, climate change will make the L.A. region hotter by an average of 5 degrees; in downtown, the number of days exceeding temperatures of 95 degrees is expected to triple. These extreme heat days will quadruple in parts of the San Fernando Valley and increase five-fold in desert areas around the region.

In January of this year, the City of Los Angeles became the first major city to require all new and refurbished homes to have a "cool roof." The move marks the City's leadership in ensuring that our residents will have the infrastructure needed to prepare for a changing climate.

The Plan for a Healthy Los Angeles marks the first time public health is a component of the City's general plan. The Plan lays a strong foundation to create healthier communities for all Angelenos throughout the city. And the good news is that the Plan, thanks to Climate Resolve and others, recommends the expansion of cool roofs and cool pavement across the city.

A cool roof uses material that naturally reflects sunlight, as opposed to absorbing the sun's radiant energy. Roofs with reflective material and lighter colors can be 50 degrees cooler on a hot summer day and can decrease temperatures inside a building. It reduces energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions caused by air conditioning. They are also an affordable and powerful tool to protect Angelenos from heat-related illnesses and deaths.

About 20 percent of the city's landmass is made up of roofs. City streets make up 40 percent of the city's surface, and current asphalt materials amplify the effects of high temperatures, creating the so-called urban heat island effect, where the ambient temperature in the city is higher than that of the surrounding rural areas. "Cool streets" operate under the same concept as cool roofs: by using better materials, we can reduce the effects of high heat days and help cool the city.

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are working to perfect the ingredients for cool streets. Los Angeles will soon have the chance to deploy cool streets, giving us an opportunity to lead the charge in testing and implementing the innovative technology and infrastructure of the future.

Los Angeles has the opportunity to take the lead and re-invent what "cool" means for cities across the globe. Viewed as the model for many cities in the developing world, Los Angeles' success with innovative infrastructure can help cities learn how to tackle the challenges of a warming planet.

Rather than merely export hip movies, fashion, and culture, Los Angeles can export smart ideas like cool roofs and streets. So, let's make sure we're keeping our cool.

L.A. will soon deploy "cool streets" to reduce the effects of high heat days | Creative Commons

About the Author

Heather Kachel is Communications Director Climate Resolve, an LA-based non-profit dedicated to creating real, practical solutions to meet the climate challenge while creating a better city for Angelenos today and in the future.
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