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Green Roofs to Cool Cities

An oft-forgot aspect of rising temperatures is the additional increase in temperature in urban areas, known as the urban heat island effect.

Essentially, concrete and pavement absorb heat and make the city hotter than the surrounding areas. Additionally, buildings absorb heat during the day, and release it at night. Of course, this heat absorption happens everywhere—it is simple science. However, the sheer amount of concrete and pavement covering the land and quantity of buildings in cities are what drive the temperatures up, inducing the heat island effect.

Climate change is not the culprit for the increase in city temperature, though. Research has shown urban sites are warming at about the same rate as rural sites, says Thomas Peterson, chief climatologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Climate change isn’t off the hook though—it does exacerbate the effect at night; a city will retain even more nighttime heat than other areas.

Chicago is leading the way in combatting the heat island effect, and as a city which has been the victim of deadly heat waves, the city’s officials and citizens have motivation to undertake such an effort. By adding green space and vegetation where possible, which has a natural cooling effect, ingenuity has met practicality and roofs are becoming prime locations for green space.

Chicago’s City Hall, for example, has a rooftop garden, along with 359 other green roofs, covering almost 5.5 million square feet. The plants and vegetation on the rooftop soak up the sun’s heat to evaporate water, keepings both the buildings underneath and the air above it cooler. Jason Westrope, a developer for Development Management Associates, who has overseen the building of green roofs in the city, says if every rooftop was covered with a green roof, the city could save $100 million in energy every year.

Innovation like this could be a very legitimate way to combat rising temperatures and save money, but without state or federal policies to install green roofs, or make it easier for individuals or businesses to install them, it will fall to city officials who have very limited funds.

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