First, we learned in 1998 that Sacramento was a “heat island” when NASA flew its infrared camera-equipped jets over the region in a research project that documented how black asphalt streets and parking lots and dark-colored roofs soaked up and retained the sun’s heat instead of allowing it to reflect up into the sky. Basically, the study found that the Sacramento region’s design, like those of many urban centers in America, resulted in the area getting hot and staying hotter.
The fact that warmer temperatures sped up the formation of ozone—smog!—and significantly increased energy usage—air conditioning!—was not lost on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists.
Another 1998 study, this one conducted by the U.S. Forest Service’s Western Center for Urban Forest Research and Education at UC Davis, found that Sacramento County’s six million trees basically soak up 1,606 tons of smog-forming pollutants and harmful particles annually.
Researchers agreed: more trees = less smog.
A final study, this one by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, found that a single-story family home converting from a dark-colored roof to a light one could reduce air-conditioning costs by as much as 20 percent. When researchers repainted the roof of the single-story Kaiser Permanente office in Davis, energy consumption went down by 18 percent.
Now, if we combine the findings of these three studies, one thing becomes very clear: we have the power to significantly cool down our “heat island”—and lower air pollution and save electricity—if we’re willing to make a few simple changes in the way we design our communities. Basically, we’re talking about planting more shade trees, designing with more light-colored asphalt and ditto with rooftops.
Thanks to ongoing work by a local “Cool Communities” project, every local government in the Sacramento region has an opportunity to become a partner in the effort to promote these changes by helping to craft an Urban Forest Master Plan for the region.
Mounted by the Sacramento Tree Foundation, the plan would simply aim to improve the livability of the greater Sacramento area by reducing summer temperatures using shade trees and reflective surfaces, which in turn reduce energy use and urban ozone levels. So far the city and county of Sacramento, and a few cities in Yolo County, have joined forces to make the plan a cool reality. We urge all other regional entities to do likewise, and soon.
Perhaps it will cool us down, as the summer temperatures begin to soar, to remember that sometimes the simple solution is the best solution.