To guard against climate change, Los Angeles is painting its streets white

 



Labor Day weekend delivered record-breaking temperatures to California as a heat wave swept the state, fanning the flames of the largest wildfire Los Angeles has seen in decades. The unusually warm weather bears the mark of climate change, which is fueling record heat around the globe.

While politicians elsewhere waffle on climate change, officials in Los Angeles are tackling the problem head on with a radical plan to lower the temperature of the city. Mayor Eric Garcetti intends to cut the average temperature in LA by 3 degrees F over the next two decades. As part of that effort, LA streets are getting a new coat of paint.

Cities are prone to overheating, thanks to something called the urban heat island effect. Cities tend to be short on trees, which provide shade, and they are covered with black pavement, which absorbs heat from the sun. Think of how it feels to wear a dark shirt versus a white shirt on a sunny day. A black shirt absorbs light, heating you up. But a white shirt reflects light, keeping you cool.

The average temperature in a city of a million or more people can be more than 5 degrees F hotter than surrounding areas. That extra 5 degrees can turn a hot day from uncomfortable to deadly. As temperatures rise, cities will be an especially dangerous place to be during a heat wave, as sweltering weather threatens heat exhaustion, among other maladies. To protect public health, city officials are going to make the city cooler.

As part of that effort, Los Angeles is coating its roads in CoolSeal, a gray paint that keeps streets and parking lots 10 degrees cooler than black asphalt. Engineers developed the material for military air bases to keep spy planes cool while they rest on the tarmac. This can help them avoid being detected by satellite-mounted infrared cameras, which measure heat.

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Climate change impact in Tangier, Virginia
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Climate change impact in Tangier, Virginia
A waterman sets out to set crab traps as the sun rises in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A grave stone rests on the beach where a cemetery once stood but has been washed away due to erosion in an area called Canaan in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge sets out to check his crab traps during the early morning in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge feeds his cats as he checks on his soft shell crabs at his shanty during the early morning in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Waterman Tabby Crockett (L) sells his peeler crabs to Mayor and waterman James Eskridge in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge's tattoo of the Jesus fish adorns his arm as he points out areas that have been completely eroded away in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
An abandoned outboard boat motor sits against the man-made sea wall that was engineered by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1999 to prevent erosion in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The sun rises while a waterman passes crab shanties as he sets out for the day in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge checks on his soft shell crabs at his shanty during the early morning in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A cross stands at the mouth of the harbor reading 'Jesus is Life' in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Erosion eats away at the tip of the Uppards in an area called Canaan in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A grave stone rests on the beach where a cemetery once stood but has been washed away due to erosion in an area called Canaan in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Four-year-old Parker Shores walks down the middle of the street with his action figure toys in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Teenage boys play baseball on a dirt lot in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge checks on his soft shell crabs at his shanty during the early morning in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Danny Parks mans the fuel docks in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A waterman returns to the harbor with crab traps in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
An area in the Uppards called Canaan where erosion has taken away what was once a settlement area with homes in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Army Corps of Engineers scientist Dave Schulte sits on the side of a boat as he rides out to check on current erosion to the Uppards in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge (L) speaks with waterman Rudy Parks (R) from the crab shanties in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Mayor and waterman James Eskridge stands on the peir speaking with his son William Eskridge in the early morning before setting out for a day of crabbing in Tangier, Virginia, May 16, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Supports jet out of the water where crab shanties used to stand on a patch of land now surrounded by water in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A boat line and the shell of a crab sit on the pier in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
William Eskridge pulls just caught crabs from a bucket in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Crab trap buoys hang from a fence in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A crane flies away with a crab in its mouth in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The water of the Chesapeake Bay crashes against the man-made sea wall that was engineered by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1999 to prevent erosion in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Waterman Bruce Gordy (R) talks with fellow waterman Allen Crockett (L), Frank Pruitt (2L), Robert Crockett (3L), Mayor James Eskridge (C) and Richard Pruitt (2R) during a meeting called 'The Situation Room' to discuss ongoing local concerns in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Benjamin Eskridge (L) carries a crab trap as he helps his grandfather Allen Crocket (R) prepare for the next day of crabbing in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
An abandoned crab trap rest on the beach surf in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The sun sets on a cross reading 'Christ is Life' on a waterway in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A submerged boats rests under a bridge in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
William Eskridge pulls just caught crabs from a bucket and his grandchildren look over his shoulder in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Waterman Richard Pruitt looks on a during a meeting called 'The Situation Room' held with other senior local waterman in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Swamp grass and standing water take over the front yard of a home in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The sun sets over houses on the West Ridge neighborhood in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The sun sets in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The sun sets on a guard rail where love letters have been scribed on a bridge in Tangier, Virginia, May 15, 2017, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. If nothing is done to stop the erosion, it may disappear completely in the next 40 years. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
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CoolSeal will help Angelinos save money during the summer, when air conditioning sends power bills soaring. And it will save lives by lowering temperatures and improving air quality. Hot weather worsens air pollution by turning car exhaust into smog, which can make life miserable for people with asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Of course, LA will have to do more than paint over a few streets to cool off the city. Angelinos will also need to plant more trees and apply white paint to rooftops — at least those not already covered in solar panels. While LA is a pioneer of reflective streets, other cities, like New York, are already experimenting with reflective roofs or, like Melbourne, lowering the temperature by planting trees. LA is hardly alone in its effort to stay cool.

“This is an urgent challenge, and it’s much bigger than one person,” said Mayor Garcetti in a recent statement. “Climate change is a fact of life that people in Los Angeles and cities around the world live with every day.”

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