8. PAINT ’EM WHITE
Look at the tar roofs covering millions of American buildings. They absorb huge amounts of heat when it’s hot. And they require more air conditioning to cool the rooms. Mayor Bloomberg started a program to hire and train young people to paint New York’s roofs white. A big percentage of the kids have been able to parlay this simple work into higher-skilled training programs or energy-related retrofit jobs. (And, believe it or not, painting the roof white can lower the electricity use by 20 percent on a hot day!)
Every black roof in New York should be white; every roof in Chicago should be white; every roof in Little Rock should be white. Every flat tar-surface roof anywhere! In most of these places you could recover the cost of the paint and the labor in a week. It’s the quickest, cheapest thing you can do. In the current environment it’s been difficult for the mayors to get what is otherwise a piddling amount of money to do it everywhere. Yet lowering the utility bill in every apartment house 10 to 20 percent frees cash that can be spent to increase economic growth.
While New York City has taken limited steps toward creating a pathway into the green sector, a much expanded program could potentially put thousands of young people to work for much of the year. (To date, the laudable Brownfield WORKS! and Green City Force programs have touched just a tiny percentage of young people in need of immediate employment.) The opportunity is tremendous: while 1,600 volunteers have painted over one million square feet of rooftops to date through the NYC Cool Roofs initiative, the Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability estimates that New York City contains more than 1.6 billion square feet of rooftops in total.