Can We Stay Cool in An Increasingly Hot San Antonio?

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David Allen White stands in front of his home that received a white roof makeover.

Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

David Allen White stands in front of his home that received a white roof makeover utilizing the 'Under 1 Roof' program.

So far this year, the world has been about 1.5 degrees warmer than the 20th-century average.

In San Antonio, it’s not just summer temperatures that are rising. Winter temperatures and the number of hot days and warm nights are also increasing, according to a statistical overview in the City of San Antonio’s Sustainability Plan, prepared by climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe.

While actions today can reduce tomorrow’s temperatures, projections show that even if greenhouse gas emissions were completely eliminated today, global temperatures would continue to increase for more than 1,000 years.

San Antonio will kick off its first Climate Action and Adaptation Plan on Dec. 7 – not a moment too soon.

If no effort is made to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that the number of deaths in San Antonio related to extremely hot summer days will increase from the current average of two per summer to 50 per summer by the middle of the century.

A groundbreaking study recently published in Science examined the county-level economic impacts of climate change in the United States. The increases in electricity expenditures for cooling, heat-related deaths, and other impacts are expected to result in an annual income reduction of almost 10 percent in Bexar County by the end of the 21st century. Income decreases are expected to be more severe in Atascosa, Medina, and Wilson counties. One of the study’s authors noted that “Texas is the perfect storm” for climate change impacts.

Some northern parts of the U.S., on the other hand, may benefit from climate change. This prompted the headline on the Popular Science magazine website “If you live in the South, climate change could kill your economy.”

Cities are hotter than the surrounding countryside due, in part, to the relative lack of trees and green space. Increasing heat and drought, urban sprawl, and challenges to tree ordinances all work against more trees and green space. In the five years ending in 2006, San Antonio lost 3.4 percent of its tree canopy.

Some cities have increased the amount of green space by installing vegetative roofs –  Toronto, for example, now requires new commercial buildings to have green roofs.

White roof coatings can reduce internal building temperatures by up to 30 percent. The City’s Under 1 Roof program is on the right track, but it needs to be scaled up to make a difference in the city’s environment. New York City’s Cool Roof program estimates that every 2,500 square feet of roof coated with the reflective paint can reduce the city’s carbon footprint by one ton of carbon dioxide.

In the Los Angeles area, a lighter-colored coating on streets has reduced road temperatures by 10-40 degrees, and local residents noticed.

A downtown surface parking lot in Dallas is being converted to the Pacific Plaza Park (with an underground garage) that will help cool the area, absorb rainwater, and increase adjacent property values by an estimated 15 percent.

The “Depave” movement, which started in Portland, Oregon and aims to convert excess pavement into green spaces, now has projects in both U.S. and Canadian cities.

Beyond hot surfaces, vehicles and air conditioners generate measurable levels of heat in cities. One study found that traffic produced between 47 and 62 percent of the heat generated by city residents during the summer in the U.S. cities studied.

In order to keep this from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, it is paramount that San Antonio join the efforts of cities and organizations to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

City Council’s recent action to support the Paris Climate Accord is the right first step. Following through with a Climate Action Plan is the next.

4 thoughts on “Can We Stay Cool in An Increasingly Hot San Antonio?

  1. In many SA neighborhoods, I’ve noticed that residential trees are often heavily (and sometimes grotesquely) “pruned” before the semiannual brush pickups.
    Last summer, I hired a recommended tree service to remove some low branches from my front yard red oak. I asked about thinning other branches and the specialist said that is highly discouraged, despite the trend in our city. With all modesty, many have said that the red oak in my front yard (which has been spared pruning) is the handsomest tree in the neighborhood. I must agree.
    Next to the red oak is a mature loquat tree –ubiquitous in SA. It was there before I lived here and I never was that crazy about it. But after reading the article, it will stay purely for the benefit its canopy provides.
    I wonder if allowing trees — especially native trees — to retain their natural canopy would contribute positively to the temperature problems mentioned in the article?
    On my block, there are several large trees that have been repeatedly “pruned” so they are now skeleton-like trunks with reduced foliage. Of course, there is no way to prevent someone from hacking up their trees as they desire.
    My last comment: I have never watered my red oak or loquat in the 10 years I’ve lived in this house. Not bragging — just testifying to the virtue of native plants (loquat is not native but is drought-tolerant).

  2. More Electric Cars will help with this problem in many ways. Electric Cars do not directly produce any emissions, and they are more energy efficient than Internal Combustion Engine (I.C.E.) cars. Electric Cars produce almost no heat at all, whereas I.C.E. cars continually dissipate thousands of B.T.U.s of wasted energy from the fuel they burn. Electric cars do not leak oil, transmission fluid, or anti freeze which contaminate the streams and rivers and pollute our water supply. San Antonio started to install electric car chargers around the city a few years ago and then just stopped. We need more electric car chargers around the city and we need to encourage more businesses to provide electric car charging at work for employees.

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