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Locally-based organization says it has fastest solution to climate change

(File, AP Photo/David Goldman)

Many of the world’s top scientists are putting their heads together on climate change, but a new locally-based nonprofit believes it has the most efficient solution to cooling the Earth down.

Founded by Jeff Haley of Mercer Island, Reflective Earth’s mission is to create lighter-colored surfaces all over the planet. That’s because while dark surfaces tend to hold heat, light surfaces tend to reflect it.

“Like the polar ice caps or glaciers in the mountains, an essential piece of what balances the Earth’s atmosphere is how much of the inbound heat, and radiation, and sunlight the planet sends back out,” said Michael Gelobter, managing director of Reflective Earth.

The idea is that the more light-colored surfaces there are, the more solar radiation can be sent back out into space, keeping the Earth and its atmosphere cooler.

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It may seem like a simple idea, but Gelobter said no one else has really invested in trying it out on a global scale.

“It turns out that reflectivity is probably the fastest way we can intervene to mitigate or slow global warming,” Gelobter said. “And there really weren’t any other organizations working across the spectrum of approaches to reflectivity.”

Unfortunately, with climate change causing those very sun-reflecting glaciers and ice caps to melt, reflective surface area is shrinking.

That’s why Reflective Earth is working around the world with partner cities and other organizations — especially in places near the equator that receive lots of sun — to turn as many surfaces as possible into heat reflectors.

“We can paint roofs of buildings, which is probably the easiest and cheapest thing to do. We can paint roads with lighter colored material instead of being black, and parking lots,” Haley said. “We can scatter white rocks on deserts to make the deserts more reflective.”

They’re even working on sending reflective balloons into the atmosphere.

Haley said the goal is to get back to the natural heat exchange that existed before the technological advances that began polluting the atmosphere.

“It should bring us back to that equilibrium before 1900 … we’ll get the heat balance back in balance,” he said.

While Haley said the biggest reflection differences can be made in the world’s sunniest areas, he is adamant that every bit helps — including in Seattle. To find your own neighborhood on a map, see how it compares in terms of reflective surfaces, and learn how it could improve, visit Reflective Earth’s interactive map.

“It’s less technology and more scale — how do we do really simple things in more widespread ways?,” Gelobter said.

Reflective Earth is looking for tech partners in the Seattle area, as well as donors who can help fund roof-painting in developing nations. To learn more, visit ReflectiveEarth.org.

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