Cooling Down Our Climate, One Reflective Surface at a Time

Global Cool Cities Alliance LogoKurt Shickman became the executive director of Global Cool Cities Alliance, a project of the Trust for Conservation Innovation in June, 2011. We caught up with him to learn more about his commitment to cooling down the planet.

What does Global Cool Cities Alliance (GCCA) do?

GCCA advances policies and programs that increase the solar reflectance of buildings and pavements to promote cool buildings and cool cities all over the world, and, most importantly, to mitigate the effects of climate change through global cooling.

Why did you choose this particular angle as a way to fight climate change?

It’s a cost-effective technology that is easy to deploy, and there are benefits beyond just mitigating the effects of climate change – it’s a way to adapt to climate change. More reflective surfaces have the potential to offset 44 billion tons of CO2 over 20 years (2.2 billion tons/year). If we just replaced roofs in tropical and temperate cities it would offset 24 billion tons of CO2. It’s like turning off 500 medium-sized coal plants for 20 years.

What do you hope to accomplish as the Executive Director at GCCA?

First, raise awareness about this issue with policy makers — make sure effective, measurable policies are helping us move in a positive direction towards our long-term goal. Part of it is quantifying health benefits – for instance, if you lower the air temperature, less smog forms. This has real quality of life and budget impacts.  The same is true for heat waves.  Extreme heat events are killing people and the most vulnerable are those living on the top floor of a dark roofed building.  A cool roof reduces the indoor air temperature on the top floor so we can actually save lives.

We are also developing a network of global cool cities and stakeholders such as green building groups, industry representatives, technical experts, and contractors to share best practices, provide analytical tools, and implement programs . We want to make sure that we are disseminating new information about cool roofs and pavements and climate change as widely as possible.  We will also be working with regional and national governments.

What has been your experience been like, working with TCI as your fiscal sponsor?

It’s been great – it’s my first time being an executive director, and it’s been nice having a steady hand on the wheel to help with back office issues and allow me to focus on building the program. I ask a lot of questions, they are great at making sure I have all the tools I need to fundraise and do my job.

 What is the hardest part about your job?

Staying on the critical path. There is so much excitement on my board and in the community – so many opportunities to do good things. Staying focused on a couple of good things to do well first is a challenge.

What do you love about your job?

I love being a positive force for climate change, and having the opportunity to build this organization from the ground up.

What is the single most important thing individuals can do to mitigate the effects of climate change?

As you have opportunities to change things in your home, be mindful about the total cost of things. Consider what the price tag is over the long run – efficiency pays you back over the life cycle. It is not just the money, but also the cost to society about the decision you are making. Where we really get benefits is by changing behavior, and being more mindful about the way we use energy.