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Magnolia paint could save the world

Andrew Bailey breaks out the whitewash, test drives the new Prius and inhales his first gin and tonic cloud

The angry reaction to the suggestion that black cars should be banned in the US as part of efforts to reduce oil consumption and control climate change (reported in RAC magazine last month) has not stopped left field suggestions for reducing carbon emissions. The latest advice from a key White House official is: paint your house white. For traditionalists among us, the good news is – magnolia is just as good.

Steven Chu, US Energy Secretary and President Obama’s climate change guru, has said that painting the world’s roofs, roads and pavements white will keep buildings cooler and significantly cut reliance on energy intensive mechanical cooling. Dr Chu is no pony-tail sporting, sandal-wearing hippy. He is a Nobel prize-winning scientist.

Dr Chu calculates that the low-tech solution would be as effective at reducing global warming as taking all the world’s cars off the road for 11 years. The principle is well-grounded. High intensity sunlight energy reflected off a white or light-coloured surface is transmitted straight back through the atmosphere into space. However, when sunlight is absorbed by dark surfaces – such as bricks, tiles and tarmac – it is converted into ground-level heat and contributes to the warming of the planet. Pale roofs reflect up to four times as much energy as dark ones, keeping buildings cool and reducing reliance on air conditioning. This can save up to 15 per cent on the energy bill.

Without significant changes in behaviour or adoption of new technology, it is predicted that the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide flowing into the atmosphere will increase by nearly 40 per cent by 2030 as energy consumption grows.

In the UK, the Department of Health’s Heatwave Plan for England, unveiled last month, also recommends painting houses white. It also suggests people should replace carpets with tiles or wood, hang curtains with white linings and – ironically enough – install electric ceiling fans.

Cool move

As reported here a while back, the latest version of Toyota’s flagship green car, the Prius, has been given a new twist on energy saving cooling. Now launched and rechristened the Plurimus, the new model is equipped with a roof-mounted photovoltaic panel that generates electricity to power fans to vent hot air from the cabin on hot days.

The car is also equipped with air conditioning, but interestingly unlike traditional in-car systems it does not run off a fan-belt driven by the engine. Instead, it is electrically powered, enabling owners to operate cooling without the engine running.

Press a button on the car’s key fob, and the system will run for three minutes and reduce kiln-like temperatures generated on a hot day to a civilised cool, just ready to get into.

Real tonic

I was entertained to read in last month’s RAC magazine about the London bar where they are using modern humidification techniques to create a walk-in cloud of vapourised gin and tonic. Some six-and-a-half litres of the alcoholic liquid are atomised into the air every hour and guests simply have to inhale to get a blast of the industry’s favourite tipple.

One can imagine various extensions of the idea being rolled out in the future. How about a cloud of vaporised Pimms wafting across the Centre Court at Wimbledon? Or a comforting mist of gripe water filling baby’s room?

It’s not a new idea, of course, the working men’s clubs of the north long ago perfected the art. Walk into any establishment after 9.00pm on a Saturday night and you will be hit by a refreshing wall of vaporised Watney’s Red Barrel. Now, that’s real atmosphere.