Painting the town white and green
"Fortunately, we can go a long way toward dissipating urban heat islands with modest measures. One solution is to use lighter colors for roofs and pavement. The other is to plant lots of trees, which have a two-fold benefit. First, they provide cooling shade. Second, trees, like most plants, soak up groundwater. The water then "evapotranspires" from the leaves, thus cooling the leaves and, indirectly, the surrounding air. A single properly watered tree can "evapotranspirate" 40 gallons of water in a day-offsetting the heat equivalent to that produced by one hundred 100-watt lamps, burning eight hours per day."
"Not all trees are equally beneficial. It is better to plant deciduous trees, for example, which give shade in summer but do not block the warmth in winter. Also, some types of trees emit large amounts of the volatile organic hydrocarbons (VOCs) that combine with oxides of nitrogen to form smog. Ash and maple are among the more VOC-free trees, emitting only about 1 VOC unit (defined as one microgram per hour per gram of dry leaf). Eucalyptus trees, on the other hand, are a problem. They were introduced a century ago, are thriving, and emit 32 units; perhaps they should be replaced with more suitable native trees. Weeping willows top the emissions list, releasing a whopping 230 VOC units. "
Whenever I read an article in which environmentalism and architecture intersect, I always end up getting really excited about it. I guess part of me still wants to be an architect. I think part of it is the awareness for the environmental conditions that architects sometimes don't think of -- how things like hundred-year flood levels should affect the design of a place, or giving thought to how the materials used will have an effect the surrounding conditions.
I remember being told in one of my classes how a new skyscraper had been built in Dallas, and how the adjacent building's air conditioning bills went up threefold due to the reflectivity of light across the new building's surface. I think that in a lot of fields, we're so focused on short-term results that we don't take the time to consider the long-term effects of our actions.
One of the major environmental problems facing California is eucalyptus trees. I won't go into the nitty-gritty details, but they are evil for a variety of reasons, amongst which are fire hazards, and the ability to make the surrounding land barren. No species in California feeds on eucalyptus either, which makes it one less potential food supply for wildlife.