More on the Green Roof Idea

Told you there’d be more on this later. I did a little research into what it takes to build a green roof. A lot, it turns out. First, you need to collect a ton of data for the specific rooftop you will be planting. Temperature, rainfall, weather conditions, air quality: All of this must be measured, preferably for a complete year in order to understand seasonal averages. That’s the boring part. Plus, with so much climate change, how can anything have an average anymore? The IPCC just reported that weather anomalies (see: Polar Vortex, drought in the West, etc.) are going to continue due to climate change. Data is still important, but perhaps its relevance is waning in today’s rapidly weirding environment. But, I digress.

Once the data is collected, the right combination of grasses, shrubs and ground cover can be selected. If you’re planning to use the space for agriculture, this is also the time to explore the types of plants you want to use. A design will be created based on aesthetic and space constraints. Then, concrete will be poured over the roof and given time to dry. This should be done at the end of the rainy season and allowed to set throughout the dry season so that any cracks or leaks can be repaired before planting. You definitely don’t want to plant the roof and then realize there’s a leak! 

Then, comes the planting. See graphic below for layering details:


Assuming your green roof is rain-fed (which is the whole point), minimal maintenance is needed. You just wait for it to grow! Benefits include better insulation/cooling in the summer, a drastic decrease in rainwater runoff, the potential for water harvesting (the plants filter out any pollutants), and the possibility of growing your own vegetables. Start-up costs are relatively low, it just takes time.

Has anyone tried to start a program that builds these in the Middle East? Or, for that matter, in Central or South Asia? How revolutionary would that be?

Some resources:

DC GreenWorks (local to me)

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities in North America

How Stuff Works

Med-O-Med (where culture and environmentalism meet. Focused on the Mediterranean, based in Spain)

EPIC Green Solutions (working to start the green roof movement in the Middle East)

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The Ways We Hide


I have a special place in my heart for the West. From the forests of the Pacific Northwest to the desert at the US-Mexico border, the culture of the western United States varies as wildly as its terrain. As a Californian from a farm town in wine country, I learned early on that “eco” is a good thing, a necessary thing, something to be conscious of and embrace. But I was reminded that we don’t all feel that way the other day, when I read this article on Al-Jazeera America.

In New Mexico, climate change and sustainability are not necessarily the benign words I learned as a young adult. It’s always struck me as ironic that the people who most directly experience climate change are those who do not want to acknowledge it. They fear it. They fear what it means. They fear our lack of planning, our seeming inability to prepare. So, they hide from it, latching on to other issues and making a lot of noise about their rights. In Catron County, New Mexico, the release of Mexican gray wolves, a subset of the gray wolf species, has caused an uproar worthy of national news. It’s a classic theme: Man vs. Nature. One side’s efforts to conserve and restore a species to its natural habitat are met with hostility by those who feel threatened by that species’ proximity and its potential to interfere with their lives. But that’s just the surface story.

Underneath the outcry and the tension is fear of the unknown. Wolves are known, tangible and mortal. Climate change is none of these things. The wolves can be destroyed (again). Climate change cannot. If all greenhouse gas emissions were to stop today, we would still be committed to a global temperature rise of 1 degree Celsius. It takes time for the atmosphere to process the damage we’ve already caused. And it’s not just the warming trend. It’s the “weirding” trend (a term I first heard from a fantastic researcher at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Jennifer Burney). Not all climate change is created equal. Seasons are condensing and weather patterns intensifying. In the West, this year has been a banner drought year, the worst on record. On the East Coast, where I now make my home, we’ve had one of the coldest, snowiest winters in years. Our dry season was condensed; the West’s wet season was truncated. Will it be the same next year? Who can say? It’s the reaction to this uncertainty, to the unknown, that drives the outcry over tangible conservation issues, like the one in the article.

How do we reconcile this reactivity with the issues at hand? We can’t continue to hide from climate change. It’s not going to happen; it’s happening now. Hiding now means crisis later. Heck, tackling the issue head-on might mean crisis later. But at least we can put our energy to use in a productive way, rather than making a lot of noise about a minor issue.


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Green Roofs in MENA — Prospects and Challenges by Catherine Hansen

This fantastic article by Catherine Hansen discusses the benefits of green roofs in urban settings, and what this could mean for the MENA region specifically.

Let’s take it one step further. What if we calculated a potential budget for a pilot project for green roof installations in a major Middle Eastern city, say Marrakesh, Cairo or Baghdad? What would be the potential impact of such a pilot project? Could something as simple as plants on rooftops help to ameliorate the effects of climate change?

The Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region is known for heavy urban pollution and inefficient water usage. It is home to 6.3% of the world’s population, but possesses only 1.4% of the world’s renewable fresh water resources (see World Bank for stats). Furthermore, there is an overwhelming lack of sustainable energy use in the region. This, coupled with incredible urban populations/sprawl, spells trouble in the sustainability department. Maybe Hansen’s idea is one worth pursuing. More on this later.

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