NEW YORK CITY—Driving through New York City’s south Bronx borough on a steamy Saturday in July, Mary Dillon and Kimberly Elicker cringe as another fire hydrant douses the 20-centimeter polyvinyl chloride pipe hanging out their car window.
Fortunately, the cooling spray didn’t prevent the sensor inside the pipe from collecting air temperature and humidity readings as part of a national project to map urban heat islands. The route the two New York City elementary school teachers followed on their 1-hour drive was drawn up with the help of community leaders, who had pinpointed spots where the heat radiating from the pavement and densely packed dwellings feels most oppressive. The input helps Dillon and Elicker, two of the volunteers with the project, map not just heat buildup, but its impact on urban communities.
The approach reflects a growing awareness among climate scientists that environmental equity must be one of their research objectives. “The fact that climate change disproportionately affects communities marginalized along race and class lines is just completely dismissed if these communities are not involved,” says Liv Yoon, a social scientist at Columbia University and lead investigator of the New York City campaign. Scientists, she says, can’t accurately study climate equity without accounting for how people directly experience global warming.