Louisville, Kentucky, is the nation’s fastest warming “urban heat island.” Local temperatures in the center of this city of 600,000* are significantly warmer than in surrounding rural areas, thanks to a uniquely sparse—and rapidly diminishing—urban tree canopy. Cars, parking lots, buildings, and heat-trapping construction materials don’t help, either. The effects of UHI vary from neighborhood to neighborhood; some spots can be as much as 10 degrees warmer than others within city limits. For the most vulnerable locals, the effect can be lethal: an analysis of the scorching summer of 2012 showed 53 people in the Louisville area alone died from causes likely related to human-amplified temperatures. Climate change is making things worse.
But the Derby City also has unique strengths to play on. For one, America’s “city of compassion” is home to a growing diversity of religious communities, celebrated every year with the internationally recognized, week-long Festival of Faiths. Now, environmental and spiritual leaders are teaming up to help some of Louisville’s heat-fighting strategies take root in vulnerable neighborhoods—and to better align preaching and teaching with the city’s environmental needs.