Climate crisis is one of the leading global threats, if not the main threat we are currently facing. For the wider public, however, climate science is often abstract and difficult to understand. You cannot easily smell, touch or see climate change. In order to make climate change less abstract, this research project aims to humanize climate science. We will connect the abstract, global and seemingly disconnected natural occurrences with people’s local knowledges and embodied experiences. We aim to understand people’s everyday experiences of climate change and to explore climate change as both an environmental and social phenomenon.
In order to do this, the project takes a transdisciplinary approach, which means it converges various analytical perspectives and research methods. Team members come from a diverse set of disciplines, including physics, sociology, economy, environmental and climate science, and social anthropology.
The project focuses on the case of urban overheating. One of the main concerns of climate change is the rise in temperatures. Hotter, longer and more frequent heatwaves affect populations everywhere around the globe. The number of people exposed to heat waves was estimated to have increased up to 125 million between 2000 and 2016 compared to the period 1998-2008 (WMO, 2019). Heat stress is exacerbated in cities by the Urban Heat Island effect. Thus, due to climate change, city dwellers are exposed to higher temperatures. Heat stress can severely affect people’s health, and due to physiological as well as socio-economic structural factors, some groups are more vulnerable than others. Evidence suggests that adults over the age of 65 are particularly susceptible to rising temperatures. The project will focus on studying the experiences of urban heat among elderly populations in Warsaw and Madrid.
Warsaw was chosen because it is the most populous city in Poland, with continental climate and high levels of air pollution. The decision for the second case study was made based on past incidence of heat waves and thus, likelihood of a heat wave occurring within the duration of the project (Guerreiro et al., 2018), as well as the availability of health data. Warsaw and Madrid have historically experienced different temperatures, and we are interested in diverse adaptation strategies employed in both cities.
The specific methods are discussed in more detail below. However, the main goal of our research project is to converge our methodological and analytical approaches, and study different scales of urban overheating: from a global climate perspective to localized and individual experiences. We do it through continuous discussion and knowledge exchange throughout different stages of the project, from posing research questions, planning and conducting the study, to the analysis of findings.
Global climate models are used to generate historical simulations and future projections of the climate. Output from climate models is coupled with epidemiological data to assess climate impacts on human health. Even though climate change affects populations globally, climate impacts are often localized. Human tolerance to heat depends on the regional and local climatic conditions but also on a wide range of other factors that determine the response to heat stress. We will downscale the global climate data to high resolution at local level, to bridge the gap between global projections and local impacts. Epidemiological studies have shown the direct association between death and disease rates with increasing temperatures (Gasparrini et al., 2017; Huang et al., 2011; Luo et al., 2017; Zhao et al., 2017). We will use temperature values from the climate models to determine exposure-response functions (ERFs) that estimate the temperature-health relationships in the total population and in vulnerable groups at city and neighborhood level, in Warsaw and Madrid.
We will conduct ethnographic research with the elderly in Warsaw and Madrid. This will include participant observations at homes, retirement homes, and during daily walk routines, interviews and informal conversations organized in particular during two consecutive summers in 2021 and 2022. Other elements of qualitative research will include an analysis of existing adaptation strategies to urban heat across Europe; focus groups with people particularly vulnerable to urban overheating; and workshops with the elderly which will focus on their embodied experiences of heat. Throughout the project, we will also consult medical doctors and architects.
Ethnographic research will be combined with the use of sensors. Wearable sensor technologies enable the continuous monitoring of human physical activities, as well as physiological and biochemical parameters during daily life. The most commonly measured data includes vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature, as well as activities such as a number of steps. The quantitative data gathered through novel sensor technology will be combined with the data from the qualitative ethnographic research to gain understanding on how heat is perceived by different people, improve identification and prevention of diseases related to heat, and increase awareness about heat and health.
In the summer 2021 we will conduct a quantitative study with 1000 elderly people in Warsaw and Madrid to investigate how this vulnerable group embodies heat and how it deals with it. During face-to-face interviews, among others, we will ask about individual health and daily living, socioeconomic situation, social relationships and investigate how these factors may be linked with perception of climate change. We will also analyze how the dwelling conditions, surroundings and other factors such temperature may affect adaptation or mitigation strategies.
The research project is funded from the Norway and EEA grants 2014–2021 under the Basic Research Programme operated by the Polish National Science Centre in cooperation with the Research Council of Norway (grant no 2019/35/J/HS6/03992).