Seed Money Project Highlight: Drivers of Climate- Related Human Mortality and Economic Impacts

Interview with Prof. Wouter Botzen and PhD candidate Mireille Folkerts.

04/16/2020 | 4:34 PM

Sippora Zoutewelle interviews Prof. Wouter Botzen – Faculty of Science, IVM – Environmental Economics and PhD candidate Mireille Folkerts – Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences, Physiology.

What was your motivation to apply for ASI seed money?

Wouter Botzen:
My VU colleague Hein Daanen from a different faculty (Faculty Behavioural and Movement Sciences, Physiology) was reading a news article in the Volkskrant and realized that I was working on topic that related to his research group, namely heat impacts from climate change. So he got in touch with me and we started collaborating. We saw the call for proposals from ASI and thought our project would fit in perfectly. It’s actually crazy that you have to read the news to learn that there are colleagues at the VU working on similar topics. I believe that ASI can play a big role in making the matching process between researchers more efficient
.

Can you share some insights with regard to your project? What are the highlights and main findings?

Mireille Folkerts and Wouter Botzen:
The aim of our research was to improve our understanding of the drivers of climate-related mortality. We found out that, as global warming continues, there will be less cold-related mortality in the winter and increasing heat-related mortality in the summer. We also noticed that people seem to adapt to changing climate conditions over time: mortality becomes less sensitive to temperature increases. However, not everyone is able to adapt to the increasing temperatures. A sub-group of the population that is especially vulnerable for hot summers are the elderly people. Our first paper on this topic just got published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology and can be found here: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2020.00225/full.

How do you distinguish your research from other research on this topic?

First of all, there is not a lot of research that focuses on climate-related mortality in the Netherlands. Moreover, we have very accurate data on mortality and have not only looked at different temperature measurements, but also included other weather indicators, such as solar radiation, wind and humidity.

Did you find it challenging to conduct the research in an interdisciplinary fashion?

No, not at all. We actually learned from each other, since physiologists and environmental economists generally use different methods to conduct research. The Environmental Economics department uses extensive data analysis, whereas the department of Physiology generally works with smaller set-ups. We were able to work efficiently by dividing the data analysis between departments. The Physiology department analysed the data on mortality and the Environmental Economics department focused on weather conditions and economic valuation of mortality impacts.

What are the next steps?

We are planning to publish three or perhaps even four papers on the topic. Moreover, we are continuing our research and are now looking to expand the geographical focus of our project. Initially it was the Netherlands, now it will be Europe. We expect that temperature-related mortality will change in European cities as a result of the combined effects of climate change and the urban heat island. One of our team members is in Mexico at the moment working on a model that uses information on mortality curves and daily climate projections to forecast mortality in cities in future heat conditions. Ideally we would like to know the per day deaths linked to heat.

The next round of ASI Seed Money Projects will start soon. Do you have any recommendations for this year’s winners? And maybe also for researchers that are looking to apply for next year?

We involved students and young researchers in the project, which was really valuable, inspiring, and increased capacity. We would definitely encourage other researchers to do the same.

Interviews by Sippora Zoutewelle   Date: 19/2/2020