Climate Risk is Health Risk – even indoors!
Last week, our MCRE associate Stefan Flagner travelled to Berlin to attend a workshop about the use of environmental data in occupational and environmental epidemiology. This workshop was organized by two working groups from the German Society for Epidemiology (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Epidemiologie, DGepi). From this workshop, two major insights arose which are also of relevance for the real estate sector.
1. Climate change increases health risks
Several presentations and keynote speeches focused on how climate change will lead to an increase in health-related problems for the society. While many would think first of flooding or extreme weather when thinking about climate risks, a not to underestimate aspect is heat stress. This years’ summer has shown again that extreme heat waves can occur regularly in European countries, which put also a huge burden on the population due to heat stress. Past studies have shown how hot temperatures above 32°C (90°F) outside and inside buildings lead to adverse health outcomes among the working population and elderly. Heat is also negatively associated with cognitive performance. It can decrease school children’s test performance and office workers’ productivity. Thus, while agents in the real estate sector think carefully about how to make a building more energy efficient by keeping the heat inside during winter, they should also consider how to keep it cool during summer. Air conditioning can be one solution, but it comes with two pitfalls: Firstly, it comes with high energy costs which go against the aim to reduce carbon emissions, and secondly it might take away the occupants’ ability to acclimatize to heat, making them more vulnerable to heat stress. Keynote speaker Dr. Kate Applebaum, Associate Professor at George Washington University, mentioned also the discussed hypothesis among researchers that heat can affect the nervous system, thus affecting mental health. That would be just a loop back to the effect on cognitive performance. Thus, the first key message for real estate developers from this insight is: Buildings should be designed to keep occupants warm in winter AND cool in summer times.
2. Air pollution is a secondary but major factor
This years’ wildfires in North America and Europe have also shown a secondary effect of heat waves: air pollution. Thus, even if one is prepared for heat, the heat can cause wildfires which cause air pollution and that in return has strongly negative consequences. Past research has confirmed that air pollution has a very strong negative effect on respiratory health and cognitive performance of children and adults. Harvard University’s Public Health groups led by Dr. Joseph Allen pointed out that classical filters for ventilation systems of buildings can protect you only up to a certain degree and should be replaced after a building has been exposed to wildfire-caused air pollution. Thus, the key take away for real estate developers here is to make it a high priority to conduct regular maintenance of the building’s ventilation system.
In summary, climate change and related heat waves...
In summary, climate change and related heat waves have a profound impact on health and productivity of a population. Real estate developers are key players in this relationship and are responsible for designing buildings which protect occupants against heat stress and air pollution.