A dataset to understand the relationship between environment and wellbeing

Image by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

As the impacts of climate change unfold at an unforeseen speed, the deep connections between the environment and wellbeing still remain mostly unclear. A new study published in Environment & Health – coordinated by Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, CMCC and Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona – presents a novel database that makes it possible to better understand the environment-wellbeing nexus in Europe.

This new database, called SHARE-ENV, augments the public database SHARE, a longitudinal Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, with a rich set of geospatial variables characterizing the quality of the environment and climate-related hazards.

SHARE is a biennial survey from 2004 till 2019, which covers the health conditions of 120.000 Europeans. Individuals report not only their current health condition, but also their retrospective socio-economic and health history.

In SHARE-ENV, individuals’ wellbeing is traced over time along with the changes in the climate and environmental conditions they encountered during their lifetime. This database has been prepared by a team of researchers from Ca’ Foscari University, CMCC Foundation, Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, European Central Bank and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Climate and environmental data include air temperature, solar radiation, and precipitation from the high-resolution, gridded-observational data E-OBS, made available by the European Climate Assessment & Dataset (ECA&D). Alongside these variables, we also generate bins of daily mean, minimum, and maximum temperature, average seasonal temperature, heating degree days and cooling degree days, yearly and seasonal average solar radiation, and number of days with precipitation above 10 and 20 millimeters per day.

From the Dartmouth Flood Observatory (DFO) database we build variables on the number of flood events and their intensity. From the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) global reanalysis (EAC4) monthly averaged fields on pollutant concentration, we build average yearly concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5, PM10), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and yearly and summer average concentration of ozone (O3). From the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR, ver 5.0),  made available by the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC), we build yearly emissions of PM2.5 and PM10.

A major advantage of using individual-level variables is the ability to put environmental and climate hazards into perspective and to characterize the vulnerability of individuals by age and other vulnerable groups. An initial explorative analysis indicates that the magnitude of the association between higher temperatures and average solar radiation and improved childhood health is two orders of magnitude smaller than the association between childhood health and material deprivation.

Another example shows that high temperatures are associated with better health in childhood, and with worse health when individuals are, on average, 69 years old.

A particularly unique feature of the SHARE-ENV is the ability to look at very early periods of life and at cumulative variables of exposure to hazards. Early life exposure is extremely relevant. Disentangling the effects of short-term and long-term exposure to extreme temperature is also fundamental.

Merging environmental information with geographically localized, individual-level, longitudinal survey data can open new research avenues. We demonstrate an exposure linkage using the SHARE-survey. The wealth of variables in SHARE can allow researchers to disentangle the heterogeneity of impacts of climate change and the effectiveness of adaptation policies. Moreover, it can help respond to the mission of climate justice by determining if policies favor specific socioeconomic groups, both nationally and EU-wide.