Climate change health protection for seniors
CoCareSociety: Dr Jo-Ting Huang-Lachmann and her team are developing climate services for care. The aim is to help seniors protect their health and save energy in times of climate change.
From Taiwan to Germany
Jo-Ting Huang-Lachmann was born in Taiwan and grew up there. Already in her youth, she was interested in waste reduction and the zero-waste movement. So she has been using reusable water bottles and lunch boxes and products without plastic packaging for decades. When she was 19, she saw the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," which made her aware of the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). One result of the film was that she volunteered at various events in schools, dedicating herself to environmental education and teaching children about climate change. Another result was that her interest in environmental management deepened. "I wanted to study environmental management and worked hard to find internships and scholarships."
Studying in the Netherlands and Germany
An internship took her to Germany, she completed her master's degree in environmental and energy management in the Netherlands, and the now 36-year-old earned her doctorate in Germany. She had become interested in the economics of climate change adaptation early on. "During my master's degree, I was encouraged to learn more about institutional economics and apply it to climate change adaptation at the local level. Later, I also did research on the motivation for implementing climate change actions at the local level." She is very interested in different mechanisms, from monetary incentives to internal motivations. Important questions for her are how to use these incentives to motivate different groups of people in societies to change their behavior.
But she is also interested in the point at which, for example, citizens, public officials, or mayors decide to do something about climate change. Are they doing it to avoid future catastrophic damage from climate change or because of the benefits to their own health or to the greater good? "We humans act very differently, and that fascinates me. I want to find out more about this through my research and, if possible, implement this socially so that more people can be motivated to make a positive change."
CoCareSociety – Co-creating Climate Services for Care Economy and Caring Society
Dr Jo-Ting Huang-Lachmann wants to work with her junior research group to co-create climate services for the care economy and caring society. She had previously done a lot of research on climate change and future climate adaptation and thought a lot about long-term changes, such as what will happen in 30 years. The researchers in her junior research group want to know: What might the next generation of climate services look like? How can our aging society adapt to the effects of climate change in Germany? "We should find out that answer now so we can start protecting our health."
To that end, she had conducted many surveys on citizens' and cities' preparations and visions for climate change. In the process, people asked questions about how they could better prepare for their future by investing in their current homes now. "Because many want to prepare for their climate change future now, when they still have energy and financial ability to invest. Because when they are old and in need of care and have less income through retirement, that becomes more difficult," Huang-Lachmann says.
She also points to the example of heat waves, "If the design of buildings does not take into account the hotter climate in the future, people will have to use energy-intensive measures such as air conditioners to cool their homes, which will increase their electricity consumption. But when they are old, they will have fewer financial options to afford higher electricity bills. This is true for other climate impacts as well." So she and her junior research group are studying barriers and incentives in user behavior to identify the factors that change behavior in favor of health, climate and energy protection. "This will enable the development and implementation of needs-based climate services for the aging society, as well as their transfer and scaling opportunities."
To collaborate with international colleagues, Dr Jo-Ting Huang-Lachmann's fluency in Mandarin, English and German is a great advantage. International cooperation is very important to her. Some countries, such as Japan and Taiwan, are more advanced in certain areas, for example in adapting to heat waves or in supporting long-term care in aging societies at the community level. These countries also already have digital solutions such as apps as early warning systems before heat waves.
But there is also a need for knowledge exchange with countries in Africa that could benefit from insurance and financing mechanisms for long-term care and institutional care in industrialized countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. Therefore, partners in the project are scientific institutions in Uganda and Senegal.
"This funding also allows me to recruit young researchers who are also interested in transdisciplinary research. This is particularly important to me and should also be a message to the next generations of researchers who want to focus on transdisciplinary research for their careers."
The idea of a co-care society is very important to Huang-Lachmann: "We will all face aging one day, and through our grandparents' or parents' generations, we will experience or have already experienced care dependency." She wonders what factors cause us to become more susceptible to heat exhaustion as we age. What if we could use our knowledge from climate services research and development to develop other solutions, such as heat alert systems tailored to specific living situations? She is certain that this will allow us to reduce some of the burdens of long-term care in the future. Huang-Lachmann sees herself not only as a researcher, but also as a granddaughter, daughter, mother, and citizen in society. "I can also be part of these solutions as a citizen and member of society. This is why the concept of CoCareSociety was developed. We can all take care of each other through our multiple roles in society and in families. And if such a co-care society is also created with the help of a solid knowledge base through research, it will benefit not only the elderly living today, but also future generations."
According to Jo-Ting Huang-Lachmann, funding a long-term project such as the five-year BMBF junior research group is helpful not only for gaining knowledge for our society but also for her research career. This allows her to focus on research on important topics and achieve various scientific milestones, such as publishing and developing socially useful solutions. Thanks to this BMBF junior researcher funding program, she said, she has full freedom for the first time to design a new research field, fully formulate the research questions she believes are important to our societies, and form a team to establish this new research field. "This grant thus provides my professional career not only with a special impetus, but also with the stability needed to focus on research. Until now, I had only short-term employment contracts and had to constantly write grant proposals to secure my next contract. It was very difficult to focus on research and produce more research results."
At the end of this five-year junior research group, she is interested in a long-term position and would like to pursue a tenure. Her vision is to establish a transdisciplinary chair to connect different disciplines of knowledge. "My goal is to achieve results in both research and socially useful solutions, such as social spin-offs to produce innovative services for future societies."
Career and family
The mother of a three-year-old son shares family work with her husband. But Huang-Lachmann also relies on the help of her circle of friends. For example, when her son has to be picked up early from daycare. "On long weekends and vacations, we can also rely on family members to take care of our child if we have to work to meet deadlines." She likes to quote the African proverb "It takes a whole village to raise a child!". She is very grateful that our society has various systems in place to assist with childcare: Flexible mobile work and flexible hours by employers, childcare facilities and understanding educators, and supportive neighbors, circles of friends, and family.
She would like to encourage all young researchers, "It takes extra effort to organize childcare and live work-life balance, but it is doable and (mostly) manageable. At the end of the day, it's all worth it!"