Category Archives: Biodiversity

Planetary Health: Taking sustainability to the next level

After being a professor of Sustainable Development for more than 18 years, I am proud to let you know that – as of today – I will hold the chair Planetary Health at Maastricht University.

For me, Planetary Health has always been the foundation of sustainable development. However, the sustainability debate has been hijacked in recent years by industry and governments. Their view regarding sustainable development significantly has been subordinate to the dogma of economic growth with little regard for planetary health. How shortsighted this is, has been illustrated by the various outbreaks of zoonotic diseases (with corona as one of the latest examples), our current climate crises and the global decline of biodiversity. These are just some examples, but it is increasingly clear that our own well-being is closely connected with the health of the planet on which we live.

It is not nearly enough to keep the planet ‘as is’. There has to be a positive, regenerative development in order to make the planet, and everything on it, healthy. If we respect our planet, we respect life, we respect ourselves. That is also what the new chair Planetary Health stands for. Taking sustainability to the next level!

Sustainable Development Matters for Animals Too

This document contains an open letter, also published as a Commentary in the inaugural issue of CABI One Health, followed by a list of authors and other signatories (I am not an author of this text, but did sign it). Researchers and other experts in relevant fields are welcome to add your signature via this form. The list below will be periodically updated to reflect new signatures. If you have questions, comments, or media inquiries about this open letter, you can write to animalsandSDGs@gmail.com.

Animals matter for sustainable development, and sustainable development matters for animals. As the One Health framework reminds us, human, non-human, and environmental health are linked (Zinsstag, 2020), and many experts agree that every Sustainable Development Goal interacts with animals in some way (e.g. Keeling et al., 2019).  

Yet animal welfare – that is, the mental and physical state of animals – remains neglected in sustainable development governance – that is, the goals and policies that governments are pursuing to promote sustainable development. For example, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development comprises 17 goals and 169 targets on topics ranging from hunger and poverty to peace and justice (United Nations, 2015). But while several of these targets focus on conservation of biodiversity, species, and habitats, none references animal welfare.  

In June 2022, governments will convene for the UN Stockholm+50 Conference, which marks 50 years of international decision making on environmental issues. At this conference, governments have an opportunity to recognize the intrinsic value of animal welfare and the links between animal welfare and sustainable development, and to aspire to harm animals less and benefit them more as part of sustainable development governance. We call on governments to take these steps for the sake of human and non-human animals alike.

Animals matter for sustainable development. While its origins remain uncertain, COVID-19 has reminded us that industries like industrial animal agriculture and the wildlife trade not only harm and kill many animals per year but also contribute to global health and environmental threats that imperil us all (Roe et al., 2020).

For example, industrial animal agriculture keeps domesticated animals in cramped conditions and administers antibiotics to stimulate growth and suppress disease, contributing to infectious disease emergence and antibiotic resistance (Silbergeld et al., 2008; Roe et al., 2020). Animal agriculture is also a leading contributor to climate change, and it generally consumes much more land and water and produces much more waste and pollution than plant-based alternatives (Poore and Nemecek, 2018).   

Similarly, the wildlife trade often keeps non-domesticated animals in high densities, either by capturing them from the wild or by raising them in captivity. This practice again contributes to infectious disease emergence (Karesh et al., 2005). Many methods of capturing animals also damage the environment; for instance, industrial fishing contributes to biodiversity loss, seabed damage, and plastic pollution in aquatic ecosystems, among other harms (Pusceddu et al., 2014; Thushari and Senevirathna, 2020).  

Sustainable development matters for animals. Scientists increasingly accept that many animals are sentient (e.g. Low et al., 2012; Birch et al., 2021), and ethicists increasingly accept that sentient beings matter for their own sakes (e.g. Regan, 1995; Singer, 1995). It follows that humans should consider the interests of many animals when deciding how to treat them.  

The stakes for animals in international environmental policy are high. Industrial animal agriculture and the wildlife trade not only harm and kill hundreds of billions of non-humans per year directly. They also harm and kill countless non-humans indirectly, by increasing disease outbreaks like bird flu and COVID-19, extreme weather events like fires and floods, and social and economic disruptions like lockdowns and supply-chain breakdowns that increase the risk of human violence and neglect towards non-humans.  

More generally, environmental changes like climate change, ocean acidification, and air, water, and land pollution are not only reducing biodiversity but also harming and killing countless animals by making it impossible for them to breathe, eat, drink, or otherwise survive. Some mitigation and adaptation strategies – ranging from the intensification of meat production systems to the construction of cities and transportation systems without appropriate safeguards – risk harming and killing animals unnecessarily as well. 

These links between human, non-human, and environmental health all matter for sustainable development governance. Humans have a responsibility to consider the interests of everyone impacted by human activity. In particular, humans should harm animals less and benefit them more as part of sustainable development governance, for instance by reducing exploitation of animals as part of pandemic and climate change mitigation efforts and by increasing assistance for animals as part of adaptation efforts (Sebo, 2022).  

Fortunately, governments are making progress. For example, in 2020, several UN bodies established the One Health High Level Expert Panel (OHHLEP) to provide guidance on ‘issues raised by the interface of human, animal and ecosystem health’ (FAO et al., 2021). And in 2022, Environment Ministers at the fifth UN Environment Assembly requested the UN Environment Programme to produce a report to improve our understanding of the nexus between animal welfare, the environment, and sustainable development (UNEA, 2022).

Fifty years after the adoption of the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment, governments have the opportunity to build on this progress. They can:

  • Recognize the intrinsic value of animal welfare and the relationship between animal welfare and sustainable development in Stockholm+50 outcome documents and subsequent international sustainable development outcome documents.
  • Strengthen and broaden the One Health activities of the OHHLEP and other relevant entities to better reflect the value of improving animal health and welfare not only for the sake of humans but also for the sake of the animals themselves, as well as consider animal health and welfare in the impact assessments that shape policy decisions.
  • Support policies that benefit humans and non-humans alike, including informational policies that educate the public about human, animal, and environmental health and well-being; financial and regulatory policies that incentivize co-beneficial practices; and just transition policies that support vulnerable populations.

We call on governments to start including animal welfare in sustainable development governance now, towards a healthier, more resilient, and more sustainable world for all.

The earth is running away from us

Fireplace Talk on Environmental Policy and Regulation

The atmosphere is warming and the climate is changing with each passing year. One million of the eight million species on the planet are at risk of being lost. Forests and oceans are being polluted and destroyed. However  ‘animals’, ‘nature’ and ‘sustainability’ are not often mentioned together in Environmental Policies and Regulations. The reason is likely to be found in the fact that the sustainability debate has been hijacked in recent years by industry and governments. Their view regarding sustainable development significantly has been subordinate to the dogma of economic growth with little regard for animal welfare and concerns for nature.

For example, The European Commission speaks about protecting Europe’s natural capital and resources. However, we also need to acknowledge the value of nature for its own sake, instead as a mere means for human flourishing. Although we as humans may be privileged in our capacity to respect autonomy and flourishing, the autonomy and flourishing that we must respect is not limited to humans. Moreover, protecting Europe’s nature for it’s own sake is perfectly compatible with human flourishing. Perhaps it is even true that in the long term we will show incapable of protecting nature as a resource for human wellbeing, without at the same time recognizing nature’s intrinsic value.

This is the third event in the Fireplace Talks on the 30th Anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty, organized by UM Campus Brussels on 12th January 2022 from 18.30-19.30 (online). Our guest speakers for the talk are Maastricht University Professor Dr. Pim Martens, and the Executive Director of the Greenpeace European Unit, Dr. Jorgo Riss.  Register here.

KNAW commissie Planetary Health

Vereerd lid te zijn van de KNAW commissie Planetary Health die gaat inventariseren welke wetenschappelijke kennis er nodig is op het gebied van planetary health en welke prioriteiten voor kennisontwikkeling er liggen voor Nederland.

Planetary health is de interdisciplinaire benadering van het verband tussen de gezondheid en welzijn van mens en dier en de ‘gezondheid’ van de aarde. Het gaat daarbij om klimaatverandering en verlies van biodiversiteit maar bijvoorbeeld ook om grootschalige milieuvervuiling, ontbossing, erosie en andere door de mens veroorzaakte veranderingen die gezondheidsrisico’s met zich meebrengen. Die risico’s zijn onder meer infectieziekten, problemen met voedsel- en drinkwatervoorziening, migratie en conflict en mentale gezondheid.

Voor meer informatie zie KNAW website

English

Honored to be a member of the KNAW (The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences) Planetary Health committee, which will inventorize the scientific knowledge needed in the field of planetary health and the priorities for knowledge development for the Netherlands.

Planetary health is the interdisciplinary approach to the link between the health and well-being of human and non-human animals and the ‘health’ of the earth. This concerns climate change and loss of biodiversity, but also, for example, large-scale environmental pollution, deforestation, erosion and other man-made changes that entail health risks. Those risks include infectious diseases, problems with food and drinking water supplies, migration and conflict, and mental health.

For more information see KNAW website

Conflicts between wolves and humans are unnecessary

Conflicts with wolves arise because wolves kill farm animals, especially sheep, or approach humans. It is expected that young wolves learn from their parent pack (PP) what their prey is and if it is safe to be near humans. To confirm this, we researched whether the behavior of young migrating wolves (loners), after they leave the pack, resembles PP behavior. Fourteen loners entering the Netherlands between 2015 and 2019 could be identified and genetically linked to their PPs. Loner and PP behavior was similar in 10 out of 14 cases. Like their PPs, some young wolves killed sheep and were near humans, others killed sheep and did not approach humans, while two loners were unproblematic, they did not kill sheep nor were they in proximity to humans. Thus, the PP behavior did predict loner’s behavior and conflicts may be similar between young wolves and their PPs. However, conflicts need not arise. To achieve that, new prevention methods are proposed to teach wolves in the PP not to approach sheep and humans. As a result, new generations may not be problematic when leaving the PP.

Read the full paper here: Van Liere, D.; Siard, N.; Martens, P.; Jordan, D. Conflicts with Wolves Can Originate from Their Parent Packs. Animals 2021, 11, 1801.

What do Chinese think about offshore oil and gas drilling?

Offshore oil and gas drilling provides societies with billions of dollars in profit, employs millions of people, and offers substantial tax income for governments. However, the sector simultaneously poses substantial risks of polluting the marine environment and threatening marine biodiversity. Given the competing interests in offshore drilling, knowledge of citizens’ attitudes is of vital importance .

In our research we found that Chinese coastal residents have low levels of support, high risk-perception, and moderate trust in offshore oil and gas drilling. They are concerned about the frequency of large-scale oil spills, threats to human life (including the risks of getting cancer) and threats to marine life. NIMBY mentality is apparent in coastal residents’ support toward offshore drilling and they tend to trust scientific statements from environmental groups more than from the oil industry.

It is not difficult to comprehend why coastal residents are reluctant to support offshore oil and gas drilling in China. On one hand, traditional Chinese culture favors the harmonious coexistence of human beings and the environment. Confucianism promotes the concept of “tianren heyi,” which refers to harmony between human society and nature. Taoism promotes a “wuwei” philosophy, which has no tolerance for human action that is against the laws of nature. As two cornerstones of traditional Chinese culture, Confucianism and Taoism deeply ingrain an environmental-friendly belief in the Chinese mindset. Offshore drilling will alter the appearance of nature and jeopardize the balance of the marine ecosystem, therefore contradicting the Chinese ideal of harmonious coexistence.

Read the full paper here: Mo Chen & Pim Martens, (2021). Coastal residents’ attitudes toward offshore oil and gas drilling in China. The Extractive Industries and Society.

Indigenous Views on Climate Change

Indigenous worldviews can be an alternative approach to thinking about climate change. Since the system of ethics in Western thought is largely anthropocentric and therefore not as useful in addressing complex, natural situations, indigenous ethics could provide a valuable alternative.

In this movie I talk about this with Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq from Kalaallit Nunaat, Greenland shaman, Chief Phil Lane Jr. of the Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chickasaw Nations, and Adam Kuleit Mwarabu, Parakuiyo Maasai leader.

Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq
Chief Phil Lane Jr.
Adam Kuleit Mwarabu

Report on The Green Deal: What are its Implications for Animals and Nature?

Download the Working paper of the RELAY Workshop on The Green Deal: What are its Implications for Animals and Nature?

In 2019, the European Commission presented a policy document entitled ‘The European Green Deal’. The plan provides the basis for action plans for sustainable development in the policy areas of biodiversity, food systems, agriculture, energy, industry, building and renovating, mobility, eliminating pollution and climate action.

However, ‘animals’, ‘nature’ and ‘sustainability’ are not often mentioned together in this European Green Deal. The reason is likely to be found in the fact that the sustainability debate has been hijacked in recent years by industry and governments. Their view regarding sustainable development significantly has been subordinate to the dogma of economic growth with little regard for animal welfare and concerns for nature.

In the tradition of United Nations reports such as Our Common Future, the European Green Deal puts human wellbeing at its center. The European Commission speaks about protecting Europe’s natural capital and resources. However, we also need to acknowledge the value of nature for its own sake, instead as a mere means for human flourishing. Although we as humans may be privileged in our capacity to respect autonomy and flourishing, the autonomy and flourishing that we must respect is not limited to humans. Moreover, protecting Europe’s nature and its animals for its own sake is perfectly compatible with, and even necessary for human flourishing. Perhaps it is even true that in the long term we will show incapable of protecting nature as a resource for human wellbeing, without at the same time recognizing nature’s intrinsic value. The European Green Deal needs to include a just transition for nature and the animals within as well.

To tackle this issue, in January 2021 a workshop The Green Deal: what are its implications for animals and nature? was organized by an Erasmus+ Jean Monnet project RELAY. The policies behind the European Green Deal in relation to the role of Nature and Animals in our society were central to the discussions, as well as the Green Deal’s shortcomings with regard to the “voiceless” members of the European society and of the regions beyond the EU that might be affected by Green Deal-related policies. By doing so, the central question of the webinar was formulated as follows: “What are the current issues with regard to the ‘true’ sustainability goals the Green Deal should pursue and what actions are required to give animals and nature a more prominent role in the Green Deal debates?”

In the Working paper of the RELAY Workshop on The Green Deal: What are its Implications for Animals and Nature? several key observations, statements and questions concerning the narrative and the discourse are addressed. In part two of this working paper, the workshop presentations and interactive debate have been summarized for further reference.

Webinar: Indigenous and Religious Views on Animals and Nature

Webinar Wednesday April 14 6.30-8.30 pm CET

Our relationship with the natural environment and animals has changed dramatically over time. In this webinar, we will discuss past patterns and future pathways with representatives of various indigenous cultures and religious beliefs. Learning from them about our relationship with animals may be a way we can begin to address the sustainability challenges we see today.

This webinar is free of charge, but you need to register by sending an email before 10th April to marjolijn.staarink@vu.nl. The link for the webinar will then be sent to you in due time.

Program

18.30-19.15 Introduction and movie ‘Animals Are Running Away From Us’ by Pim Martens

19.15-19.30 Ruth Valerio – Canon Theologian Rochester Cathedral

19.30-19.45 Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq – Kalaallit Shaman from Greenland

19.45-20.00 Jayasinhji Jhala  – Hindu Prince

20.00-20.30 Discussion and Q&A