Category Archives: Sustainable Development

Diversity in Depth: Equity Between Humans and Non-humans in Nature-Culture

Date: Tuesday 24 November – time: 19.00-21.00

With planet earth at risk, why do you fuzz over gender and diversity issues rather than prioritizing current ecological challenges? Is societal discrimination the most pressing problem when humankind’s survival is at stake?” Questions such as these are not uncommon. However, they suggest a false opposition. Environmental problems and concerns with social equity do not compete with each over pride of place on academic and political agenda’s. On the contrary, they are directly related in that they both feed off a common ground. In this webinar, Pim Martens  and Lies Wesseling will expose this common ground, by revealing how the exploitation of humans and non-humans are both rooted in an instrumentalist conception of nature. They will also sketch the contours of alternative conceptions of the more-than-human world.

All members of the UM community are warmly invited to participate. This webinar is also part of the Maastricht Summerschool on Human and Animal Relations and Interactions taking place on November 21 and 22, 2020. Participation is free but you need to enroll before November 20, 2020, by send an email to: Lies.Wesseling@Maastrichtuniversity.nl.

Speakers:

Pim Martens, Professor of Sustainable Development, Chair Platform Human and non-human Animal Relations, and  Interations (HARI, FASoS), and Senior Fellow in the Ethics of the Anthropocene Program at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.  

 Lies Wesseling, director Centre for Gender and Diversity and Professor of Cultural Memory, Gender and Diversity at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Religion and Animals (4): Interview Hindu Prince Jayasinhji Jhala

Interview with Jayasinhji Jhala, the 47th Jhallesvar His Highness Maharaja Sriraj of Halvad- Dhrangadhra and the cultural custodian of the Peoples of Jhalavad and protector of all life forms.

Our dominant current socio-economic and political systems have become decoupled from the larger ecology of life. Our relationship with the natural environment and animals has changed dramatically over time. My Fellowship ‘Ethics of the Anthropocene‘ (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) intends to discuss these past patterns and future pathways with (indigenous) religious leaders.

Above the fourth interview in a series of conversations with religious leaders and their vision on how we should relate to nature and the animals within.

More interviews will follow!

See all interviews at the project page.

Religion and Animals (3): Interview Maya Priest Audelino Sac Coyoy

Interview with Audelino Sac Coyoy, a Maya-K’iche’ priest and political scientist who currently teaches at the Universidad Rafael Landívar Campus de Quetzaltenango in Guatemala.

Our dominant current socio-economic and political systems have become decoupled from the larger ecology of life. Our relationship with the natural environment and animals has changed dramatically over time. My Fellowship ‘Ethics of the Anthropocene‘ (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) intends to discuss these past patterns and future pathways with (indigenous) religious leaders.

Indigenous worldviews

Indigenous cultures have a unique view of the world that’s distinct from the mainstream. Learning about indigenous cultures and their relationships with animals, may be a way we can begin to address the sustainability challenges we see today. Above the third interview in a series of conversations with religious leaders and their vision on how we should relate to nature and the animals within.

More interviews will follow!

See all interviews at the project page.

Religion and Animals (2): Interview Dakota Chief Phil Lane Jr

Interview with Phil Lane Jr. Phil is an enrolled member of the Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chickasaw Nations. Chief Phil Lane Jr. is an internationally recognized indigenous leader in human and community development.

Our dominant current socio-economic and political systems have become decoupled from the larger ecology of life. Our relationship with the natural environment and animals has changed dramatically over time. My Fellowship ‘Ethics of the Anthropocene‘ (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) intends to discuss these past patterns and future pathways with (indigenous) religious leaders.

Indigenous worldviews

Indigenous cultures have a unique view of the world that’s distinct from the mainstream. Learning about indigenous cultures and their relationships with animals, may be a way we can begin to address the sustainability challenges we see today. Above the second interview in a series of conversations with religious leaders and their vision on how we should relate to nature and the animals within.

More interviews will follow!

See all interviews at the project page.

Religion and Animals (1): Interview Aztec Anita Sanchez

Interview with Anita Sanchez. Anita was born into a Midwest family that was economically poor, yet rich in Mexican-American and Aztec Indian heritage. She specializes in indigenous wisdom, diversity and inclusion, leadership, culture and promoting positive change in our world.

Our dominant current socio-economic and political systems have become decoupled from the larger ecology of life. Our relationship with the natural environment and animals has changed dramatically over time. My Fellowship ‘Ethics of the Anthropocene‘ (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) intends to discuss these past patterns and future pathways with (indigenous) religious leaders.

Indigenous worldviews

Indigenous cultures have a unique view of the world that’s distinct from the mainstream. Learning about indigenous cultures and their relationships with animals, may be a way we can begin to address the sustainability challenges we see today. Above the first interview in a series of conversations with religious leaders and their vision on how we should relate to nature and the animals within.

More interviews will follow!

See all interviews at the project page.

Scientivists urgently needed!

Almost every scientist recognises this picture. Having devoted much of their lives to perform research on a specific issue, but not being able to get the message outside the academic walls (and it’s not only the government that’s ‘out there’). This holds for the more fundamental sciences, but even more so for research on more complex issues, like climate change, poverty, biodiversity loss, financial-economic crisis, and the current corona pandemic.

Of course, many scientists are to be blamed as well. Being so caught up in their own scientific square centimetre, they are unable to communicate the main message of their research to others. Stimulated by the perverse publication system that only accounts for peer-reviewed publications (and not so much for more understandable messages), leaves people outside academia with only scientific papers. Not very useful in the public arena.

But still. Isn’t it funny, that a society that pays lots of money to universities and research centres, that does value teaching and research done at these places highly, then dismisses results of these institutes if it is not ‘handy’, and perhaps a little too vague?

Academia has responded through the initiation of new fields of research, such as sustainability science, focusing on research collaborations among scientists from different disciplines and non-academic stakeholders from business, government, and the civil society. Not so much for the fundamental sciences, but for the earlier mentioned ‘complex societal issues’ humanity faces today. The idea behind this is that we all need to work together in order to address sustainability challenges and develop real solution patterns.

Well, that’s a step in the right direction. However, being good scientists, this idea of ‘sustainability science’ is becoming formalised rapidly. And  – although classified by concepts such as post-normal, mode-2, triple helix, and other science paradigms – it still are ‘scientific’ classifications. With other words, it is being ‘bounded’ by similar rules that apply to other sciences as well.

From a scientific point of view, this is fine. But what about the point of view of moving forward to a more sustainable world? Does this not oblige scientists to take more responsibility, especially at times when many signals in nature and society are red? Or do we (scientists) continue to discuss the rules under which ‘sustainability science’ needs to be operated? Rules that probably will be ‘dismissed’ by the other stakeholders if it suits their purpose?

It is about time for many (more) scientists to become scientivists. Scientivists are people that are engaged in a systematic activity to acquire knowledge (the ‘science part’), to promote, impede, or direct societal change (the ‘activist part’). Scientivism can take a wide range of forms from writing letters to newspapers or politicians, to economic activism, such as boycotts, sit-ins etc. Scientivists are not afraid of interfering with legitimized procedures and official politics when science shows this would be needed.

On the other hand, scientivists must be aware that their actions may increase the risk of scientific results inappropriately being used into social discourses and in the media. This might lead to situations where, for instance, researchers find themselves unwittingly “supporting” an application of the generated knowledge they might strongly disagree with.

It is, therefore, not a ‘job’ (as for most of us ‘being a scientist’ is), but rather an ‘attitude’. An attitude that may be urgently to move forward to a more sustainable society. As in this era of social media, opportunities for scientivists will increase as we speak, there are no reasons not to join…unless you do not have that attitude…

(Published earlier (in 2012) by Pim Martens and Jan Rotmans)

See also (in Dutch): Een taxonomie van de wetenschapsactivist and The meaning of academia in times of environmental crisis.

Pathways of universities’ transformation for sustainability

Leuphana University

Universities worldwide have a clear mandate to participate in the endeavour for sustainable development through institutional transformation. Moreover, it is recognised that universities are well-positioned to identify and navigate pathways of transformation towards sustainability given their propensity for consideration of the extended time horizon for sustainability outcomes . Yet, despite their being organisations of learning, they struggle to set up structures to promote their own organisational learning. This is a problematic paradox as researchers repeatedly place universities at the centre of the ‘fundamental transformation’ that sustainable development demands of social actors, organisations, institutions and societies. Therefore, universities must also work on their own transformations if they are to operationalise their aspirations to implement sustainable development in their surroundings. This is an especially urgent imperative given the wicked problems they are tasked with providing solutions for, such as relieving anthropogenic pressures on the global environment and attaining population wellbeing in the face of growing inequality.

Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Arizona State University, and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

We analyzed three case studies of universities that have transformed themselves as organisations towards sustainability with signature pathway approaches: Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Arizona State University, and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. These universities first invested significant time, energy, and human resources in learning about and researching themselves, before embarking along differentiated pathways of transformation. They also showed that any blueprint of organisational transformation for sustainability should be rooted in the intrinsic logic of the organisations in question. This may prove meaningful for leaders (youth, academic or otherwise) elsewhere to prioritise specific asset development within their organisations, as they show how to shape competencies conducive to organisational transformation for sustainability. They also provide stepping-stones for knowledge actors in universities to navigate organisational and societal transformation towards sustainability, in light of the radical and regenerative adaptation that must now take place.

Alex Baker-Shelley, Annemarie Van Zeijl-Rozema & Pim Martens (2020) Pathways of organisational transformation for sustainability: a university case-study synthesis presenting competencies for systemic change & rubrics of transformation, International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology.

Our sustainability challenges: climate change, health, and animal well-being

The lecture by Prof. Pim Martens, given Monday June 15th

Our dominant current socio-economic and political systems have become decoupled from the larger ecology of life, and our relationship with our natural environment and the animals within has changed dramatically. This has led to various outbreaks of vector-borne and zoonotic diseases – with COVID-19 as the hard lesson learned (or not?). In this lecture, Pim Martens, Professor of Sustainable Development at Maastricht University, will discuss the complexities and connections between our own well-being and that of the animals with whom we live, and global environmental changes like climate change and biodiversity loss.

Compared to climate change, the impact of covid-19 will look like peanuts

We’ve been warning about this for decades

COVID-19, the third outbreak of coronavirus in 20 years, wasn’t exactly unpredictable. Professor Pim Martens, who tries to integrate scientific knowledge and animal advocacy, talks about how zoonoses, infectious diseases that jump from animals to humans, foreground the complex interconnectedness of our wellbeing and our treatment of animals.

“It was strange – I had no idea. And even when the first reports emerged, I was quite sure they would contain it within the province….” Professor of Sustainable Development Pim Martens has been to China at the end of last year at the invitation of Bingtao Su, his former PhD student at Maastricht University. As a visiting professor, he spent two weeks lecturing at Shandong University and the Chinese Academy of Science.

Under his guidance, Su had studied the Chinese perspective on animal welfare, as compared to the Netherlands and Japan. They used questionnaires to collect data about how factors such as age, gender, or religion relate to attitudes towards animals. He is now also supervising PhD and MSc students conducting similar research in Indonesia and Spain.

Chinese attitudes towards animals

“Sustainability is underrepresented in Chinese Academics, but they are keen to bring in expertise, especially integrated perspectives on interdisciplinary sustainability science.” Sustainable human-animal relationship is a somewhat delicate topic in China: apart from the vast amounts of money at stake, there is also still a belief in the medicinal powers of rare animals’ organs as well as a cultural reluctance towards open criticism.

“China is a huge and very diverse country, so it’s difficult to generalise – that’s also what we’ve found in the study. It is true that they eat a much bigger variety of animals than we do – although you could also say it’s surprising how few animals we in Western Europe eat…” In any case, many suspect that wet markets, on which many different species of animal are kept in close proximity, is where COVID-19 has originated.

Meat, milk and raw materials

More and more animals are kept closely together in unsanitary or overly hygienic (antibiotics, etc.) conditions to satisfy the rising demand for animal protein of densely populated megacities. The need for space and raw materials perpetuates the encroachment on animal habitats like rainforests, which, in turn, brings more humans in contact with more exotic animal species. Add to that frequent international travel – both human and animal – and it’s excellent conditions for zoonosis.

Diseases moving from animals to humans isn’t entirely preventable of course. “It’s a question of probabilities – if we were all vegan animal rights activists, there could still be a zoonotic pandemic but it would be infinitely less likely.” And this was no perfect storm either. “Academics have been warning for decades that this will happen – it was always a question of when, not if.” We’ve had several zoonotic epidemics – several of them corona in fact – in recent decades.

Zoonosis closer to home

According to Martens, a Western European source of zoonotic disease isn’t unthinkable either. The Netherlands, for example, is a densely populated country with a lot of intensively farmed livestock: more than a 1.5 million animals are slaughtered per day, after having spent their lives at very close quarters indeed. The population is very mobile within the country and Schiphol is one of the busiest airports in Europe.

Martens cites the 2007 outbreak of Q Fever, a rather uncommon but devastating disease that can spread from livestock to humans. Dutch authorities were struggling to contain or monitor the spread and the original tally of 25 victims is now estimated to be closer to a hundred. The spread of the disease was eventually contained through a mass cull (of goats and sheep, that is) and by introducing a vaccine for animals.

Greater respect for nature

“The solution is greater respect for nature: moving away from industrial livestock farming, deforestation, wet markets, etc. This would also help address climate change, the impact of which will make this look like peanuts.” Martens’ own contribution to science – together with many international scientists – is studying the complexity and interactions between humans, animals and nature by, among other things, developing mathematical models to simulate the spread of zoonoses. But he also hopes to do his part in bringing about a change of attitude.

He was certainly heartened by how many students attended his lectures in China and how interested and knowledgeable they were. “You can tell that there is a cultural shift especially among young, educated people in urban areas.” Together with Su, he now wants to repeat the original study to see whether the COVID-19 outbreak has changed attitudes towards animal welfare in China.

Surely, it must have changed? Given the public and political discourse, Martens has his doubts. “Of course, economic recovery is very important, but I really hope we won’t rush back to business as usual without fixing the underlying problem.” He adds with a sigh: “If we haven’t learnt anything from this pandemic, then maybe we will from the next one…”

By: Florian Raith. See original post on UMnieuws.

Pro-environmental consumer behaviour : the need for an interdisciplinary approach

In the last few years a steady increase in studies on consumer behaviour, in relation to sustainable development, demonstrates the need to expand the economic and social analysis of consumer activities towards a more interdisciplinary approach. In some cases like environmental engineering, we observe great progress, but note with regret that the predominant focus is still on the consumer purchase phase.  Similarly, economic studies tend to consider the individual as a rational actor maximising his/her profit or interest. In general, the analysis of human behaviour is influenced and biased by the different sectorial perspective adopted by the scholar. A correct analysis of the impact of all human consumptive activities on the environment requires an interdisciplinary approach involving many fields like engineering, chemistry, ecology, economics, marketing, law, business management, sociology, and psychology.

Read more in: Concari, A., Kok, G., Martens, P. (2020). A Systematic Literature Review of Concepts and Factors Related to Pro-Environmental Consumer Behaviour in Relation to Waste Management through an Interdisciplinary Approach. Sustainability12, 4452.