Animals in Animal-Assisted Services: Are They Volunteers or Professionals?

Animal welfare is a growing concern in Animal-Assisted Services. Although studies have been conducted on stress signals and—to a lesser extent—positive emotions, no research has yet been conducted on the motivation of the integrated animal, to the best of our knowledge. Not all therapy animals are trained to assist. Are they volunteers or professionals? Volunteers have a higher degree of self-government and can quit when they are not motivated anymore. Professionals might, however, go the extra mile. Can we compare animal volunteers and professionals to their human equivalents? If so, this might help to structure discussions about animal welfare and motivation in interventions. Furthermore, it can provide better arguments for the career planning and career ending of these animals. Using animal-friendly interventions might influence motivation and, consequently, the moment at which efforts cease. Studying motivation is not easy, as it requires data on dopamine, the molecule involved in motivation, reward and repetition of behavior. However, the use of wearable techniques such as on site electroencephalograms (EEGs) for freely moving animals and non-invasive dopamine measurements is a developing and promising area of research. The translation of these data into context-ethograms—ethograms that show behavior in a context/intervention—can help handlers and therapists to understand the behavior of their therapy animal better and with less subjectivity.

Read the full paper here: Wijnen, B. & Martens, P. (2022). Animals in Animal-Assisted Services: Are They Volunteers or Professionals? Animals, 12(19), 2564; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12192564

The use of scenarios in climate policy planning

Scenarios are often used to depict the possible outcomes of alternative future developments as part of the evaluation of climate and energy policy measures. In Finland, scenarios have become a standard practice in climate-related policy planning. However, scenario planning often results in a single cohesive narrative, which lacks transparency in why certain developments and solutions are included and others left out.

This article focuses on how scenarios created during the planning of Finland’s Medium-term Plan for Climate Change Policy (KAISU) were built, and how the actors involved assessed the characteristics and quality of these scenarios. We interviewed a total of 18 participants from research, administration, and policymaking domains involved in the creation of the plan and the scenarios it contains. Semi-structured interviews provided an insight into the creation and use of scenarios as part of policy formulation, as well as points of further improvement for the process.

The KAISU plan was constructed as a cross-sectoral collaborative effort between policymakers, public officials, and researchers. Despite the variety of actors involved in the process, the resulting scenarios were perceived as well executed by the participants. However, national scenario foresight could be improved in three dimensions: 1) the process where actors collaborate to build scenarios, 2) the scenario methodology, where solutions and developments are included or excluded, and 3) use of the scenarios after their construction.

Read the full paper here: Aro, K., Aakkulaa, J., Lauttamäki, V., Varhoa, V., Martens, P. and Rikkonen, P. (2022). The use of scenarios in climate policy planning: an assessment of actors’ experiences and lessons learned in Finland. Climate Policy, DOI: 10.1080/14693062.2022.2123773

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!

The dietary ecological footprint 

Food consumption is increasingly impacting the environment. Our results for China, together with previous findings, demonstrate that dietary patterns could contribute directly and significantly to the dietary Ecological Foot Print (EFP), and animal-based diets have greater environmental consequences in terms of land use than plant-based diets.

This study highlights again the dominant role of meat consumption, especially pork and seafood, in dietary patterns, suggesting that China has entered an era dominated by animal-based products. India, as another fast-developing country with the second-largest population, however, did not consume much meat, fish, or eggs. This resulted in a relatively lower environmental footprint for Indian people than for Chinese people. Although dietary choice is a personal matter, owing to the increasing environmental concern, individuals are motivated to change their dietary patterns. A transition to eating less meat would therefore reduce the negative environmental impacts. However, rising incomes and urbanization are driving a global dietary transition in which traditional diets are replaced by diets higher in refined fats and meats. This trend is especially significant in developing countries like China, Nigeria, India, Indonesia, and Mexico.

Graphical Abstract

In light of the generally continually increasing income, diversity dietary cultures, and dietary transitions, the impacts on environmental resources of meat consumption will be severe. Hence, incentives should focus on improving people’s awareness of sustainable dietary patterns. 

Read the full paper here: Su, B., Zhang, C., Martens, P. & Cao, X. (2022). A comparative study on the dietary ecological footprint in contemporary China. Science of the Total Environment, 851 (2), 158289.

Public awareness, lifestyle and low-carbon city transformation

Climate governance is not only an issue of emission reduction, but also a question of how to make people change their lifestyle of generating high carbon emissions. In our Chinese study, there are huge differences in citizens’ lifestyles, economic means, consumption habits, and awareness among different regions of the Western, central and Eastern parts of China due to unbalanced development.

Public understanding mainly relates a low-carbon city to a low-carbon life, and that here is a gap between low-carbon awareness and low-carbon behaviour. From the reviewed articles, we learned that while some citizens have knowledge of the conception of a low-carbon economy, it actually is rather difficult for them to change their behaviour as their low-carbon behaviour is passively affected by government, media and enterprises who advertise low-carbon products.

Then there are others who have been living a low-carbon life for many years, although they do not have any specific knowledge about the low-carbon concept. Improving the understanding of people’s motivation, concerns and cultural constraints as well as including aspects of reconciliation from the philosophical perspective might unify knowledge and action.

Education plays a vital role in improving people’s low-carbon awareness and changing traditional behaviours, which requires schools to provide more low-carbon knowledge to students and encourage them to engage already in an early age in low-carbon consumption habits.

Besides China, there are many other countries that are making an effort to reduce carbon emissions. For high-income European countries, such as the UK, Finland and the Netherlands, further behavioural changes in mobility patterns, housing or diet choices, which made up the largest contributions to household carbon footprints is most needed but also feasible. The aim of low-carbon city development is to create and put into practice city construction and social development models that will help to reduce carbon emissions under the premise of ensuring continuous improvements to the quality of life, whether it is economic development, consumption or transformation of lifestyle. When the different departments of cities attempt to cooperate and make rational use of natural resources and reduce carbon emissions, it will not only contribute to sustainable urban development but will also benefit individuals.

Read the full paper here: Wu, Y., Martens, P. & Krafft, T. (2022). Public Awareness, Lifestyle and Low-Carbon City Transformation in China: A Systematic Literature Review. Sustainability14(16), 10121.

Chinese concern for animals increased significantly after COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in devastating consequences for human health and social stability, not merely China but in the world as a whole, and been the catalyst for a greater scrutiny of animal welfare standards.

By comparing current data with data of 2015 we measured the impacts of COVID-19 on Chinese attitudes towards animals. The present study revealed that Chinese concern for animals increased significantly after COVID-19. So, the unfolding of COVID-19 has highlighted the interrelationships of humans, animals and nature and the ensuing tragedy may finally create an opportunity to see Chinese concern for animal wellbeing improve. Although still a long way to go, hopefully this could also be a indicator that the Chinese government will pay more attention to animal welfare. Not only due to its impacts on human health and social development, but, more importantly, for the sake of animal-wellbeing itself.

Read the full paper here: Su, B. & Martens, P. (2022). Public concern for animal welfare and its correlation with ethical ideologies after coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in China. Animal welfare, 31, 309-318.

Some like it hot?

Maastricht – 39,5 graden Celsius

30 jaar geleden begon ik aan mijn promotieonderzoek over de gevolgen van klimaatverandering op onze gezondheid. Met een integraal klimaat- en gezondheidsmodel, MIASMA, berekende ik de gevolgen van klimaatverandering op infectieziekten en de sterfte ten gevolge van hittestress. Later, als hoogleraar, begeleidde ik promovendi die keken naar de effecten van klimaatverandering op toerisme en op onze rivieren. Met andere Europese Universiteiten modelleerden we in het begin van deze eeuw de verspreiding van dierenziekten, zoals blauwtong bij schapen. Op veel van onze projecties werden cynisch gereageerd (net zoals op onze projectie (van jaren terug) dat een volgende pandemie weleens een zoönose kon zijn (wij noemden het toen ‘panic virus’)). Helaas zijn de meeste voorspelling uitgekomen. In de toekomst zal het verlies van biodiversiteit nog grotere effecten met zich meebrengen. Daarom wordt het nu tijd om die modellen te gaan weerleggen. Niet door de wetenschap te ontkennen, maar door het Antropoceen achter ons te laten. Met voldoende daadkracht en creativiteit kunnen we nog veel ten goede veranderen. Laten we hopen dat deze voorspelling ook uitkomt.

Education in a warming world: Trends, opportunities and pitfalls for institutes of higher education

The human-induced socio-ecological sustainability crises pose a severe threat to all levels of society, particularly the most vulnerable. In recognition of this, many of those within the higher education sector are focusing on sustainability through their research and innovation, teaching and learning and institutional footprints. However, institutional and policy barriers and external challenges have stymied structural change. In this paper, we present examples of trends, opportunities, and pitfalls for Higher education institutes (HEI) sustainability across five domains: (i) innovative approaches to climate change education (ii) transformative research agendas; (iii) climate change education through professional development; (iv) supporting academic advocacy; and (v) whole systems approach to campus greening. We argue that HEI endeavoring to become truly sustainable organizations must embody values consistent with social-ecological sustainability. Misalignments between espoused values and embodied practice within HEI undermine organizational legitimacy and inhibit the sector’s contribution to the public good.

Read the full paper here: Kelly O, Illingworth S, Butera F, Dawson V, White P, Blaise M, Martens P, Schuitema G, Huynen M, Bailey S and Cowman S (2022) Education in a warming world: Trends, opportunities and pitfalls for institutes of higher education. Frontiers in Sustainability. 3:920375. doi: 10.3389/frsus.2022.920375

Vacancies: Climate change health impacts, vulnerability and opportunities

PhD-candidate and post-doc Climate change health impacts, vulnerability and opportunities

We are looking for an enthusiastic PhD and post-doc researcher on healthy climate adaptation.

Healthy climate adaptation is a key prerequisite for achieving a natural and vital rural environment. Addressing the physical and mental health impacts of climate change in rural areas requires a system-based approach that accounts for the fact that these impacts are mediated by changes in population, agriculture, nature and biodiversity. Vulnerability is a function of the extent to which individuals/populations are sensitive to direct and indirect climate change impacts and of the capacity of the population, agriculture, nature and biodiversity to adapt in a healthy way to new climate conditions. Human population vulnerability is highly dependent on socio-economic, demographic and technical context, while vulnerability of agriculture, nature and biodiversity are mostly determined by local conditions, such as (extreme) weather conditions, nutrients and water availability.

To date, however, there is relatively little (empirical) knowledge on the vulnerability of human health to climate change and adaptation measures within this broader web of demographic, socio-economic, technical, nature, biodiversity and agricultural developments. Using a system perspective, we will explore how climate impacts and adaptation measures will affect human health and its interrelations with agriculture, nature and biodiversity. In doing so, we will identify the most important challenges for future health and well-being in each of the selected rural regions. For the human population we will explore future climate scenarios, accounting for possible trends in risk factors, and identify at-risk groups within the selected regions in support of rural climate adaptation measures.

The PhD and post-doc will work closely together to:

  • Develop an integrated health impact assessment protocol for, and gain insight in (health) consequences of climate change for people and their living environment in the three selected rural regions, including a description of vulnerable groups in these regions.
  • Gain insight in mechanisms of climate adaptation measures and interrelations between different transition tasks related to different sectors (health, agriculture, biodiversity) by developing a theoretical framework between healthy climate adaptation measures and potential impacts.
  • Develop practical guidelines for incorporation of these health considerations and vulnerabilities in decision making, to be used on a regional rural level.

The post-doc will be co-responsible for project leadership.

Both PhD and post-doc projects are embedded within the larger transdisciplinary NWO funded MANTRA project (CliMate AdaptatioN for HealTy Rural Areas ). MANTRA aims to develop an innovative system approach that integrates rural priorities for climate change with health risks and opportunities for local communities. It will co-create data, assessments, measures and interventions for healthy climate adaptation in 3 rural living labs. The MANTRA projects involves different disciplines (health, climate, ecology, governance) and various actors such as universities, applied science institutes, assessment agencies, organizations for societal issues and citizen participation, health organizations and various regional stakeholders.

The candidates will be based at Maastricht University College, Venlo, The Netherlands. The supervisor-team will be led by Prof.  Pim Martens

Who are you?

We are looking for candidates who:

  • have a master’s degree (or is near completion of a master program) for the PhD position / have a PhD degree (or is near completion of a PhD for the post-doc position) in the field of Public Health, Sustainability or Environmental  Sciences, Interdisciplinary Science, or another relevant field;
  • has affinity with climate adaptation and health issues;
  • the PhD likes to engage in transdisciplinary research, collaborating with both scientists from across disciplines and societal actors; the post-doc should have experience in participatory research and co-creation processes.
  • is able to perform tasks independently and in teams, has good organization, communication and writing skills, and is fluent in both English and Dutch (For this position your command of the English language is expected to be at C1 level).

Do you want more information?
For more information about this position, please visit Academic Transfer via these links for the PhD-position and postdoc-position.