For several decades, researchers from many academic disciplines have attempted to find solutions to the environmental problems that now confront human communities at all scales. Despite extensive research in individual disciplines, however, many environmental problems have remained unresolved. There is therefore need not for additional partial descriptions of discrete environmental problems, but for holistic understandings of the underlying causes of these problems, and integrated approaches to their solutions.
RIHN research is characterized by the belief that environmental problems stem from problems in human culture. RIHN research projects therefore are designed to examine not only the diverse range of cultures that currently inhabit the Earth, but also past patterns of cultural and environmental change. In addition to conducting high quality basic research, our aim is to enable discussion of diverse perspectives of nature and their potential relevance to the future.
Since the establishment of RIHN, researchers of the institute have discussed the concept of futurability (or sustainable future), a Japanese word that combines the ideographs “future” and “potential”. This concept invites us to consider the kinds of interactions between human beings and nature—some age-old and some entirely new—that various societies and communities might seek. We hope it will continue to stimulate discussion of what should be done to address environmental problems at their roots, so that future generations will not inherit the same patterns of use and degradation that now characterize our global society.
The idea that environmental problems stem from problems in human culture inevitably leads to the conclusion that environmental research needs to consider the concept of values in various human societies and cultures. Anthropogenic environmental impact is now predominant on a global scale, and the current era of Earth history is being called the “Anthropocene”. Humankind is becoming increasingly conscious of its dependence on finite and limited resources, and of the many negative consequences of continued degradation of our biosphere. Humans have also progressively come to understand that a number of critical environmental problems cannot be separated from social inequity, especially in terms of access to natural resources and their benefits. RIHN is now conducting solution-oriented environmental research projects based on new forms of transdisciplinary knowledge production.
Exposing different value systems in such contexts can lead to social conflicts, but true resolution of socio-environmental issues is a challenge shared by humanity in general. It requires forthright dialogue and exchange between peoples of the world. A sustainable future, or “futurability”, thus also indicates our sincere aspiration to establish integrated global environmental studies as a new holistic approach to a sustainable future for human beings at local, regional to global scales of our planet Earth.