About Program

Circulation Program

What is circulation and how does it relate to global environmental problems? Two concepts of circulation are considered in this program. One is the circulation of energy and matter at the earth’s surface. Matter includes air, water, chemical components and the living organisms they contain. Such circulations of energy and matter are caused by solar radiation absorbed by the earth’s surface systems. In a broad view, the migration of humans around the planet can be considered as a kind of circulation, as can the great amount of material people move from place to place. Circulation describes largescale spatial and temporal movements that in small-scale may look like flows. The critical issue in regards to global environmental problems is that current change in the biogeochemical circulations that sustain the biosphere is so sudden; it may be irreversible, though this is difficult to predict, as it depends in part on human thought, action and culture.

The recurrent interaction between humanity and nature can also be considered as a kind of circulation. Through economic and technological development, and through its sheer numbers, humankind has gradually transformed the surface of the planet. It has altered existing environments and created wholly new environments, which have in turn become new sites of human-environmental interaction in which new societies have emerged.

Individual research projects in the RIHN Circulation Program are conceptualized and carried out within the above conceptual framework. They cumulatively improve human understanding of the ceaseless motion that composes the biosphere.

> View Current Projects

▲PAGE TOP

Diversity Program

Humanity and nature have evolved together. Nature is the source material of human perception and culture, and nature’s rich diversity—both biotic and abiotic—has nurtured cultural diversity. Yet nature has been transformed through human activity: it is both source and subject.

Biological diversity composes the planet as we know it; it is the foundation of all society and human reliance on it is unquantifiable. Meanwhile, cultural diversity, including ideas, languages, technologies, ways of living and systems of belief, has been passed through the generations, and has enriched human quality of life and understanding of the biosphere.

In acknowledging this role of cultural diversity we recognize the basic human rights to safe, healthy, fulfilling lives, peace of mind and just social systems, for these are the essential conditions in which people can live with hope and pride. In historical context, the current loss of cultural diversity can be seen as part of a large-scale process that threatens biological diversity on Earth, and as an expression of humankind’s relationship with nature since the last century. Humanity faces a situation in which the cultures responsible for today’s global environmental problems are excluding from the world those that have historically embraced “wise use” of, and harmony with, nature.

The RIHN Diversity Program describes and analyzes the formation, maintenance and functions of biological and cultural diversity in various environments. It seeks to identify ways to re-vitalize the idea and practice of “wise use” of nature—to prevent exhaustion of resources and preserve ecosystem services—in order to enhance human well-being and ecological integrity.

> View Current Projects

▲PAGE TOP

Resources Program

The Resources Program examines global environmental issues related to the use and conservation of natural resources. Human beings have always made use of and changed the environments in which they live. Such change occurs as people appraise the qualities of the plants, animals, waters and soils that surround them, and develop the tools that allow them to make use of their surroundings. Perception and use of resources is therefore related to the individual or society’s immediate needs for survival and their knowledge of the natural world. Resource use is also guided by cultural preferences originating from individual tastes and belief systems, as well as societal preferences resulting from a peoples’ collective sense of its place and role within the larger world.

Human innovation in the natural world has led to the domestication of plants and animals and the control of water and energy. Paradoxically, humanity’s great advances in environmental knowledge and resource control have led to environmental problems of unprecedented scale. Overall, humanity appears to be consuming many resources and taxing many ecosystems at a pace beyond their capacity of renewal or absorption.

Excessive resource use cannot simply be explained as a result of population or economic growth. Instead we must look to the roots of the interactions between humanity and nature. Identifying solutions to contemporary resource problems requires close attention to specific human-environmental interactions, for there are great disparities between and within individual societies that prevent equal access to the benefits of local and global environments. Projects in the Resources Program examine how human livelihoods are directly affected by natural resources and seek solutions that will positively affect communities and the global environment.

> View Current Projects

▲PAGE TOP

Ecohistory Program

The Ecohistory program investigates circulation, diversity, and resources from a historical point of view. We can find that there is historical causality embedded in every problem or phenomenon. This fact emphasizes the need to investigate the past to understand the present. The goal of this program is to contribute to contemporary and future societies. Like other RIHN research programs, it must also articulate global environmental issues, propose solutions, and deepen understanding of potential interactions between humanity and nature.

Current projects of the Ecohistory Program examine the environmental histories of two distinct areas, known as the ‘Asian Green Belt’ and ‘Eurasian Yellow Belt’. In the former, communities managed to maintain sustainable livelihoods for approximately ten thousand years. In the latter region, many civilizations collapsed during the same time period. Is this understanding historically correct? What caused such difference in the productivity and sustainability of the two regions? This question is at the core of this research program; its answer is vital to the human future.

> View Current Projects

▲PAGE TOP

Ecosophy Program

Climate warming is one of the truly global environmental problems. It affects almost all systems of the world, including sea-level, hydrological regime, vegetation, agricultural production, marine life, and so on. On the other hand, most environmental problems are described as specific phenomena - as declining water quality or loss of forest or biodiversity in a particular place - yet these can also be viewed in global perspective. In arid regions, for example, the construction of large reservoirs and irrigation systems has greatly enhanced agricultural productivity. Such transformations of hydrology and landscape have clear local effects, yet as humankind comes to view the biophysical phenomena found in a place as iterations of larger processes, we recognize that the world is characterized by linkage and connection. Water shortage or soil degradation in one area may lead to food shortage or air pollution in another.

Humans have created new global cycles and scales of interaction with nature. The exchange of people, ideas and materials can stimulate human creativity, yet at present there is little agreement of how to establish patterns of exchange that will simultaneously enhance human wellbeing and ecological integrity. This is the fundamental problem of our time.

Projects in this domain examine the manner in which contemporary environmental problems both contribute to and result from global phenomena and processes. These research projects focus on specific social and environmental contexts in which environmental problems are found, the linkages of these problems to social and material phenomena in other places, and on the conceptual models used to describe such interconnection.

> View Current Projects

▲PAGE TOP

RIHN Initiative Projects

RIHN Initiative Projects are developed through intensive discussion at RIHN of past, present and future research objectives (see page 5). They operate within a major field of thought roughly analogous to the ancient Greek realms described by Gaia, Oikos and Ethos.

> View Current Projects

GAIA Initiative

As human societies design their futures they require best understandings of the Earth’s natural dynamism, and the significance of human action within it. The Gaia Initiative therefore performs investigations of the biophysical bases of humanity at multiple spatial and temporal scales. The Initiative emphasizes description of physical standards related to boundaries and thresholds so as to allow analysis of, and best eco-technological adaptations to, dynamic Earth environments.

OIKOS Initiative

Research in the Oikos Initiative investigates the practices and knowledge systems through which cultures and communities humanize environments. It emphasizes the human ecologies and economies—from modern techno-centric to traditional— associated with environmental commons. The Oikos Initiative therefore emphasizes examination of the values associated with resource use, and the importance of linking a range of eco-technologies and social equity.

ETHOS Initiative

The Ethos Initiative examines the values and dynamics affecting human ecological knowledge, especially in relation to the key areas of food production and human health. The Initiative describes the relationship between environmental knowledge, including that embedded as cultural value and sense of self, on quality of individual and community life.

> View Current Projects

▲PAGE TOP