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NatureInterface > No.01 > P014-015 [Japanese]

The Global

The "global environmental problem" and the creation of "science for the people"

Hiroyuki Yoshikawa (President of Science Council of Japan)

One of the greatest problems facing science today is the global environmental problem. In order to perpetuate civilization, the global consensus is that a number of actions must be taken quickly. Now, although governments, enterprises, universities and others have already started to deal with this problem in their own characteristic ways, the global environmental problem is of such a nature that it cannot be solved by applying only traditional methods.

Making things simple to prove hypotheses has been the conventional method of science. This simplification is necessary in order to verify truth through experimentation; it has made objectivity possible and led to the creation of knowledge and the formation of rules. But at the same time, this simplification has created specialized points of view and the partitioning of knowledge among different specialized fields. This division of science makes it difficult to apply scientific knowledge to the global environmental problem, which transcends all scientific disciplines. In other words, traditional scientific methods and the efforts of narrowly specialized fields cannot deal adequately with the global environmental problem.

Destruction of the global environment is a fundamental problem. Man relies on scientific knowledge to make human life safer and more comfortable. Efforts by man to create a more comfortable life have covered the globe with massive, complicated artificial systems of civilization: energy systems, information systems, transport systems and the manufacturing systems that produce them. The price of these artificial systems is a slew of global environmental problems. Specific problems include the accumulation of chemicals inside the body, the global warming caused by excessive emission of carbon dioxide and the emergence of infectious diseases due to excessive use of antibiotics and resistant bacterium. These problems cannot be solved by merely changing people's consciousness, and they are so serious that they threaten the very foundation of mankind's continued survival.

Science is now being confronted with the need to create a new field, one concerned with knowledge that will be useful in solving present-day problems. Even including the existing scientific disciplines, we will still have to create this new field and, as a natural consequence, form a system of knowledge according to practical means.

Now there is a need for a paradigm shift from the infinite to the finite, the world of which must be used effectively. Respect must be shown for curiosity about what can be done with what is already known, and human beings must be considered an integral part of the world in which we live. This new field is needed to forecast the future and develop analytic methods that must then be imparted to the people.

Before World War II, "science" was the province of national government and military power. After World War II came the age of "science for the sake of science". As the usefulness of science has increased, we now find ourselves at an open door to the age of "science for the people." This change has come about more because of change in society than change in science itself. People are becoming more and more aware that science is deeply connected to the abundance of everyday life, safety, health, quality of life, education and so on. Besides, the impact of politics on scientific research is coming to be more seriously considered. In this situation, to deal effectively with the global environmental problem, it is no longer permissible for authority, government and big business to selfishly manipulate science and force it to serve their own interests and rules, as has been done in the past. Only the consensus of many people can create the necessary impetus for action on various problems.

"Science for the people" requires a social synthesis of the huge amount of scientific knowledge required to deal with complex problems that span many fields, precisely because of the multifunctionality and complexity of our modern civilization systems. That is to say, we must think of how to solve real problems as we create new knowledge, while at the same time we are obliged to analyze the effect of that knowledge on society.

Today, the spirit of the age is "finiteness," "recycling," "denial of exclusive territory," and "the big picture." In this sense, the magazine Nature Interface will communicate with a wide variety of people in our present society, about the ways in which the artificial world has become huge and begun to come into conflict with the natural system of life on earth that includes man. We hope that this magazine will help to create a consensus among many people for a "science of the people," and to serve as a medium that widely introduces a large variety of concepts, ways of thinking and actual practices for making a soft system in accord with nature.

Fig. Caption

Prof. Yoshikawa says we are at an open door to the age of "science for the people."

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