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Top>Opinion>Biodiversity — Keywords for Sustainable Development


Hirofumi Nishida

Hirofumi Nishida [Profile]


— Keywords for Sustainable Development

Hirofumi Nishida
Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Plant Phylogeny, Paleobotany

International Year of Biodiversity and CBD COP10

The United Nations has declared this year, 2010, to be the International Year of Biodiversity and in October, the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 10) will be held in Nagoya, Japan. These events are finally raising awareness about biodiversity in Japan. Already at the 1992 Rio Environmental Summit, the world recognized biodiversity and global warming as critical issues to be solved soon. In Japan, however, global warming has gained attention and awareness, while biodiversity has remained a word that the majority of the public has never even heard of. To improve this situation, the Integrative Biology committee of the Science Council of Japan announced a proposal called the Conservation and Sustainable Use of BiodiversitynewWindow in February, and academic communities have been emphasizing its importance. There is no room to detail about the importance of biodiversity here, but some people even regard biodiversity as a form of modern common sense, comparable to democracy.

The Environmental Morals of Japanese People

All Japanese people must correctly recognize and work for a complete solution to environmental issues. Al Gore, who has greatly helped to raise awareness of global warming issues, clearly stated in his book that environmental issues are moral issues. Back in Japan, many people naturally believe that they take care of nature, but it is doubtful that they actually do. To be sure, through the style of agriculture, forestry, and fishery that uses benefits from nature in their homeland, known as Satoyama (land near hills) or Satoumi (land near sea), Japanese have traditionally lived in harmony with nature and developed a unique culture. However, my experience suggests that each individual Japanese person is not actually environmentally moral enough to convince me to agree with the rhetoric that "the Japanese are a people who take care of nature." Many Japanese isolate themselves from the natural environment by settling in urban areas, depend overly on science and technology, and lack appropriate education. Therefore, they even seem to think that issues relating to current biodiversity can be solved just by pushing some switches at home like any other environmental issue.

Global History is a Collection of Local Histories

As a fossil plant specialist, I have studied plant history by seeking to reconstruct the history of biodiversity, which has naturally led me to issues relating to biodiversity. The current biodiversity is a unique historical heritage that can be found only on our planet. Creatures first appeared on land some 500 million years ago. Humankind would not be here without flowers (angiosperms) that first appeared about 150 million years ago during the latest Jurassic to the earliest Cretaceous period. This long history of biota succeeds to the history of a killifish or a floating grass that happen to be found in your nearby brook. The fact that global biodiversity is a collection of local biodiversity means that appropriate maintenance and use of local biodiversity lead to preservation of global biodiversity and the global ecosystem. As a result, rapid changes in the global climate as well as in the circulation of the world's oceans and the global atmosphere could be avoided, which would give some guarantee of sustainable biological productivity to support the future of humankind. It is time to implement this simple theory as soon as possible.

Involvement of All Communities and Sectors

When asked about what is associated with the environment and what is interesting about environmental issues, college students and ordinary people in Japan often talk about things that are easily solved using technology, such as wind power generation, solar energy, and new garbage disposal system. It is unsurprising that the importance of science and technology is widely accepted among Japanese people, thanks to Japan's national policy of emphasizing technology since the Meiji era (starting in 1867) and its results. However, we must humbly accept that a lack of consideration of biodiversity will not only lead to failure in economic revitalization efforts through attempting to raise industry output but, even worse, may lead to a crisis in the food that we need to support our lives. Because of this, local governments and all local communities must focus on biodiversity, even more actively than the Japanese government, and devote their best efforts to achieving the maintenance and appropriate use of biodiversity from a global perspective. There are no manuals to explain what to do. Humankind is encountering this issue for the first time, which is why all sectors must address the issue actively.

Education Fostering Sensitivity

Education fosters a sense of morals regarding biodiversity and environment. And the generation of such morals is not achievable just by telling people what to do. First of all, I believe what is important is to foster a positive attitude to addressing various matters, as well as the sensitivity to allow people to consider the coexistence of different creatures as a good thing. In other words, it is necessary to foster curiosity and reason. Although empirical decision is not generally accepted by the scientific community, predictions based on experience sometimes have effect in real life. From my experience, a highly effective method is to give experience of coming into contact with nature and creatures by using their five senses at least to primary and secondary school students, along with providing appropriate advice from parents and teachers. For more details, please see my work as listed below.


Nishida, H. (2010) Natural History/Paleontology and Education in Biodiversity (Shizenshi/Koseibutsugaku to Seibutsu Tayosei Kyoiku), Gakujutsu No Doko, 109-113
Nishida, H. (2008) Biodiversity from the Earth's History (Chikyushi Kara Kangaeru Seibutsu Tayosei), Nippon Keidanren Committee of Nature Conservation, 46, 20-22
Nishida, H. (2008) Humans and Biodiversity - the Age of Fostering New Morality (Hito to Seibutsu Tayosei -Arata Na Moraru Keisei No Jidai-), Chuou Hyoron, 265, 31-33

Click here to see the cultural program, Chi no Kairou (Plant History and Biodiversity), supervised by Harufumi Nishida.newWindow

Harufumi Nishida
Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Chuo University
Guest Professor of Paleobotany, Department of Biological Sciences, Graduate School of Science, The University of Tokyo
Specialty: Plant Phylogeny, Paleobotany
Born in Chiba in 1954, Professor Nishida graduated with a graduate degree from the Faculty of Science, Chiba University and received his Doctorate from the Doctoral Program of the Graduate School of Science, Kyoto University in 1983. Professor Nishida became a Professor Faculty of Science and Engineering(Biological Sciences), Chuo University, a position which he has held since 1997. He is also an affiliated member of the Science Council of Japan, the President of the Union of Japanese Societies for Natural History, and the Director-General of the Biodiversity Network Japan. His major fields of study include plant fossils. He conducted a field survey in Patagonia, Chile during the New Year's Holidays in 2010.