#2 The Goals of Planetary Health at Nagasaki University

Chiho Watanabe
Professor and Dean, Interfaculty Initiative in Planetary Health, School of Tropical Medicine and Global Health, Nagasaki University
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This is Part II of an interview with Professor Chiho Watanabe, Dean, Nagasaki University Interfaculty Initiative in Planetary Health, wherein he introduces the new concept of planetary health, which has grown rapidly over the last decade. In Part II, he unpacks what will be needed in order to realize Planetary Health.

Expanding from the local level to the planetary level

I believe Nagasaki University’s stance on planetary health is characterized by an elimination of between departmensts barriers.

People from many fields and disciplines can participate in planetary health. Nagasaki University’s basic stance toward Planetary Health is to have people from various fields come together to pool their knowledge and tackle major issues.

It is also important to consider how to successfully implement new knowledge, perhaps something written in a research paper, into the real world. In this sense, you need to start locally and expand it to the planetary level. This is one thing that we are discussing.

By local, I don’t necessarily mean Nagasaki, the city where the university is located. For one thing, Nagasaki University has overseas locations in Asia and Africa, and many international students are come here, so we can also work to realize Planetary Health in each of these locations and in each of the regions from where our international students come. In other words, we may call it local, but it’s also global.

So, what you are saying is that each region around the world should work locally on its own issues?

That’s right. There is meaning in conducting planetary health work in Nagasaki, which has abundant nature, including oceans and volcanoes and a long history, as well as planetary health work in Tokyo, with its highly urbanized and anthropized environment.

However, if you focus only on a local area in considering a solution to a local problem, even if you succeed there, that area will end up being the only winner and new problems will result. That is why it’s important to consider collaborations and relationships with other localities.

Cultivating leaders who have planetary health mindsets

Nagasaki University has put forth the initiative to cultivate individuals who have planetary health mindsets. What does a planetary health mindset mean?

A planetary health mindset is the attitude to face challenges from a multifaceted perspective that isn’t limited to a specific position or existing area or field. In other words, Nagasaki University is pouring its efforts into cultivating leaders who have the ability to think flexibly and who will take on new intellectual pursuits.

More simply, this means being able to consider “What does this have to do with the planet?” in the course of living your daily life. For example, when we sort plastic waste, we usually only think about whether or not we’ve separated it. Even if you don’t know exactly what will happen to the collected plastic, I think you have a planetary health mindset if you’re able to ask, “What will happen to it?”

What are you doing to cultivate such individuals?

First, from the 2021 Fiscal year, we required first-year students to take an introductory course on planetary health. Since we didn’t have any reference books that provide a systematic understanding of planetary health, we also launched a project to translate a text written mainly by the authors of the article in The Lancet. The completed translated book, 「Planetary Health: Protecting Nature to Protect Ourselves」, was published by Maruzen Publishing in March 2022.

We also provide support for student activities, including a scholarship program that supports students who are working in the graduate school on topics that may be connected to planetary health while they are enrolled here. The School of Medicine also participates in the Planetary Health Report Card, an international initiative in which students evaluate the seriousness of a university’s commitment to planetary health.

In fact, the Planetary Health Report Card had been a worldwide initiative by medical schools only, but I was very happy when our students from the School of Environment found out about it, had the desire to participate and decided to take action.

Although there aren’t many initiatives per se yet, we hope to promote the idea of planetary health by cultivating young students, and Nagasaki University is looking to play a role as a hub for planetary health.

Chiho Watanabe
Professor and Dean, Interfaculty Initiative in Planetary Health, School of Tropical Medicine and Global Health, Nagasaki University
Chiho Watanabe earned credits at the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Medicine in 1989.He served as Professor of Human Ecology, University of Tokyo Graduate School of Medicine from 2005 to 2017, as President, National Institute for Environmental Studies from 2017 to 2021, and assumed his current position in 2021. He is Professor Emeritus, University of Tokyo and a Doctor of Health Science.His other positions include or have included President, Japanese Society of Health and Human Ecology (2017-2023); Chairman, Society of Environmental Science, Japan (2021-2023); Associate Member, Section II, Science Council of Japan; former Third Vice President, Society for Human Ecology; and former Chair, Human Ecology Section, Ecological Society of America.