“So consider the crocodiles, sharks and snakes, the small and the squirmy, the smelly, slimy and scaly. Consider the fanged and the hairy, the ugly and the cute alike. The more we degrade this astonishing diversity of evolved life and all its interactions on our only home, the more we expose ourselves to the ravages of a universe that is inherently hostile to life.”
excerpt from ‘Biowealth: all creatures great and small’ The Curious Country (C.J.A. Bradshaw 2013).
I’ve spent the last few days on the east coast with my science partner-in-crime, Barry Brook, and one of our newest research associates (Marta Rodrigues-Rey Gomez). We first flew into Sydney at sparrow’s on Monday, then drove a hire car down to The ‘Gong to follow up on some Australian megafauna databasing & writing with Bert Roberts & Zenobia Jacobs. On Tuesday morning we then flitted over to Canberra where we had the opportunity to attend the official launch of a new book that Barry and I had co-authored.
The book, The Curious Country, is an interesting experiment in science communication and teaching dreamed up by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb. Realising that the average Aussie has quite a few questions about ‘how stuff works’, but has little idea how to answer those questions, Ian engaged former Quantum star and science editor, Leigh Dayton, to put together a short, punchy, topical and easily understood book about why science is good for the country.
Yes, intuitive for most of you out there reading this, but science appreciation isn’t always as high as it should be amongst the so-called ‘general public’. Ian thought this might be one way to get more people engaged.
When honoured with the request to write an interesting chapter on biodiversity for the book, I naturally accepted. It turns out Barry was asked to do one on energy provision at the same time (but we didn’t know we had both been asked at the time). Our former lab head, Professor David Bowman, was also asked to write a chapter about fire risk, so it was like a mini-reunion yesterday for the three of us.
I entitled my chapter “Biowealth – all creatures great and small”, which is in direct reference to a concept I’ve proposed before that “… without biodiversity we are poor. With it we are ‘biorich’.” Often called ‘biodiversity’, ‘natural capital’ or that most horrible and impenetrable of terms, ‘ecosystem services‘, I think a much better term to describe how we absolutely depend on all life for our own survival, prosperity and well-being is ‘biowealth‘.
It was an interesting ceremony held in the Great Hall of University House on the Australian National University campus. First, Ian Chubb talked about the book’s genesis and need, then Leigh Dayton explained how it all came together and why it was so important. We also heard from two Liberal (current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry Bob Baldwin, and former Leader of the Opposition Dr. Brendan Nelson) and one Labor politician (Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten), which is interesting in its own right considering the Liberal government currently in power has no dedicated Science Minister. That major gripe aside, it was largely a non-partisan celebration of why science is essential for humanity (not just Australians).
Another great thing about the book is that it’s absolutely free and available online in PDF form (apparently hard copies do cost something though). You can access the full book here, or specific sections here depending on your interest. I’d be keen to hear about your impressions of the book and my chapter in particular. Also, perhaps you know someone who might benefit from reading such a book?