Biowealth: all creatures great and small

4 12 2013

Curious Country flyer“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.

Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, speaking about 'The Curious Country' (Dr. Brendan Nelson in foreground)

Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, speaking about ‘The Curious Country’ (Dr. Brendan Nelson in foreground)

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?

CJA Bradshaw



4 responses

5 03 2014
Quenching the curiosity of everyday Australians. | The Environment Institute

[…] In Biowealth: all creatures great and small, Corey Bradshaw explains how all people depend on absolutely every other species for their own survival. Take for example the very air we breathe every day, which is provided to us free of charge by other species, mostly plants and marine algae. Biodiversity is extremely important to the human race, and yet it is being lost at an alarming rate. Corey discusses his involvement in the project on his own blog […]

11 02 2014
The Curious Country | Science Book a Day

[…] Conversation Bytes Author Reflection Book Launch Media Release […]

7 12 2013

Like Vohn, I’ve read your chapter – and, I too like the concept of having ‘biowealth’ become a metric we can communicate to a wider audience.

I also like the way you start the piece – explaining how you voluntarily risk life and limb for the cause. This may inspire someone with the proper fortitude to follow into the field. We can use more folks.

I don’t like one sentence, however. And this is a gripe that bugs me enough to point it out.

You said:
“It’s not hyperbole, naïveté, or green platitudes – all people depend absolutely on every other species.”

If this were true, the extinction of just one species would wipe us out. Several species have gone extinct and we are still here. The statement is clearly hyperbole. And in my opinion one needn’t put it that way to make the point. You’re better than that.

In another part of the piece (sidebar on counting species) you said:
“Another important aspect of biodiversity is how much of it is disappearing, and at what rate.”

No gripe here, but a question – do rates of speciation – new species coming onto the scene, enter into the calculation? For evolution to work new forms will occur and if better than an existing form they may eventually replace them. So extinction is necessary… it has to happen. It’s a bit like death, by dying we make room for something else. Where biowealth is impacted seems to me to be on frontiers where an extinction is not the result of selection. Overfishing, killing top predators for sport… that sort of thing. And you make these latter points well.

5 12 2013

I’ve read your chapter Corey and sometime might get back to the rest of the book. I love your idea of reporting biowealth alongside economic, sport and stock market indices. It’d be great to engage the “general public” in the importance of recognising their own impact on biodiversity.

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