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Book review: The Bionarrative

The Bionarrative – the story of life and hope for the future
by Stephen Boyden
ANU Press 162pp


We are in ecological crisis and face collapse of civilisation. This is the grim warning of Stephen Boyden, ANU professor and farmer from just south of QPRC local government area.

The warning, however, carries a message of hope. We can avoid collapse if we shift to a new kind of society, one that is in tune with the processes of life and that promotes the health and well-being of all its citizens as well as the ecosystems that sustain it.

If we are to do this, we have to understand the ‘bionarrative’, the story of life on Earth including the emergence and growth of human civilisation. This story includes the interactions between humans and the rest of the living world.

Bionarrative-cover250We need a ‘biorenaissance’, a reawakening of the world’s prevailing cultures to the reality that humans are part of nature and totally dependent on the processes of life for their well-being and survival. We must keep these processes healthy if we are to survive.

This will require huge changes in human activities and attitudes. For instance, we have to reject the notion that economic growth must take precedence over all other considerations.

Boyden describes the four phases of human history: hunter-gatherer beginning 200,000 years ago with the use of fire; early farming from 12,000 years ago; early urban from 8000 years ago; and the ‘exponential’ phase that began with the Industrial Revolution and now is morphing into the ‘Anthropocene’. We now need a fifth phase: a ‘biosensitive’ society.

What does a biosensitive society entail? It means minimal use of fossil fuels, extensive reforestation to capture carbon, consuming energy and materials at sustainable levels, maximising local food production, maintaining clean water supplies, protecting the health of soils, returning organic waste to farmlands, no release of pollutants to the air, water or soil, no weapons of mass destruction, and stabilising human population numbers.

Because human evolution is relatively slow, we still have the same physical and psychosocial needs of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. As well as clean air and a nutritional diet, we still need, for instance, an emotional support network, conviviality, opportunities for creative behaviour, variety in daily experience, and a life-style that is conducive to a ‘sense of personal involvement, purpose, belonging, responsibility, challenge, comradeship and love.’

This easy to read book gives us the roadmap of how we are to survive. We must take heed.

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