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The Bionarrative


This volume is an outcome of work carried out at The Australian National University, after I turned my attention to the biology of civilisation some 50 years ago. My colleagues and I refer to our approach as ‘biohistory’, which we define as the study of human situations, past and present, against the background of the history of life on Earth.

We see biohistory as much more than just an interesting academic exercise. It has great practical meaning for society as a whole as well as for individuals and families.

This book is intended for the general reader who is interested in the human place in nature and the future of civilisation. It is not an academic treatise. The central theme is the story of life on Earth, and of humans and their civilisation as part of that story. I refer to this story as the ‘bionarrative’. The final chapter discusses options for the future of humankind.

In telling this story, the challenge is to decide what to put in and what to leave out. To do the job thoroughly would take up many volumes. I have selected for inclusion aspects that seem to me either especially interesting or relevant for understanding the human situation on Earth today.

Although biohistory is not yet recognised as an academic discipline, a number of authors have emerged over recent decades who could well be described as biohistorians. They have told this story, or parts of it, in their own ways, emphasising different facts and principles. This book is my version of the bionarrative.

I must warn readers that I make free use of the prefix ‘bio-’. Some readers may find this irritating. I find it preferable, however, to say ‘biounderstanding’, rather than repeating again and again ‘understanding the processes of life and the human place in nature’; or ‘biosensitive’, rather than ‘sensitive to, in tune with, and respectful of the processes of life’.

I have kept referencing to a minimum. References are given for all the quotations and I include a few other references that I feel might be particularly useful to the reader. The facts and figures presented about human health, energy and resource use, and environmental change are readily verifiable on the internet. The literature in environmental philosophy and environmental history is now so vast that it would not make sense to try to cover this in the bibliography.

Some passages of the text have already appeared in my previous publications.

Stephen Boyden

13 July 2016

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