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March 2008

10 minutes with Tim Flannery

2007 Australian of the Year Professor Tim Flannery is one of the world’s foremost scientists and a leading explorer and environmentalist. He is also the best-selling author of non-fiction books such as The Future Eaters and The Weather Makers. We catch up with him on environmental issues

Photo: Adam Bruzzone
Climate change is a hip issue at the moment. Why did it take An Inconvenient Truth to make it a fashionable cause?
I don’t think that An Inconvenient Truth did it alone. People were beginning to notice changes in our climate – unusual weather events and so forth, and political leaders such as Tony Blair were being increasingly vocal. How it all translated a rather arcane area of science into a fashionable cause, I don’t know. But I do know the shift is global, and that I saw it occur over six weeks in August–September 2006.

When your book The Weather Makers was released in 2005, what kind of reaction did you expect?
I certainly didn’t expect such a big reaction. I suppose I hoped that it would move the debate along a bit, but I didn’t expect it to be translated into 30 languages.

Do you think the issues addressed in your books have become more critical?
Three years on, it’s clear that climate change is an even bigger crisis than we imagined in 2005. The melt of the Arctic ice cap is terrifyingly rapid, and once it’s melted, there’ll be big changes in climate across the northern hemisphere.

Can individuals make a difference or is government intervention required?
Individuals can do a certain amount, but it’s going to take determined action at the government level to achieve the required changes.

Does taking care of the environment mean turning back progress?
Taking care of the environment doesn’t mean turning back progress. Who wants to leave the world a worse place than they found it? No one; and all of the marvellous technologies deployed now – from hybrid cars to solar panels – mark real progress, not polluting progress. Best of all, smart people are realising that money can be made from cleaning up our pollution.

Tell us the three most serious environmental issues facing Australia today.
Australia’s most immediate and severe crisis is water. Our major river system, the Murray-Darling, is running dry and irrigation is failing. Extreme hot weather in the south is the second crisis and the third problem is our heavy dependence on coal.

How will these issues affect Australians’ everyday lives?
Water scarcity is already pushing up food prices. The water problem is so severe for Adelaide that it may run out of water by early 2009. The hot weather is encouraging bushfires, and heavy water and electricity use (for air-conditioning). Coal is polluting our skies, and preventing a shift to cleaner technologies.

What is one fundamental change people can make today?
Vote for governments that are determined to clean up our environment.

Which environmental projects are you involved in?
I chair the Copenhagen Climate Council, which is a business group focused on getting a good outcome for the Kyoto meeting to be held in Denmark in December 2009. If we fail to secure an international treaty that really bites, we may not get a second chance to stabilise our climate.

The Weather Makers is published by Text Publishing, AU$34.95, ISBN 9781920885847.


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