Tim Flannery: Voice in the Wilderness

Australian explorer and ecologist Tim Flannery is a remarkable man. Nearly twenty years ago have passed since I read his initial book on climate change, The Weather Makers: The History & Future Impact of Climate Change (2005).

It was my first extended read on the climate crisis impacting all of us, spelling out its corollary fallout for Australia—rising seas, changes in weather patterns, and species extinction. I remember its clarity, abundant research, and earnest plea for changing our destructive exploitation of nature in the name of progress and prosperity. The book made me a believer and I’ve never looked back.

Translated into twenty-three languages, it received international acclaim. The following year, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth appeared. Both books gave landmark impetus to climate change awareness and promoting efforts to mitigate its worst effects. Flannery has now written 27 books along with publishing more than 140 peer-reviewed papers.

He helped found the Copenhagen Climate Council in 2007 and presently serves as head of Australia’s Climate Change Commission. In 2007, he was selected as Australia’s Man of the Year, a notable award, given Australia’s history of collusion with fossil fuel interests.

For years, Flannery has been a voice crying out in the wilderness, urging government interests to adopt measures to lessen the outbreak of bushfires Flannery’s Climate Council had filed 12 reports of looming danger. Then, on a continent where bushfires have historically ravaged Australia’s landscape, there occurred the bushfires of 2019-2020, with an estimated loss of 33 humans and 3 billion animals. Precipitated by two years of withering drought and searing temperatures, Sydney saw temperatures rise to 120 F.

Meanwhile, then prime minister, Scott Morrison, was on undisclosed vacation with his family at the height of the conflagration.

Earlier, in 2013, the incoming government of Tony Abbott ordered that the Climate Council, headed by Flannery, be shut down. The following year, the tax on carbon emissions was abolished.

Australia, based on head count,  is the world’s leading polluter. Currently, it ranks among the largest exporters of natural gas and second as an exporter of coal. “Were greenhouse gases at pre-industrial levels,” says Flannery, “natural factors alone would produce a year as hot as 2019 just once every 360 years. But add the effect of human-emitted greenhouse gases and the probability drops to one year in eight—a forty-five-fold increase in probability” (New York Review of Books, January 16, 2020).

Flannery’s love of nature is rooted in his boyhood, growing up in the Melbourne suburb of Sandringham, with remnants of its ancient woodlands not yet victim to Melbourne’s spilling over its boundaries:   

Our house lay just a few hundred metres from the most majestic part of its shoreline – the Red Bluff Cliffs. Sculpted from five-million-year-old sandstone, they stood as a great fluted rampart rising 80 metres above
the waves and running for half a kilometre or so along the foreshore before petering out into ti-tree covered slopes.

While the waters were safe from wholesale alteration, ‘progress’, unfortunately, could not let even this jewel of a place alone. Around half of the cliff had become a municipal garbage dump, and old cars, refrigerators and other rubbish cascaded down its slope to leak oil into the water below.

But this could not blight the life of the sea. If you searched among the rusting rubbish you might find a ribbed murex shell, or the white beauty of an angel’s wing clam. This place was my playground.” (Satish Kumar, ed., Small World, Big Ideas: Eco-Activists for Change).

Flannery did his undergraduate degree in English and history at La Trobe University before switching to an M.A. in geology at Monash University, followed by his Ph. D. at the University of South Wales.

For nearly twenty years, Flannery conducted extensive explorations of islands of the South Pacific, discovering and naming forty previously unknown species of mammals: 

It was during this work that I first encountered evidence of climate change: everywhere the tree line in New Guinea was rising, and the precious alpine habitats were shrinking. By 1999, I knew what I had to do: give up a life of adventure and become an activist for addressing the threat of climate change. I began researching a book, and in 2005 published The Weather Makers  (Kumar).

I like the way Flannery writes, a scientist conveying nature’s plight in layman’s idiom, articulate and convincing, insistent that we change our ways: “The brutal destruction of the natural environment I witnessed as a child, for example, has left me with an enduring belief that Nature is precious and vulnerable, and that humans can destroy beautiful things in an almost malicious manner” (Kumar).

Dr. Flannery continues, not only to be a strong voice for Australia’s environment, but for preserving what remains of vestigial rain forest and biodiversity in Micronesia. As for Flannery’s Climate Council, it continues to survive through public funding.

Sir David Attenborough deems Flannery as “in the league of the all-time great explorers like Dr David Livingstone” for documenting much of Australia’s earliest wildlife.

An articulator of nature’s gifts and of human assault, climaxing in the climate crisis that confronts us, none tells it better than Tim Flannery.







%d bloggers like this: