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Tim Flannery

Tim Flannery

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Timothy Fridtjof Flannery (born 28 January 1956) is an Australian mammalogist
Mammalogy
In zoology, mammalogy is the study of mammals – a class of vertebrates with characteristics such as homeothermic metabolism, fur, four-chambered hearts, and complex nervous systems...

, palaeontologist
Paleontology
Paleontology "old, ancient", ὄν, ὀντ- "being, creature", and λόγος "speech, thought") is the study of prehistoric life. It includes the study of fossils to determine organisms' evolution and interactions with each other and their environments...

, environmentalist
Environmentalism
Environmentalism is a broad philosophy, ideology and social movement regarding concerns for environmental conservation and improvement of the health of the environment, particularly as the measure for this health seeks to incorporate the concerns of non-human elements...

 and global warming
Global warming
Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and its projected continuation. In the last 100 years, Earth's average surface temperature increased by about with about two thirds of the increase occurring over just the last three decades...

 activist.

Flannery was named Australian of the Year
Australian of the Year
Since 1960 the Australian of the Year Award has been part of the celebrations surrounding Australia Day , during which time the award has grown steadily in significance to become Australia’s pre-eminent award. The Australian of the Year announcement has become a very prominent part of the annual...

 in 2007 and is currently a professor at Macquarie University
Macquarie University
Macquarie University is an Australian public teaching and research university located in Sydney, with its main campus situated in Macquarie Park. Founded in 1964 by the New South Wales Government, it was the third university to be established in the metropolitan area of Sydney...

. He is also the chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council
Copenhagen Climate Council
The Copenhagen Climate Council is a global collaboration between international business and science founded by the leading independent think tank in Scandinavia, , based in Copenhagen...

, an international climate change awareness group. His sometimes controversial views on shutting down conventional coal fired power stations for electricity generation in the medium term are frequently cited in the media.

Background


Flannery was raised in a Catholic family in the Melbourne suburb of Sandringham
Sandringham, Victoria
Sandringham is a suburb in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 16 km south-east from Melbourne's central business district. Its Local Government Area is the City of Bayside. At the 2006 Census, Sandringham had a population of 8693.-History:...

, close to Port Philip Bay, where he learned to fish and scuba dive and became aware of marine pollution and its effects on living organisms. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at La Trobe University
La Trobe University
La Trobe University is a multi-campus university in Victoria, Australia. It was established in 1964 by an Act of Parliament to become the third oldest university in the state of Victoria. The main campus of La Trobe is located in the Melbourne suburb of Bundoora; two other major campuses are...

 in 1977, and then took a change of direction to complete a Master of Science degree in Earth Science
Earth science
Earth science is an all-embracing term for the sciences related to the planet Earth. It is arguably a special case in planetary science, the Earth being the only known life-bearing planet. There are both reductionist and holistic approaches to Earth sciences...

 at Monash University
Monash University
Monash University is a public university based in Melbourne, Victoria. It was founded in 1958 and is the second oldest university in the state. Monash is a member of Australia's Group of Eight and the ASAIHL....

 in 1981. He then left Melbourne for Sydney, enjoying its subtropical climate and species diversity. In 1984, Flannery earned a doctorate at the University of New South Wales
University of New South Wales
The University of New South Wales , is a research-focused university based in Kensington, a suburb in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia...

 in Palaeontology for his work on the evolution of macropods (kangaroos).

Flannery has held various academic positions throughout his career. he spent many years in Adelaide, including a spell as Professor at the University of Adelaide
University of Adelaide
The University of Adelaide is a public university located in Adelaide, South Australia. Established in 1874, it is the third oldest university in Australia...

, and several years as Director of the South Australian Museum
South Australian Museum
The South Australian Museum is a museum in Adelaide, South Australia, founded in 1856. It occupies a complex of buildings on North Terrace in the cultural precinct of the Adelaide Parklands.-History:...

. He was also Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Museum
Australian Museum
The Australian Museum is the oldest museum in Australia, with an international reputation in the fields of natural history and anthropology. It features collections of vertebrate and invertebrate zoology, as well as mineralogy, palaeontology, and anthropology...

, and an adviser on environmental issues to the Australian Federal Parliament
Parliament of Australia
The Parliament of Australia, also known as the Commonwealth Parliament or Federal Parliament, is the legislative branch of the government of Australia. It is bicameral, largely modelled in the Westminster tradition, but with some influences from the United States Congress...

. In 1999 he held the year-long visiting Chair of Australian Studies at Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

.

In 2007, he became Professor in the Climate Risk Concentration of Research Excellence at Macquarie University
Macquarie University
Macquarie University is an Australian public teaching and research university located in Sydney, with its main campus situated in Macquarie Park. Founded in 1964 by the New South Wales Government, it was the third university to be established in the metropolitan area of Sydney...

. Flannery is also a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists
Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists
The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists is a group of Australian scientists concerned with the environment, that in November 2002 released a statement, Blueprint for a Living Continent...

, and a Governor of WWF-Australia. He has contributed to over 90 scientific papers.

Flannery is an advisor on climate change to outgoing South Australian Premier Mike Rann
Mike Rann
Michael David Rann MHA, CNZM , Australian politician, served as the 44th Premier of South Australia. He led the South Australian branch of the Australian Labor Party to minority government at the 2002 election, before attaining a landslide win at the 2006 election...

, and is a member of the Queensland Climate Change Council established by the Queensland Minister for Sustainability, Climate Change and Innovation Andrew McNamara
Andrew McNamara
Andrew Ian McNamara is an Australian politician. He was a Labor member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly from 2001 to 2009, representing the district of Hervey Bay...

. In February 2011 it was announced that Flannery had been appointed to head the Climate Change Commission established by Prime Minister Julia Gillard
Julia Gillard
Julia Eileen Gillard is the 27th and current Prime Minister of Australia, in office since June 2010.Gillard was born in Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales and migrated with her family to Adelaide, Australia in 1966, attending Mitcham Demonstration School and Unley High School. In 1982 Gillard moved...

 to explain climate change and the need for a carbon price
Carbon pricing
Carbon pricing is the generic term for placing a price on carbon through either subsidies, a carbon tax, or an emissions trading system....

 to the public. This legislation is now passing through Parliament.

Flannery is married to Alexandra Szalay. She coauthored his 1998 book Tree Kangaroos: a Curious Natural History. He lives in a house with environmental features at Coba Point on the Hawkesbury River
Hawkesbury River
The Hawkesbury River, also known as Deerubbun, is one of the major rivers of the coastal region of New South Wales, Australia. The Hawkesbury River and its tributaries virtually encircle the metropolitan region of Sydney.-Geography:-Course:...

, 40 km north of Sydney, accessible only by boat. Critics have suggested it is quite close to the waterline if his predictions of sea level rise are borne out.

Mammalogy


Flannery's early research concerned the evolution of mammals in Australasia. As part of his doctoral studies, he described 29 new kangaroo species including 11 new genera and three new subfamilies. In the 1990s, Flannery published The Mammals Of New Guinea (Cornell Press) and Prehistoric Mammals Of Australia and New Guinea (Johns Hopkins Press), the most comprehensive reference works on the subjects. Through the 1990s, Flannery surveyed the mammals of Melanesia
Melanesia
Melanesia is a subregion of Oceania extending from the western end of the Pacific Ocean to the Arafura Sea, and eastward to Fiji. The region comprises most of the islands immediately north and northeast of Australia...

 – discovering 16 new species – and took a leading role in conservation efforts in the region.

The specific name of the Greater Monkey-faced Bat
Greater Monkey-faced Bat
The Greater Monkey-faced bat, is a megabat endemic to Solomon Islands, Bougainville, in Papua New Guinea, and nearby small islands. It is listed as a critically endangered species and the population is decreasing...

 (Pteralopex flanneryi), only described in 2005
Bats discovered in the 2000s
This page is a list of species of the order Chiroptera discovered in the 2000s. See also parent page Mammals discovered in the 2000s.-Desmalopex microleucopterus :A new species of flying fox found on Mindoro Island, Philippines....

, honours Tim Flannery.

Flannery's work prompted Sir David Attenborough to describe him as being "in the league of the all-time great explorers like Dr David Livingstone
David Livingstone
David Livingstone was a Scottish Congregationalist pioneer medical missionary with the London Missionary Society and an explorer in Africa. His meeting with H. M. Stanley gave rise to the popular quotation, "Dr...

".

Palaeontology


In 1980, Flannery discovered dinosaur
Dinosaur
Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals of the clade and superorder Dinosauria. They were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for over 160 million years, from the late Triassic period until the end of the Cretaceous , when the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event led to the extinction of...

 fossil
Fossil
Fossils are the preserved remains or traces of animals , plants, and other organisms from the remote past...

s on the southern coast of Victoria
Victoria (Australia)
Victoria is the second most populous state in Australia. Geographically the smallest mainland state, Victoria is bordered by New South Wales, South Australia, and Tasmania on Boundary Islet to the north, west and south respectively....

 and in 1985 had a role in the ground-breaking discovery of Cretaceous
Cretaceous
The Cretaceous , derived from the Latin "creta" , usually abbreviated K for its German translation Kreide , is a geologic period and system from circa to million years ago. In the geologic timescale, the Cretaceous follows the Jurassic period and is followed by the Paleogene period of the...

 mammal fossils in Australia. This latter find extended the Australian mammal fossil record back 80 million years. During the 1980s, Flannery described most of the known Pleistocene
Pleistocene
The Pleistocene is the epoch from 2,588,000 to 11,700 years BP that spans the world's recent period of repeated glaciations. The name pleistocene is derived from the Greek and ....

 megafaunal species in New Guinea
New Guinea
New Guinea is the world's second largest island, after Greenland, covering a land area of 786,000 km2. Located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, it lies geographically to the east of the Malay Archipelago, with which it is sometimes included as part of a greater Indo-Australian Archipelago...

 as well as the fossil record of the phalangerids, a family of possums.

Tim Flannery was awarded humanist of the year in 2005 for his outstanding work in zoology.

Work on population and land use


In 1994, Flannery published The Future Eaters: an Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People, and provides a sweeping glimpse of land, flora, fauna and people of the long past up to the present.

The synopsis of the work regards three waves of human migration in these regions. These waves of people Flannery describes as “future eaters”. The first wave was the migration to Australia and New Guinea from south-east Asia approximately 40 000 – 60 000 years ago. The second was Polynesian migration to New Zealand and surrounding islands 800 – 3500 years ago. The third and final wave Flannery describes is European colonisation at the end of the eighteenth century.

Flannery describes the evolution of the first wave of future-eaters:
Sixty thousand or more years ago human technology was developing at what we would consider to be an imperceptible pace. Yet it was fast enough to give the first Australasians complete mastery over the ‘new lands’. Freed from the ecological constraints of their homeland and armed with weapons honed in the relentless arms race of Eurasia, the colonisers of the ‘new lands’ were poised to become the world’s first future eaters.


While the book continues to be controversial in some of its hypotheses, it is a call to arms to preserve the Australasian natural heritage – and by extension global natural heritage.

Perhaps his most controversial hypothesis regards early Australian Aboriginal history; Flannery paints an intriguing picture. Based on new sediment core studies, the continent up until 100,000 years ago had much greater expanses of rainforest than after Aboriginal arrival. He poses the “possibility” did Aborigines through firestick farming alter the ecology of Australian flora and fauna? Flannery links other circumstantial evidence to the puzzle predisposing his hypothesis, such as the continent’s long suffering poor soils, historical extinction events of other continents and tens of thousands of years of fire adaptation.

Flannery also argues the hypothesis that at current population growth rate levels, Australasia is living beyond its population carrying capacity, to the extent that its biological stability has been damaged. European colonisation of Australia and New Caledonia brought its own artefacts and ways suitable in the ‘old world’, and yet struggle to adapt its “culture to biological reality”. This reality is evident in Australia, where unpredictable climate combined with a lack of natural life giving resources have created a flora and fauna that have adapted over millennia to be extraordinarily efficient in the consumption of energy.

The Future Eaters enjoyed strong sales and critical acclaim. Redmond O'Hanlon, a Times Literary Supplement
The Times Literary Supplement
The Times Literary Supplement is a weekly literary review published in London by News International, a subsidiary of News Corporation.-History:...

 correspondent said that "Flannery tells his beautiful story in plain language, science popularising at its antipodean best". Fellow activist David Suzuki
David Suzuki
David Suzuki, CC, OBC is a Canadian academic, science broadcaster and environmental activist. Suzuki earned a Ph.D in zoology from the University of Chicago in 1961, and was a professor in the genetics department of the University of British Columbia from 1963 until his retirement in 2001...

 praised Flannery's "powerful insight into our current destructive path". Some experts disagreed with Flannery's thesis, however, concerned that his broad-based approach, ranging across multiple disciplines, ignored counter-evidence and was overly simplistic.

The Future Eaters was made into a documentary series for ABC Television and was republished in late 2002.

Carbon emissions


In The Weather Makers: The History & Future Impact of Climate Change
The Weather Makers
The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change is a book by Tim Flannery.The book received critical acclaim. It won the major prize at the 2006 New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, and was short-listed for the 2010 Jan Michalski Prize for Literature.-Description:The book...

, Flannery outlined the science behind anthropogenic climate change
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

. "With great scientific advances being made every month, this book is necessarily incomplete," Flannery writes, but "That should not, however, be used as an excuse for inaction. We know enough to act wisely."

Concepts outlined in the book include:
  • That a failure to act on climate change may eventually force the creation of a global carbon dictatorship, which he calls the "Earth Commission for Thermostatic Control", to regulate carbon use across all industries and nations – a level of governmental intrusion that Flannery describes as "very undesirable"; and

  • the establishment of "Geothermia" – a new city at the NSW-South Australia-Queensland border – to take advantage of the location's abundance of natural gas reserves, geothermal and solar energy. Flannery argues that such a city could be completely energy self-sufficient, and would be a model for future city development worldwide. Of the city project, Flannery told The Bulletin that "I know it's radical but we have no choice".


The book won international acclaim. Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson
William McGuire "Bill" Bryson, OBE, is a best-selling American author of humorous books on travel, as well as books on the English language and on science. Born an American, he was a resident of Britain for most of his adult life before moving back to the US in 1995...

 concluded that "It would be hard to imagine a better or more important book." The Weather Makers was honoured in 2006 as 'Book of the Year' at the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards.

Flannery's work in raising the profile of environmental issues was key to his being named Australian of the Year in 2007. Awarding the prize, former Prime Minister John Howard
John Howard
John Winston Howard AC, SSI, was the 25th Prime Minister of Australia, from 11 March 1996 to 3 December 2007. He was the second-longest serving Australian Prime Minister after Sir Robert Menzies....

 said that the scientist "has encouraged Australians into new ways of thinking about our environmental history and future ecological challenges."

That said, Howard – along with many others – remains unconvinced as to Flannery's proposed solutions. Flannery joined calls for the cessation/reduction of conventional coal-fired power generation in Australia in the medium term, the source of most of the nation's electricity. Flannery claims that conventional coal burning will lose its social license to operate, as has asbestos.

In response to the introduction of proposed clean coal technology
Clean coal technology
Clean coal technology is a collection of technologies being developed to reduce the environmental impact of coal energy generation. When coal is used as a fuel source, the gaseous emmissions generated by the thermal decomposition of the coal, include sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon...

, Tim Flannery has stated: "Globally there has got to be some areas where clean coal will work out, so I think there will always be a coal export industry [for Australia] ... Locally in Australia because of particular geological issues and because of the competition from cleaner and cheaper energy alternatives, I'm not 100 per cent sure clean coal is going to work out for our domestic market."

In 2006 Flannery was in support of nuclear power
Nuclear power
Nuclear power is the use of sustained nuclear fission to generate heat and electricity. Nuclear power plants provide about 6% of the world's energy and 13–14% of the world's electricity, with the U.S., France, and Japan together accounting for about 50% of nuclear generated electricity...

 as a possible solution for reducing Australia's carbon emissions, however in 2007 changed his position against it. In May 2007 he told a business gathering in Sydney that while nuclear energy does have a role elsewhere in the world, Australia's abundance of renewable resources rule out the need for nuclear power in the near term. He does however feel that Australia should and will have to supply its uranium to those other countries that do not have access to renewables like Australia does.

In May 2008 Flannery created controversy by suggesting that sulphur could be dispersed into the atmosphere to help block the sun leading to global dimming, in order to counteract the effects of global warming.

Sustainable whaling


When, in the concluding chapters of The Future Eaters (1994), Flannery discusses how to "utilise our few renewable resources in the least destructive way", he remarks that
A far better situation for conservation in Australia would result from a policy which allows exploitation of all of our biotic heritage, provided that it all be done in a sustainable manner. ... [I]f it is possible to harvest for example, 10 mountain pygmy-possums (Burramys parvus) or 10 southern right whale
Southern Right Whale
The southern right whale is a baleen whale, one of three species classified as right whales belonging to the genus Eubalaena. Like other right whales, the southern right whale is readily distinguished from others by the callosities on its head, a broad back without a dorsal fin, and a long arching...

s (Balaena glacialis) per year, why should we not do it? ... Is it more moral to kill and consume a whale, without cost to the environment, than to live as a vegetarian in Australia, destroying seven kilograms of irreplaceable soil, ... for each kilogram of bread we consume?


In late 2007, Flannery suggested that the Japanese whaling
Whaling in Japan
Whaling in Japan may have begun as early as the 12th century. During the 20th century, Japan was heavily involved in commercial whaling until the International Whaling Commission moratorium on commercial whaling went into effect in 1986...

 involving the relatively common Minke Whale
Minke Whale
Minke whale , or lesser rorqual, is a name given to two species of marine mammal belonging to a clade within the suborder of baleen whales. The minke whale was given its official designation by Lacepède in 1804, who described a dwarf form of Balænoptera acuto-rostrata...

 might be sustainable:
In terms of sustainability, you can't be sure that the Japanese whaling is entirely unsustainable... It's hard to imagine that the whaling would lead to a new decline in population


This raised concerns among some scientists, and environmental groups such as Greenpeace, fearing it could add fuel to the Japanese wish of continuing its annual cull. In contrast to his stance on the Minke Whale quota, Flannery has expressed relief over the dumping of the quota of the rarer Humpback Whale
Humpback Whale
The humpback whale is a species of baleen whale. One of the larger rorqual species, adults range in length from and weigh approximately . The humpback has a distinctive body shape, with unusually long pectoral fins and a knobbly head. It is an acrobatic animal, often breaching and slapping the...

, and further was worried how whales were slaughtered, wishing them to be "killed as humanely as possible". Flannery suggested that krill
Krill
Krill is the common name given to the order Euphausiacea of shrimp-like marine crustaceans. Also known as euphausiids, these small invertebrates are found in all oceans of the world...

 and other small crustaceans, the primary food source for many large whales and an essential part of the marine food chain
Food chain
A food web depicts feeding connections in an ecological community. Ecologists can broadly lump all life forms into one of two categories called trophic levels: 1) the autotrophs, and 2) the heterotrophs...

, were of greater concern than the Japanese whaling.

Activism


Flannery has achieved a prominence through his environmental activism. His advocacy on two issues in particular, population levels and carbon emissions, culminated in being named Australian of the Year
Australian of the Year
Since 1960 the Australian of the Year Award has been part of the celebrations surrounding Australia Day , during which time the award has grown steadily in significance to become Australia’s pre-eminent award. The Australian of the Year announcement has become a very prominent part of the annual...

 at a time when environmental issues were becoming prominent in Australian public debate.

Humanitarian


In 2009, Flannery joined the project "Soldiers of Peace", a move against all wars and for a global peace.

Awards

  • Edgeworth David Medal for outstanding research in zoology
  • Centenary of Federation Medal for his services to Australian science
  • Colin Roderick Award, Foundation for Australian Literary Studies for Tree Kangaroos (1996)
  • First environmental scientist to deliver the Australia Day address to the nation (2002).
  • Australian Humanist of the Year (2005)
  • NSW Australian of the Year (2006)
  • Australian of the Year (2007)
  • NSW Premier’s Literary Prizes for Best Critical Writing and Book of the Year (The Weather Makers, 2006).
  • US Lannan Award for Non-fiction works (2006).
  • The New York Times bestseller list (The Weather Makers)
  • Order of St Charles, Monaco

Journalism

  • "We're Living on Corn!" The New York Review of Books
    The New York Review of Books
    The New York Review of Books is a fortnightly magazine with articles on literature, culture and current affairs. Published in New York City, it takes as its point of departure that the discussion of important books is itself an indispensable literary activity...

    54/11 (28 June 2007) : 26–28 [reviews Michael Pollan
    Michael Pollan
    Michael Pollan is an American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. A 2006 New York Times book review describes him as a "liberal foodie intellectual."...

    , The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
    The Omnivore's Dilemma
    The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals is a nonfiction book by Michael Pollan published in 2006. In the book, Pollan asks the seemingly straightforward question of what we should have for dinner. As omnivores – the most unselective eaters – we humans are faced with a...

    and Bill McKibben
    Bill McKibben
    William Ernest "Bill" McKibben is an American environmentalist, author, and journalist who has written extensively on the impact of global warming. He is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College...

    , Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future]
  • "The Third Wave", The Monthly
    The Monthly
    The Monthly is an Australian national magazine of politics, society and the arts, which is published eleven times per year on a monthly basis except the December/January issue. Founded in 2005, it is published by Melbourne property developer Morry Schwartz...

    , April 2009, on extinction of Australian animals
  • "Comment", The Monthly
    The Monthly
    The Monthly is an Australian national magazine of politics, society and the arts, which is published eleven times per year on a monthly basis except the December/January issue. Founded in 2005, it is published by Melbourne property developer Morry Schwartz...

    , May 2009, on Carbon Omissions
  • "Goodbye to All That" The Monthly
    The Monthly
    The Monthly is an Australian national magazine of politics, society and the arts, which is published eleven times per year on a monthly basis except the December/January issue. Founded in 2005, it is published by Melbourne property developer Morry Schwartz...

    , June 2009, reviews The Vanishing Face of Gaia by James Lovelock
    James Lovelock
    James Lovelock, CH, CBE, FRS is an independent scientist, environmentalist and futurologist who lives in Devon, England. He is best known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis, which postulates that the biosphere is a self-regulating entity with the capacity to keep our planet healthy by controlling...


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