Tim Flannery: True Blue Ecowarrior

Tim Flannery

Professor Tim Flannery.

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Q: So what’s up next for the Climate Council? What’s next on the agenda?

We have to really now focus on what needs to be done in order to save the world from more than two degrees of warming – which would be a disaster. We need to focus on what the rest of the world is doing, what can be done in Australia, who is leading in Australia. For example, South Australia is doing very well developing a whole new clean energy industry in that state – and we need to try to work out what the impediments are elsewhere.

Q: And do you see some real solutions coming into place, a movement towards these greener initiatives?

Yes I think so, there really is. We’re seeing the cost of solar and wind dropping all the time, we’re seeing public acceptance growing. The trouble is we’re in a race against time. We need to really get on top of this quickly, and that’s the real difficulty.

Q: What about the recent G20 conference? Were disappointed or happy with some of the outcomes? What do you believe has changed now?

I think it’s been a game changer.

Now, everything has changed with the announcement with the US and China. The economics of clean energy will change, leadership has now been assumed by those countries, and it’s set the current in a new direction now, and that’s going to be very hard for anyone to resist I think.

I think that certainly the treaty between China and the US will be effective but the rest of the world needs to act as well.

Q: What would you say to the people who are saying that’s its not going to work, and its just not going to do anything?

I’d just say that look at what the countries have done already. People have been saying for years that China could never cap coal use, that China wouldn’t meet reduction targets of 45% and intensity targets; they’ve done all of that plus more. They’ve closed down 70 gigawatts of coal-fired power plants. They’re really determined and there’s no reason that they won’t make these next targets.

The US, they’re well on the way to achieving their 17% reduction target, they’ve now said 26–28%. There’s no reason that they shouldn’t given that nothing much has changed in the US; there’s always been Republicans in opposition, but over the years they’ve shown they can achieve the targets that they’ve set their minds to. So unless someone can point out what’s changed, why anything is different, you’d have to say that they will most likely continue the success that they’ve laid foundations for.

Q: On a more personal note, in terms of future direction of the planet, do you hold out much hope for the human race? There is so much negativity, but do you also see positivity?

I’m really excited for the future of the human race. I wish I was going to live long enough to see some of the changes I imagine might happen.

It’s such an interesting time in human history, it's amazing. But I just don’t think we can let this pollution problem destroy us, people are more sensible than that.

Q: Do you feel that your focus has been used in the right way to help us towards that ideal future?

Yeah, I hope so. I think I’ve tended to look at problems pretty carefully and dispassionately, and then once I’ve made up my mind that something’s an important problem, I stick with it. And the climate problem is exactly like that, I knew it was going to be several decades of work but that’s what I’ve taken on and you stick with it.

Q: And you’ve achieved so much so far too. What would you say are some of your greatest achievements to date?

I think the discovery of the Victorian dinosaur faunas when I was in my early twenties was a pretty big thing, and then in New Guinea, the discovery of 30 mammal species including four new tree kangaroos was pretty big. And being Australian of the Year, then creating and heading up the Copenhagen Climate Council and then being Climate Commissioner. I think they’re pretty important roles, I’ve been happy.

Q: How does winning the Lifetime of Conservation Award with Australian Geographic make you feel? Do you think it changes anything that you've been doing?

I really feel very deeply honoured – that’s one of the biggest honours I’ve been offered. So I’m very touched. I guess it makes you realise that you’re carrying that much extra responsibility as well. You know, when people think to honour you in this way, you really have to live up to their expectations; it just makes you double your efforts.

Q: What advice would you give to others who are a little bit daunted by what still needs to be done to help the climate, and thinking gosh it’s all too much, it’s decades of work?

Throw yourself into it. It’s an amazing journey.

Q: Do you feel like you’ve really made a difference as well, done everything that you could?

You never can say that until you’re in the grave can you?

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