Tim Flannery

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Tim Flannery

Tim Flannery at the 5th World Conference of Science Journalists, 2007
BornTimothy Fridtjof Flannery
(1956-01-28) 28 January 1956 (age 56)
Melbourne, Victoria
Known forPublic speaking on the environment
www.timflannery.com.au www.climatecommission.gov.au
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Tim Flannery

Tim Flannery at the 5th World Conference of Science Journalists, 2007
BornTimothy Fridtjof Flannery
(1956-01-28) 28 January 1956 (age 56)
Melbourne, Victoria
Known forPublic speaking on the environment
www.timflannery.com.au www.climatecommission.gov.au

Timothy Fridtjof Flannery (born 28 January 1956) is an Australian mammalogist, palaeontologist, environmentalist and global warming activist. He is the Chief Commissioner of the Australian Climate Commission, an independent body providing information on climate change to the Australian public.

Flannery was named Australian of the Year in 2007[2] and is currently a professor and holds the Chair in Environmental Sustainability at Macquarie University. He is also the chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council, an international climate change awareness group.[3] 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.



Flannery was raised in a Catholic family in the Melbourne suburb of Sandringham, 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[4] in 1977, and then took a change of direction to complete a Master of Science degree in Earth Science at Monash University in 1981. He then left Melbourne for Sydney, enjoying its subtropical climate and species diversity.[5] In 1984, Flannery earned a doctorate at the University of New South Wales 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, and several years as Director of the South Australian Museum. He was also Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Museum, and an adviser on environmental issues to the Australian Federal Parliament. In 1999 he held the year-long visiting Chair of Australian Studies at Harvard University.

In 2007, Flannery became Professor in the Climate Risk Concentration of Research Excellence at Macquarie University. Flannery is also a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, 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, and is a member of the Queensland Climate Change Council established by the Queensland Minister for Sustainability, Climate Change and Innovation Andrew McNamara. In February 2011 it was announced that Flannery had been appointed to head the Climate Change Commission established by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to explain climate change and the need for a carbon price to the public.[6] 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, 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.[7]

Climate Commission

On February 10, 2011, Professor Tim Flannery was appointed as the Chief Commissioner of the Climate Commission by the Australian Government. The Commission is a panel of leading scientists and business experts who provide an authoritative, independent source of information for all Australians. The Commission is an independent body which does not comment on government policy.

Scientific contributions


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 – discovering 16 new species – and took a leading role in conservation efforts in the region.[8]

The specific name of the Greater Monkey-faced Bat (Pteralopex flanneryi), only described in 2005, honours Tim Flannery.[9]

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".[10]


In 1980, Flannery discovered dinosaur fossils on the southern coast of Victoria and in 1985 had a role in the ground-breaking discovery of Cretaceous 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 megafaunal species in New Guinea as well as the fossil record of the phalangerids, a family of possums.[8]

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.[11] 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.[12]

While the book continues to be controversial in some of its hypotheses, it is a call to arms to preserve the Australasian natural heritage [13] – 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? [14] 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.[15]

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”.[16] 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.[17]

The Future Eaters enjoyed strong sales and critical acclaim. Redmond O'Hanlon, a Times Literary Supplement correspondent said that "Flannery tells his beautiful story in plain language, science popularising at its antipodean best". Fellow activist David Suzuki 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.[18]

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

Views on environmental issues

Species acclimatisation

The Chacoan Peccary can be brought from Paraguay to North America, to replace the extinct Flat-headed Peccary

In The Future Eaters, Flannery was critical of the European settlers introducing non-native wild animals into Australia's ecosystem. At the same time, he suggested that if one wanted to reproduce, in some parts of Australia, the ecosystems that existed there ca. 60,000 years ago (before the arrival of the humans on the continent), it may be necessary to introduce into Australia, in a thoughtful and careful way, some non-native species that would be the closest substitutes to the continent's lost megafauna. In particular, the Komodo dragon can be brought into Australia as a replacement for its extinct relative, Megalania, "the largest goanna of all time". The Tasmanian devil could also be allowed to re-settle the mainland Australia from its Tasmanian refuge area.[19]

In The Eternal Frontier, Tim Flannery made a proposal for what later became nicknamed "Pleistocene Rewilding": restoring the ecosystems that existed in North America before the arrival of the Clovis people and the concomitant disappearance of the North American Pleistocene megafauna ca. 13,000. He wonders if, in addition to the wolves that have been already re-introduced to Yellowstone National Park, ambush predators, such as jaguars and lions should be reintroduced there as well, in order to bring the number of elks under control. Furthermore, the closest extant relatives of the species that went extinct around the Clovis period could be introduced to North America's nature reserves as well. In particular, the Indian and African elephants could substitute, respectively, for the mammoth and the mastodon; the Chacoan Peccary, for its extinct flat-headed cousin (Platygonus compressus). Llamas and panthers, who still survive outside of the USA, should too be brought back to that country.[20]

Carbon emissions

In The Weather Makers: The History & Future Impact of Climate Change, Flannery outlined the science behind anthropogenic climate change. "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:

The book won international acclaim. Bill Bryson 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.[22]

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 said that the scientist "has encouraged Australians into new ways of thinking about our environmental history and future ecological challenges."[23]

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.[24]

In response to the introduction of proposed clean coal technology, 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."[25]

In 2006 Flannery was in support of nuclear power as a possible solution for reducing Australia's carbon emissions,[26][27] however in 2007 changed his position against it.[28] 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.[29]

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.[30]

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 whales (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?[31]

In late 2007, Flannery suggested that the Japanese whaling involving the relatively common Minke Whale may 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[32]

This raised concerns among some scientists, and environmental groups such as Greenpeace,[33][34] 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,[32] and further was worried how whales were slaughtered, wishing them to be "killed as humanely as possible".[35] Flannery suggested that krill and other small crustaceans, the primary food source for many large whales and an essential part of the marine food chain, were of greater concern than the Japanese whaling.[35]


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

He is a member of the World Future Council.


In 2009, Flannery joined the project "Soldiers of Peace", a move against all wars and for a global peace.[36][37]



In addition, Flannery has edited and introduced:



  1. ^ "Tim Flannery". Only Melbourne. http://www.onlymelbourne.com.au/melbourne_details.php?id=10761. Retrieved 23 May 2011. 
  2. ^ Lewis, Wendy (2010). Australians of the Year. Pier 9 Press. ISBN 978-1-74196-809-5. 
  3. ^ Copenhagen Climate Council (2008). Tim Flannery. Retrieved 17 May 2008.
  4. ^ Alumni profile search result, La Trobe University
  5. ^ Introduction, The Birth of Melbourne, ISBN 1-877008-89-3
  6. ^ Morton, Adam (11 February 2011). "Rudd critic to lead climate team". The Age. Fairfax Media. http://www.theage.com.au/environment/climate-change/rudd-critic-to-lead-climate-team-20110210-1aoqk.html. Retrieved 15 February 2011. 
  7. ^ http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/prof-tim-flannerys-waterside-getaway/story-fn6b3v4f-1226104010903 Prof Tim Flannery's waterside getaway. The Daily Telegraph July 29, 2011.
  8. ^ a b "The Future Eaters: About Tim Flannery". ABC Television. 1998. http://www.abc.net.au/science/future/abouttim.htm. Retrieved 10 April 2007. 
  9. ^ Helgen, K. M. (2005). Systematics of the Pacific monkey-faced bats (Chiroptera : Pteropodidae), with a new species of Pteraloplex and a new Fijian genus. Systematics and Biodiversity, 3(4):433–453.
  10. ^ "Penguin UK Authors: About Tim Flannery". Penguin Books. http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Author/AuthorPage/0,,0_1000056817,00.html?sym=BIO. Retrieved 10 April 2007. 
  11. ^ Flannery, Timothy Fridtjof (1994). The future eaters: an ecological history of the Australasian lands and people. Sydney: Reed New Holland. pp. 242. ISBN 1-876334-21-5. 
  12. ^ Flannery, Timothy Fridtjof (1994). The future eaters: an ecological history of the Australasian lands and people. Sydney: Reed New Holland. pp. 143. ISBN 1-876334-21-5. 
  13. ^ Flannery, Timothy Fridtjof (1994). The future eaters: an ecological history of the Australasian lands and people. Sydney: Reed New Holland. pp. dedication. ISBN 1-876334-21-5. 
  14. ^ Flannery, Timothy Fridtjof (1994). The future eaters: an ecological history of the Australasian lands and people. Sydney: Reed New Holland. pp. 224–228. ISBN 1-876334-21-5. 
  15. ^ Flannery, Timothy Fridtjof (1994). The future eaters: an ecological history of the Australasian lands and people. Sydney: Reed New Holland. pp. 235–236. ISBN 1-876334-21-5. 
  16. ^ Flannery, Timothy Fridtjof (1994). The future eaters: an ecological history of the Australasian lands and people. Sydney: Reed New Holland. pp. 374, 389. ISBN 1 8763 3421. 
  17. ^ Flannery, Timothy Fridtjof (1994). The future eaters: an ecological history of the Australasian lands and people. Sydney: Reed New Holland. pp. 85–91. ISBN 1-876334-21-5. 
  18. ^ "The Future Eaters". ABC Television. 1998. http://www.abc.net.au/science/future/theses/theses.htm. Retrieved 10 April 2007. 
  19. ^ Tim Flannery, The Future Eaters, pp. 384–385. ISBN 0-8021-3943-4
  20. ^ Flannery, The Eternal Frontier, ISBN 1-876485-72-8, pp. 345–346. On the peccary, p. 158
  21. ^ Jones, Tony (26 September 2005). "Hurricanes can be tied to climate change". Lateline. ABC Television. http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2005/s1468878.htm. Retrieved 10 April 2007. 
  22. ^ "The Weather Makers: All About the Book". Text Publishing. 2006. http://www.theweathermakers.com/weathermakers/. Retrieved 10 April 2007. 
  23. ^ "Climate change crusader is Australian of the Year". The West Australian. 25 January 2007. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070927192549/http://www.thewest.com.au/default.aspx?MenuID=145&ContentID=19672. Retrieved 10 April 2007. 
  24. ^ "Coal will be the new asbestos, says Flannery". The Sydney Morning Herald. 9 February 2007. http://www.smh.com.au/news/environment/coal-will-be-the-new-asbestos-says-flannery/2007/02/08/1170524236625.html. Retrieved 10 April 2007. 
  25. ^ "Coal Can't Be Clean – Flannery", Melbourne Herald Sun, 14 February 2007.
  26. ^ Davies, Julie-Anne (23 February 2007). "Dr Flannery, I presume". The Bulletin. http://bulletin.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=228258. Retrieved 10 April 2007. 
  27. ^ "Let's talk about nuclear power and other energy sources". The Age (Melbourne). 30 May 2006. http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/lets-talk-about-nuclear-power-emandem-other-energy-sources/2006/05/29/1148754933159.html. 
  28. ^ Clive Hamilton:Flip-flop Flannery is a climate change opportunist, in Crikey 5 February 2009, retrieved 17 June 2010
  29. ^ "Nuclear power a turn-off: Flannery changes stance". The Sydney Morning Herald. 23 May 2007. http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/nuclear-power-a-turnoff-flannery-changes-stance/2007/05/22/1179601413336.html. 
  30. ^ Alexander, Cathy (19 May 2008). "Tim Flannery's radical climate change 'solution'". News.com.au. Australian Associated Press. http://www.news.com.au/top-stories/climate-plan-could-change-sky-colour/story-e6frfkp9-1111116384553. Retrieved 23 April 2011. 
  31. ^ Tim Flannery, The Future Eaters, pp. 402–403. ISBN 0-8021-3943-4
  32. ^ a b Flannery says whaling is OK. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved on 2 January 2008
  33. ^ Flannery's views on whales 'curious'. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved on 2 January 2008
  34. ^ Tim Flannery lampooned by sustainable whaling claims. LiveNews. Retrieved on 2 January 2008
  35. ^ a b Flannery worried about small fish, not big whale culls. Brisbane Times. Retrieved on 2 January 2008
  36. ^ "Tim Flannery — The Cast — Soldiers of Peace". Soldiersofpeacemovie.com. http://www.soldiersofpeacemovie.com/about/the-cast/18/tim-flannery/. Retrieved 18 October 2009. 
  37. ^ "Soldati di Pace (Soldiers of Peace)". Soldatidipace.blogspot.com. 18 October 2009. http://www.soldatidipace.blogspot.com/. Retrieved 18 October 2009. 
  38. ^ Can Our Species Escape Destruction? October 13, 2011 by John Terborgh in The New York Review of Books

External links


Preceded by
Ian Frazer
Australian of the Year Award
Succeeded by
Lee Kernaghan