Tim Flannery: True Blue Ecowarrior

Green Lifestyle

The highs and lows of this tireless Professor's life to date, what he thinks about current Australian politics, & what keeps him going.

Tim Flannery

Professor Tim Flannery.

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Professor Tim Flannery is quite possibly one of the most outspoken climate advocates in Australia.

It's been a road of highs and lows for Flannery. He was named Australian of the Year in 2007, and was previously the chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council, an international climate change awareness group. He was also the Chief Commissioner of the Climate Commission, a federal government organisation for climate change information – but in September last year, Flannery announced that he would join other sacked commissioners to form an independent Climate Council, crowdfunded by the community.

Now, Flannery heads up Australia's independent Climate Council. And just last month he was awarded the Lifetime of Conservation Award with the Australian Geographic Society.

It's no secret that Flannery wants Australia to move away coal fired power stations; in the media he regularly offers up some of the most persuasive arguments for closing them, and moving to renewables. We were lucky enough to pick his brains about his views, and his life to date – full of all it's highs and lows.

Q: The crowdfunding campaign to keep the Climate Council alive and independent was very successful. But how confident were you that it would work?

I admit when I stood up there announcing that we want to continue our work of providing information to the public, and we were going to seek donations to do it, my heart was in my mouth. I thought my goodness, if this doesn’t work out then it’s not going to say good things about the commitment of Australians to climate change. So I was so grateful when those first donations started rolling in, and when we got up past the $100,000 mark that’s when I thought, wow we’ve actually done it! It just felt like a big risk, and it was a big risk, but we did it.

Q: Yet we still do have this complete denialism in society today, why is it there, what do you think is the root cause of the problem, and how can we fix it?

In Australia we live in a society where coal is obviously very, very influential. Australia controlled more of the international trade in coal than Saudi Arabia did oil, until recently. And people in the industry obviously want to keep making money year after year, and so they influence politicians to the greatest extent they can, and they influence the media and so unfortunately the misinformation they put out there tends to get traction.

Q: Why is the coal lobby is so influential?

Until just recently we’ve seen the Queensland government say that they’re going to sell state-owned assets, or assets owned by the people, in order to help Adani coal miners build their railway lines so they can export the coal to the Galilee Basin. You know – that’s taxpayers money used directly to help the coal industry, and that tells us a little bit about how powerful they are.

Until recently the coal lobbyists were writing energy policies for the government – they may still be. And they go from the coal industry to the lobby industry to the government sector and they write the policy. So it’s a really long-standing thing. Australia has had the coal industry now almost since the foundation of the nation, so it’s been a very powerful industry.

Q: So how can every day Australians help to combat that, especially if it is so influential and lobbyists are writing the energy regulations?

Well we have to use – as a public that wants to see change – every tool that’s available to us.

The disinvestment campaign is very important, and because the coal mining companies around the world have lost half their value in four years, there’s already a very strong case to say we don’t want to invest in coal. So let’s invest in an industry that’s making money in the renewable energy sector so we can have cleaner energy sources. That’s something people can do.

Also, Australians have been great in installing solar on their roofs – we have nearly 1.4 million solar households now in this country, and that compares to only half a million in the United States. So individual Australians are putting their money where their mouth is in saying we want clean energy, so we’re putting in solar panels. Which is great, but of course the government isn’t doing the same thing – they’re doing the opposite.

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