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Tim Flannery.

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Professor Tim Flannery, author, scientist and Australian of the Year 2007 began his scientific exploration as a boy turning over rocks in the bushland near his home. His childhood heroes were naturalist (Sir) David Attenborough as well as palaeontologist and explorer Roy Chapman Andrews.

The young Tim grew up in Sandringham on the edge of suburban Melbourne and, although he had always been interested in science and fossils, did little science at school and subsequently trained as an English and History teacher.

Continuing his studies at Monash University and then the University of New South Wales, he reverted to his original love of Earth Science, and was awarded his Master of Science, followed by a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) for his investigations into macropods and their evolution.

His field research into macropods (kangaroos and their relatives) saw him recognised as a prominent 20th centuryexplorerfor his discoveries of new macropod species in Australasia.

Over the last two decades, Tim has worked on many museum exhibitions and held the positions of Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Museum and Director of the South Australian Museum.

He has authored or co-authored over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers and is world renowned as a broadcaster and author of books including Future Eaters and We Are the Weather Makers.

Dedicated to conservation and nature, his books strive to explain the science described in scientific journals such as Science and Nature in terms which are understandable to the public.

In 2005 he joined an illustrious group of scientists, politicians, ethicists and writers who have been named Australian Humanist of the Year for their 'contribution to mankind'.

His contribution to the public's understanding of their place in the environment was recognised when he was named the Australian of the Year 2007.

He currently holds a Professorship at Macquarie University and works with other scientists in the multidisciplinary Climate Risk CORE (Centre of Research Excellence).

Australian of the Year Professor Tim Flannery has made the most of opportunities created by his 2007 award to bring his passion for sustainability to the notice of the public, government and industry.

"Among the things that I've been trying to do is make sure that the public as a whole are better informed about climate change so we can get the right policy decisions at government level" said Professor Flannery. "This is why I've been so busy trying to let people know about this issue."

He believes it is the responsibility of people to elect governments which will make decisions that take into account the environmental implications of their choices.

"It's the role of government to set good regulations to say you can't go on polluting the atmosphere for ever. We've got to start charging people to pollute and then start phasing out pollution."

Professor Flannery believes that once governments have set the rules and regulations then it's the role of business to develop innovative products and technologies.

He is optimistic about the future, however. "Industry needs to understand that there are enormous opportunities as we shift to a cleaner, greener economic model" said Professor Flannery.

One group which brings together industry and business with the community and government is the Copenhagen Climate Council (CCC), a global partnership for a better climate. Established in May 2007 by Professor Flannery, the CCC is a unique group of people who have the ability to influence government policy and business practices.

"It's also given me the opportunity to achieve things overseas. The partnership is aimed at getting a good outcome for the Kyoto 'Phase 2' Treaty. With 21 board members, including Sir Richard Branson and CEOs from China and South Asia, it's pretty interesting" said Professor Flannery.

This international council has given Professor Flannery a sense of achievement. "With business on board telling government we don't want to fail again to agree on an effective treaty, we'll really have a chance of dealing with this problem."

"We're going to have to show some leadership as individuals. We need to change our light bulbs.... and vote governments in that will do the right thing in their area" said Professor Flannery.

He believes that governments need to come together under a global treaty to make a global set of regulations so business can contribute globally. Developed societies must see that we have a special obligation to start moving first and must accept more of the burden in the initial stages than the developing world does.

"We need to recognise that the children of the Industrial Revolution have benefited enormously from putting the pollution up there, but that's not true for other people on the planet" said Professor Flannery.

Young people can also make a difference and are much more powerful that they might imagine, Professor Flannery believes, partly because of the technological and science revolution.

"People my age look to young people for everything--from helping us program a VCR to helping us understand climate change" Professor Flannery said. "In a family situation young people are very much listened to by Mum and Dad who want to give them a better future but need to be informed about how that can be done."

It's important that young people aren't just frightened about climate change, or despairing about it, but have a good understanding. They need to feel energized and activated to make a difference, the Professor suggests.

Always committed to empowering people to take control of decisions which affect their environment, Professor Tim Flannery has developed Thinking About Climate Change, a teachers and students guide to inspire today's students to be tomorrow's leaders in dealing with the challenges of climate change--the science, impacts and solutions.'

The guide challenges students' thinking on contemporary climate science, using Professor Flannery's best seller We Are the Weather Makers, which he wrote as a straight account of the science behind climate change.

"I just wanted to let people know what was being said in the pages of journals like Nature and Science which are inaccessible to most people. I wanted to weave it into a story that people could comprehend. I wasn't setting out to be provocative. I wanted to set out the science, with all of its uncertainty and disagreement."

However, it's very challenging, he believes, to see the world in a different light and realise that what we do puts pollution into the atmosphere that will damage our grandchildren. People are shocked by the reality of that. Growing up in Australia there is a 'disconnect' between our Western point of view and the reality of the country we live in.

"Indigenous practices have 50 000 years of direct experience and when we look at the practices, or more importantly the philosophy, we find a great guide there about living sustainably. Australia has changed in the last 200 years, so we can't just apply the practices. The way people view themselves in their country I think is very important" said Professor Flannery.

"My passion comes from a love of the natural world and we're on an unsustainable pathway. I feel very strongly about sustainability. I've been enormously busy. I've felt that I've had to make the most of it. You're only Australian of the Year once, so this year is very important and I've been doing everything I can."

Information on Thinking About Climate Change, the free cross-curriculum teacher and student guide, can be found at http://www.theweathermakers.org/pdf/tacc flyer.pdf.
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Title Annotation:meet the scientist
Author:McDowall, Rhona
Publication:Teaching Science
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Sep 22, 2008
Words:1233
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