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We are the weather makers

Issue 18 | November 2006

Report: Melissa Marino
Photography: Adam Bruzzone

The weather man: Monash alumnus and best-selling author Tim Flannery.

Alumnus Tim Flannery is as passionate about alerting us to the impact of global warming as he is about encouraging us to become involved and take action as individuals.

Alumnus Tim Flannery recently spent eight weeks travelling along the Murray and Darling rivers, witnessing first-hand the issues facing rural Australia due to a lack of rainfall. It has served to convince him further that humans are the weather makers.

When Tim Flannery was a student at Monash in the early 1980s, he had no idea he would write what has been described as one of the most important books of the 21st century.

He did have a keen interest in the environment and, in earning his masters degree in earth sciences, was guided by the important influences of professors Ray Cas and Patricia Vickers-Rich, as well as "one of the world's great climate scientists", Professor Larry Frakes.

"I had some teachers who were very formative for me," he says. "The geologists were such a great bunch of people -- really good friends and colleagues."

Around the time he graduated, Dr Flannery was troubled by evidence in Papua New Guinea that the forest had been creeping up the slope of Mt Albert Edward and wondered if this could be occurring as a result of climate change.

It sparked a concern that would be sidelined as other issues pressed, but two decades later, he could no longer ignore the question of global warming and decided to investigate.

What resulted was the book The Weather Makers, a bestseller now in its third print run which has sold more than 50,000 copies in Australia and been released in 35 countries, establishing Dr Flannery as a key authority on climate change.

Twelve months after the book's release, Dr Flannery is still palpably passionate about the issue, determined to keep campaigning "at least until we get some action".

"This is something that everything else depends on," he says. "We have to make sure we win this battle."

Part of that continuing effort is the recent publication of a new, more accessible version of the book for younger readers titled We Are the Weather Makers.

"They are the ones who are going to feel the biggest impact from climate change, so I wanted to produce an edition that was more readily understandable for people without much scientific background," he says. "Something for the non-pointy heads."

The new book has opened up the issue to new generations and has also given Dr Flannery the chance to update some figures.

If anything, he says, climate predictions have worsened since The Weather Makers was published in October 2005. "People said originally it was a pretty alarmist book, but it's looking rather conservative in some of the key areas 12 months on," he says.

But while the messages in the book have been shocking, Dr Flannery says he is pleased about some of the outcomes. "The book has been on the bestseller list in Canada and is at number one spot again, which is amazing," he says. "A number of American and Canadian politicians have contacted me about the book and asked to meet and talk about climate change, as have business leaders."

But while he has met with politicians in the US and Canada to talk about climate change, Australia, he says, is "sleepy hollow". Although there has been some movement at the grassroots level and in big business, Dr Flannery says he is dismayed at federal inaction. Dr Flannery writes that the book's most important message is "there's no need to wait for government to act, you can do it yourself", but says part of doing it yourself means voting for the right people.

"I would never cast a vote again without actually talking to the person who's going to represent me -- finding out what they think about climate change, what they're doing in their personal life and what their party's policy is."