Tim Flannery is an internationally acclaimed writer, scientist and explorer. As a field zoologist he discovered and named more than thirty new species of mammals, including two tree-kangaroos. Sir David Attenborough described him as being ‘in the league of the all-time great explorers like Dr David Livingstone’. His many books include the award–winning international bestsellers The Future Eaters and Throwim Way Leg, and The Eternal Frontier.
'It would be hard to imagine a better or more important book'
Terrifying and inspiring, The Weather Makers takes us on a journey through history and around the globe as he describes the wondrous diversity of the world's ecosystems. Tim Flannery reveals how the earth's climate has changed, across millennia and decades, and how the slightest imbalance has had far-reaching, unexpected consequences. He combines a huge breadth of sources and new evidence to write with complete authority about the forces that are shaping our future and what that future holds: as we continue to heat the planet, humanity and the entire natural world face unprecedented dangers and challenges. Flannery makes them real and argues forcefully for the solutions that we should all be seeking now.
What first prompted you to write this book?
I'm a palaeontologist by training, so understand how influential climate change has been in shaping life on Earth. And as a mammalogist I've seen the indications of climate change first-hand as I've conducted fieldwork. Yet it was only reading the computer-generated projections of how climate change could develop this century that really brought home the significance of what I'd learned and experienced. Those projections indicate that a great wave of extinctions, driven by climate change, may occur this century. Avoiding that was my motive for writing the book.
How do you think your understanding of this issue has been shaped by your experience working as a scientist in the field?
Direct experience of climate change has been hugely important. In the course of my work I've seen the glaciers of New Guinea retreating and alpine herb fields overgrown with forest. And I've witnessed the devastation wrought by the greatest el Nino event on record (1998) on the most diverse habitats in Australasia. To see species that have existed for millions of years vanish in less than a decade is chilling.
Is there any one place that reflects the story of climate change most personally for you?
When I first saw the Nong River valley in central New Guinea in 1985 it was untouched, a mid-montane oak forest of the richest kind, with a greater diversity of marsupials, such as tree-kangaroos and possums, than I had seen anywhere else. The place was remote - it took 2 days to walk in - and during my stay I found several new mammal species there, including a beautiful grey possum the size of a cat, which was unique to the area. The local people of course knew this animal and they called it matanim. In 2001 I got the chance to return to the valley, this time by helicopter, and it nearly broke my heart. Instead of great stands of the grandest trees imaginable I saw a field of dead trunks and stumps stretching to the horizon. My old friends there explained that frost had killed the trees, and then a fire came that burned for months and it consumed everything. Both the frost and the fire resulted from that devastating el Nino event of 1998. The frost occurred because the air was so dry that the nights became colder than ever before, and the fire followed the drought. I doubt that anyone will see the matanim possum again. There's just no forest left.
Have you been surprised by the reaction to your book in Australia?
A month and a day after the book was published, The Australian ran a front-page story saying that the Environment Minister and Prime Minister agreed with most of what I had written. That really surprised me. But now I'm waiting to see how that translates into policy. If Australia ratifies Kyoto I'll know it was more than words.
Do you think the situation in the UK is comparable?
Tony Blair read the book, and sent a nice letter complimenting me on it. He says that the issue is urgent, and I agree. I just hope that it will let people see the scale and nature of the problem we have created, and empower them to do something about it. Because the point is we know enough about climate change to act.