Timothy Fridtjof Flannery (born 28 January 1956), is an Australian mammalogist, palaeontologist, environmentalist and global warming activist. Aside from chairing the Copenhagen Climate Council, holding the Chair in Environmental Sustainability, and heading up the Climate Change Commission in Australia, Flannery is a well-known author, publishing The Future Eaters: an Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People in 1994 and later The Weathermakers.

Flannery was raised in a Catholic family in the Melbourne suburb of Sandringham, close to Port Phillip 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[5] in 1977, and then took a change of direction to complete a Master of Science degree in Earth Science at Monash University in 1981. 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.

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.

Flannery’s work has prompted Sir David Attenborough to describe him as being “in the league of the all-time great explorers like Dr David Livingstone”.

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.

In 1994, Flannery published The Future Eaters: an Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People, which 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.The third and final wave Flannery describes is European colonisation at the end of the eighteenth century. While the book continues to be controversial in some of its hypotheses, it is a call to arms to preserve the Australasian natural heritage – and by extension global natural heritage.

Perhaps his most controversial hypothesis however, 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? 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.

Flannery also argues 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 to its “culture to biological reality”.

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.

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

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.

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:

  • That a failure to act on climate change may eventually force the creation of a global carbon dictatorship, which he calls the “Earth Commission for Thermostatic Control”, to regulate carbon use across all industries and nations – a level of governmental intrusion that Flannery describes as “very undesirable”; and
  • the establishment of “Geothermia” – a new city at the NSW-South Australia-Queensland border – to take advantage of the location’s abundance of natural gas reserves, geothermal and solar energy. Flannery argues that such a city could be completely energy self-sufficient, and would be a model for future city development worldwide. Of the city project, Flannery told The Bulletin that “I know it’s radical but we have no choice”.The Weather Makers was honoured in 2006 as ‘Book of the Year’ at the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards.Flannery’s work in raising the profile of environmental issues was key to his being named Australian of the Year in 2007. However, many were 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.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.”

    In 2006 Flannery was in support of nuclear power as a possible solution for reducing Australia’s carbon emissions, however in 2007 changed his position against it. 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.

    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.

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?

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

This raised concerns among some environmental groups such as Greenpeace 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, and further was worried how whales were slaughtered, wishing them to be “killed as humanely as possible”. 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.

Flannery has achieved a prominence through his environmental activism. His advocacy on two issues in particular, population levels and carbon emissions, culminated in his being named Australian of the Year at a time when environmental issues were becoming prominent in Australian public debate.

In 2009, Flannery joined the project “Soldiers of Peace”, a move against all wars and for a global peace.