Acclaimed Australian scientist, explorer and conservationist Tim Flannery has joined the Graduate Institute as Fondation Segré Distinguished Visiting Professor. The CIES is delighted to host him as Visiting Professor during the month of March 2017.
Professor Flannery, who is a Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne, was previously Chief Commissioner of the Climate Commission, an Australian government body providing information on climate change.
A frequent presenter on television and radio, in 2007 he was named Australian of Year in recognition of his efforts to explain environmental issues and bring them to the attention of the public. Professor Flannery’s books include ecological histories of Australasia and North America, as well as works on climate change and on the relationship between humans and our planet. As a field zoologist he has discovered and named more than thirty new species of mammals, including two tree-kangaroos.
Your most recent book is called Atmosphere of Hope: Solutions to the Climate Crisis. What is there to be hopeful about? What is there to be worried about?
I realised a few years ago that we were making some progress towards dealing with the climate issue, but not enough to avoid really serious consequences. What’s heartening is the level of awareness of the dangers of climate change among young people: when I published The Weather Makers in 2005, climate change simply wasn’t on the social or political agenda. It’s also encouraging that global greenhouse gas emissions have leveled off since 2013, while the economy has grown. It’s positive that innovation is driving our economies like never before. The wave of innovative technologies transforming clean energy will hasten emissions reductions, for example by allowing us to draw CO2 out of the atmosphere. But we must ensure that innovation is funnelled into climate-friendly infrastructure that will remain competitive in the low-carbon economy. Because we are fast approaching climatic tipping points, and it remains unclear whether we can act fast enough to avoid them.
What will you be covering in your course at the Graduate Institute?
I believe that the large scale deployment of carbon negative technologies will be required in the near future to avoid triggering dangerous tipping points in the climate system. My course will focus on the scale of human climate influence and the climate challenge, and the technologies and methods that are likely to be deployable at the gigatonne scale by 2050. These range from kelp farming, to the use of silicate rocks and through to the manufacture of carbon negative carbon fibre and plastics. We’ll investigate clean energy’s potential to help feed and clean up, as well as power, humanity, and look at new Third Way technologies and a new earth systems approach to carbon capture and storage in ice and oceans.
You are preparing a new book on the history of animals in Europe: what do you have in mind for the work?
Europe is a fascinating and exceptional place. I want to understand the forces that have formed it and shaped its species. And I need to know how those forces are playing out today. Looking back through 100 million years of Earth history, I think I have identified some of the factors responsible for Europe's special nature. Researching the book from Geneva is an exciting and challenging prospect.
Tim Flannery will present his work during a Geneva Dialogue public lecture on March 28, 2017.