Adelaide Climate News was fortunate to get a few minutes of Climate Commissioner Tim Flannery’s time before last night’s event in Elizabeth.
A blog post about the event, which was both well-attended and well-organised will appear here later toda. For now, here’s a transcript of the interview, with a few appropriate hyperlinks thrown in.
Could you explain a little bit about why the Climate Commission has come into existence and what you would like to see it doing over the next year or two.
Tim Flannery: The Climate Commission came about as the result of an election promise by the Gillard government, at the last election. We’re an independent commission, so even though we’re funded via the government, we don’t take direction from government. We started work in February this year, and our brief is pretty simple: it’s to get out among the Australian public and discuss aspects of climate change, whether it be the science behind climate change, the economic options that a country like Australia has available to it, or what’s happening internationally in terms of action to address climate change. We don’t speak about policy, we’re not briefed to speak about government policy, and we don’t want to speak about opposition policy. But we feel that there is a real need for a group like this that people can interact with, who can give unbiased and objective advice on where things stand. So that’s really our role.
So we’ve been going around the place, every fortnight or so now, to a different part of regional Australia, visiting business places, industry places, meeting with opinion leaders, having community consultations and so forth. It’s been extremely interesting.
And how long with this work continue for?
Tim Flannery: The Commission has a lifetime of four years. Who knows what will happen in the future; it’s very difficult to say. But we feel that’s appropriate, because this is an issue Australians will be struggling with decades from now, it’s not going to go away. When you look at what needs to be done to get to a point where we’re secure globally from dangerous climate change. It’s four decades at least of transformation ahead of us.
I just yesterday wrote a piece that ended with ‘this problem’s been two hundred years in the making, it’s not going to be solved in two years.’
Tim Flannery: Exactly. And we’re not going to get anywhere in a democracy without a well-informed public. So it’s very important that people understand the basics.
And have you been surprised at the attendance and the kinds of questions at the events, or have you been pretty much getting what you expected?
Tim Flannery: Better than what we expected. We’ve been having quite large attendances, full houses by and large. What surprised me the most has been the diversity of people attended, from welded-on climate skeptics through to people who are passionate about the subject but with a very large number of people in the middle, which is really good. So I think that’s probably the group that benefits the most from the interactions. And we do poll people as they leave, they fill out the little form and we ask how the event went. And 80 to 90% have been saying that it was valuable and they learnt something, so that’s good.
There’ s nothing like the Climate Commission in England, which is the country I know, and I don’t think in the United States. Are you aware of anywhere else that has done this sort of thing?
Tim Flannery: I think you have a Climate Commission in the UK but it’s got a very different objective – to keep the government accountable legislatively. No, I think it’s a novel model for Australia. I think it’s quite an interesting one. The other thing we do that I didn’t mention was issue reports. And I was very pleased to see that our science report that was release two weeks ago in the Federal Parliament received bipartisan report [The Critical Decade]. That speaks to our independence and the credibility of the information in the report.
Final question – you’ll be aware that there have been, unfortunately, death threats against climate scientists, and I don’t want to overplay this. There is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek campaign that Friday 10th June should be “Hug a Climate Scientist” day.
I personally feel that’s a bit maybe tokenistic, and I have stronger opinions myself on what climate activists and people who are concerned about the issue could do to support climate scientists. I’m wondering what you would like to see individuals and groups concerned about climate change doing that they’re not already doing around things like peer-to-peer education and so on.
Tim Flannery: I think that the death threats come from psychologically deranged people. People don’t normally threaten to kill other people over a difference of opinion. There’s a psychological problem there. And I think part of the issue is the sort encouragement that they receive from various quarters, for lunatic views and the way people egg each other on and this sort of thing. So I tend to just not comment on such things publicly because I think commenting on them just encourages them, but that’s my view.
Do you want that on the record or off the record?
Tim Flannery: That’s on the record.
And what would you like to see – I’m not asking you to be a guru, I know it’s very difficult, you don’t want to tell other people what to do – but what sorts of things do you feel support climate scientists in their work and the things like the Climate Commission in its work. Because you’re only six people, with a scientific panel behind you it’s true, there’s only so many events you can hold, so what else do you think would help in the broader mission?
Tim Flannery: I think helping to create a calm space where we can discuss these things logically and fairly is very very important. And I think everyone who’s interested can play a role in that. So I wouldn’t dismiss those with a contrary view, but instead engage them in a reasoned sort of debate and ask them why they believe the particular things they believe and where they get their information from and so forth. At the end of the day that’s the only way to change these views, is to engage with people rather than dismiss them.
Thank you very much.