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Tim Flannery in 2007: after a two month crash course in climate change, the man was a prophet

Flannery, Tim, Photo 2004, The West Australian.

Tim Flannery, 2004, The West Australian.

Flannery will be on Q&A tonight (bet you can’t wait, copy your questions and tweets below please!). Let’s check the exact wording of his original 2004 prediction that Perth would become a ghost town. It tells us something, not just about Flannery and a messiah complex (he really does talk of himself as an old testament prophet), but about journalism. Back then journalists interviewed critics too. Flannery was even called “alarmist” in 2004.

The original story had the calm headline: “Perth Will Die, says Top Scientist”. That article has gone beyond the space time continuum, but thankfully, it was preserved by the Wayback Machine.

Perth will become a ghost city within decades as rising global temperatures turn the Wheatbelt into a desert and drive species to the brink of extinction, a leading Australian scientist warns.

–Carmelo Amalfi, The West Australian

Perth in 2018, is wet, cool and productive and 30% larger:

Dams are at their equal highest level at the end of summer since 2002, and Perth has 67 billion litres more than any year of the last seven. The desert seems to be shrinking, arid regions are 11% greener. A record grain crop last year was followed by a bumper one this year. Instead of being abandoned in the decade after Flannery’s prediction, WA had the fastest population growth rate in the nation getting a massive 25% larger from 2006-2016. Perth grew 28% in the same period.

To bring back the rain, Flannery advised windmills to defeat “the enemy”:

In years to come these will be seen as totems to the wind and sun gods:

The South Australian Museum director and author of the best-selling The Future Eaters said a major shift from coal to renewable fuels such as solar and wind energy was needed in WA. “Coal is the enemy,” Dr Flannery said…

In 2007 he was offered the chance to step back but Flannery went double or nothing, practically biblical:

As temperatures around the world warmed by 2 to 7 per cent, [Per cent of what? — asks Jo] Sydney could glimpse its future by looking at the devastating impact that global warming had already had on Perth, which he said was likely to become a “ghost metropolis”.

“There will be conditions not seen in 40 million years…”

–Anne Davies,  Sydney Morning Herald

Perhaps “per cent” was a misprint. But 40 million years was not, and includes the formation of the Antarctic circumpolar current, super volcanoes, asteroid strikes, countless ice ages and millions of years of temperatures higher than present. The end of the last ice age saw a 125m sea level rise.

Still it’s not like the man is a paleontologist…    oh, wait.

And what do we make of this 2007 admission? The man was billed as a “top scientist” in 2004, but in Feb 2007 he tells us he’s just spent two whole months reading about “climate change”.

Dr Flannery said he had spent the past two months reading “everything I can get my hands on” about climate change, and had been horrified by what he had learnt.

After a full nine week crash course, the man is a prophet:

The next line after that:

“I wake up in the morning thinking there are lots of times when people have woken up feeling like this, like the Old Testament prophets,” Dr Flannery said.

“I try to find a way out of it, but I can’t. Its life-changing to realise what is going on.”

–Anne Davies  Sydney Morning Herald

 Flannery, expert on fossil mammals, offers his global geopolitical, physiological, and economic synopsis:

“We are one of the most physically vulnerable people on the Earth,” Dr Flannery told the Herald.

The dryness of the continent made it especially fragile in the face of climate change.

“There may be a few worse places, like Bangladesh. But southern Australia is going to be impacted very severely and very detrimentally by global climate change.”

Somehow a nation which is among the richest, with more square kilometers per person, more resources per capita than possibly anywhere on the planet, and on a stable landmass, and exporting food and coal, are “the most physically vulnerable people on Earth”.  The journalist, Anne Davies, did not even question this or think it might be worth getting a second opinion.

Archaic media: Back in the old days journalists would talk to critics too:

In 2004, in a different era, when Carmelo Amalfi of The West, had the sensationalist headline “Perth Will Die” but still clung to the old fashioned anachronistic habit of getting an alternate view, in this case from Jorg Imberger, who called Flannery’s prediction “alarmist” (even though he seemed to believe the IPCC):

Jorg Imberger, head of the University of WA’s centre for water research, agreed, saying the plant would produce about 30,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. “Building such a plant is the worst thing we can do when we have Yaragadee, with 1000 years of water in it,” he said from Singapore yesterday.  But Dr Imberger said Dr Flannery was wrong to suggest WA was heading for an arid future when overall the world was getting wetter, not drier. He said his forecast was alarmist.

It’s a simple world. Flannery appears to be a one-variable man:

Hydrologists understand that streamflow and run off is determined by undergrowth, land clearing, evaporation rates, wind speed, etc. Flannery seems to think that only temperature matters. Warming means “less rain” which means “less run off” which means “death to flowers”:

He said a global temperature rise of less than 1C last century had robbed the State of over half its annual rainfall run-off. Global temperature rises of up to 6C would transform Perth into an arid city unable to feed itself.

A 1C rise was enough to wipe out an estimated two-thirds of WA’s native flowering plants.

Another day I’ll do something on the issue of rainfall versus runoff in WA which is a whole ‘nother topic.

For the moment, this  is really about the media. Flannery doesn’t realize it, but he’s been hung out to dry by the failure of the media to ask sensible questions and interview informed critics. With better journalism, his wild, unresearched fantasies would have been ignored, or couched in sane terms with skeptical headlines. But the man has been walking the red carpet for years because he was so uninformed he could say the things that real experts couldn’t. He deserves the mocking he gets.

We heard years ago from an insider at The Australian Greenhouse Office that he appeared to be a dejected man when he walked.

More information:

If anyone knows a link to long term data on water storage in Perth (eg a monthly total for the last few decades) please add that in comments. The WA Water corp seems to prefer to “forget” data more than 4 – 8 years old. It must be there somewhere? Where are the long term graphs?

*Edited – The end of the last ice age the seas rose 125m.

**Edited, Anne Davies was the correct author of the SMH article not Louise Pemble. Apologies. Louise Pemble authored an article in 2007 about Flannery for PerthNow.

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