Tim Flannery: A Profit of Doom on climate scaremongering

  • Date: 28/03/21
  • The Australian

Tim Flannery’s numerous inconsistencies and false predictions never stop him from flogging his numerous books or curtail his appearances on the chat circuit. Admittedly it’s a living, and for Flannery, a lucrative one. A profit of doom you might say.

Australian environmentalist Tim Flannery.

On Tuesday, the Bureau of Meteorology forecast heavy rains for every mainland state and territory except for Western Australia. The size of the area affected, said the agency, was as big as Alaska.

But even that was a conservative estimate. A second front subsequently emerged, stretching from southeast Queensland to Tasmania. The north coast of NSW has recorded over 400mm of rain. North Tamborine in Queensland received 505mm in just two days. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated in NSW. Some parts of western NSW have received the equivalent of a year’s rainfall in a single day.

As I write this, the BoM has issued flood warnings for parts of Gippsland, Victoria. A big shout out to the Victorian Minister for Water, Lisa Neville, who in 2019 cited climate change in refusing to commission new dams. Claiming that water in the state’s rivers would halve by 2065, she insisted moneys would be better spent on expanding Victoria’s $3.5bn desalination plant by a third.

Water is released from Sydney’s Warragamba Dam. Picture: Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gaye Gerard
Water is released from Sydney’s Warragamba Dam. Picture: Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gaye Gerard

No doubt her view would have been supported by the esteemed chief counsellor of the Climate Council and former Australian of the Year, Tim Flannery, who has long made dire predictions about water availability. The Sydney Morning Herald noted in 2005 his prediction “that one morning in the not-too-distant future in one of the major cities, taps will be turned on, and instead of water, there will only be a whistling in the pipes. Not a drop. Totally dry.”

Either Sydney’s growing water crisis results from a drought of exceptional intensity, or our climate has changed,” wrote Flannery that same year. “There’s only two years’ water supply in Warragamba Dam,” he said, “yet [NSW Minister for Energy and Utilities] Frank Sartor is talking about the situation being stable … If the computer models are right then drought conditions will become permanent in eastern Australia.”

[The] worst-case scenario – and the one I believe is most likely to be correct – is that the rainfall since 1998 represents the new climate,” he said. “In three years we will know whether I’m being alarmist or not, for that’s about how long Sydney’s water supplies will last under the conditions that have prevailed since 1998,” he said

Flannery set the rules for the alarmist test; let’s see the results. Warragamba was so short of water it reached 80 per cent of capacity six years after Flannery’s prediction. In 2012, the following year, it overflowed, something it did again in 2016. As of this week it began spilling 450 gigalitres per day – an amount roughly the volume of Sydney Harbour and around a quarter of the dam’s capacity.

Collectively, Greater Sydney dams are 99.5 per cent full. How lucky is NSW to have a desalination plant – something Flannery lobbied state governments to build – which costs well over half a million a day to stay idle? As he told ABC in 2007 “So even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and our river systems…”

The water desalination plant at Kurnell, in Sydney’s south. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
The water desalination plant at Kurnell, in Sydney’s south. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

In 2007 Flannery told the Sydney Morning Herald “Sometime in the next 30 years, we face significant destabilisation.” In what sense, he was asked. “Rapidly rising sea levels, maybe up to six metres,” he explained. “And hundreds of millions of refugees, because there are whole cities going under.”

And this from the same year:

The actual trajectory we’ve seen in the Arctic over the last two years, if you follow that, that implies that the Arctic ice cap will be gone in the next five to 15 years. This is an ice cap that’s been around for the last three million years.”

But according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, the Arctic sea ice extent average for last month was 14.39 million square kilometres. If it is going to disappear by 2022, it better hurry up.

In 2008 Flannery proposed changing the colour of the sky to combat climate change, a crackpot scheme which would have involved adding sulphur to jet fuel to disperse it in the atmosphere. “We need to be ready to start doing it in perhaps five years time if we fail to achieve what we’re trying to achieve,” he said.

Put Flannery’s remarks to him and you are likely to be met with his standard reply of “I didn’t say that”, or “I was misrepresented,” but the reality is this bloke is all over the shop. In 2006, he called for Australia to replace coal fired power plants with nuclear technology. “We would then have a power infrastructure like that of France, and in doing so we would have done something great for the world,” he wrote in The Age.

But less than a year later, he dismissed the case for nuclear power.

The answer is so resoundingly ‘no’ it is embarrassing,” he smugly informed a Sydney business audience. “We are, potentially, the new Saudi Arabia of renewable energy … it is massive, unimaginable amounts of energy and we have some fantastic technology in Australia to harness that.”

He did not explain his massive turnaround. If there is one thing Flannery is consistent about, it is his refusal to explain his inconsistencies.

A photo shows flood damages in the Windsor area of Greater Sydney. Picture: AFP
A photo shows flood damages in the Windsor area of Greater Sydney. Picture: AFP

In 2006 Flannery envisaged a futuristic city in the Australian desert.

Geothermia would be a city not of thousands but of hundreds of thousands – a place with its own critical mass,” he wrote. “Imagine the exports of gas and of processed minerals from the mammoth Olympic Dam mine, which is nearby.” Likewise the year before he told ABC’s Lateline that gas would “play a very significant role in terms of Australia’s future energy requirements”.

But when Energy Minister Angus Taylor proposed a “gas-fired” COVID-19 recovery plan last year, Flannery had forgotten his pro-gas stance. “If the federal government wishes to keep Australians safe, the gas … must stay in the ground,” he wrote.

Flannery’s numerous inconsistencies, false predictions, and harebrained schemes never stop him from flogging his numerous books or curtail his appearances on the chat circuit. In May he will convene a panel at the Sydney Writers Festival to talk about “the climate emergency”. Admittedly it’s a living, and for Flannery, a lucrative one. A profit of doom you might say.

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