Professor Tim Flannery recognised for contribution to science, conservation
Renowned academic urges graduates to be optimistic about the future
Australia’s preeminent scientist and environmental champion was today honoured during the University of Wollongong’s summer graduation celebrations.
Professor Tim Flannery, renowned academic, conservationist, author, and historian, received an Honorary Doctorate of Science from UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings CBE, for his “exceptional contributions” to the field of science.
One of the greatest science communicators throughout the world, Professor Flannery also delivered the guest address to the crowd of graduating students and their families.
He encouraged students to be optimistic about the world and their future, and to do their part to take on the challenge of climate change.
Professor Flannery, whose latest book Sunlight and Seaweed: An Argument for How to Feed, Power and Clean Up the World was released earlier this year, said many graduates will forge careers in industries that are just beginning to develop.
With more than 30 books to his name, Professor Flannery’s insatiable curiosity for the world has propelled his impressive and varied career.
After graduating from La Trobe University with a Bachelor of English Literature in 1977, he took a detour to the world of science, where he has been ever since. He was awarded a Master of Science from Monash University in 1981, followed three years later by a PhD in palaeontology from the University of New South Wales, for his exploration of the evolution of greater kangaroo species in Australia.
He said has been in thrall of science since he was young; it provides the context for the way he looks at the world.
“I have no idea what I would be doing if I wasn’t working in science,” Professor Flannery told UOW’s The Stand last year. “I don’t have a second career. Pursuing science creates a much richer experience for me.”
Professor Flannery has authored more than 140 peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has named 25 living and 50 fossil mammal species, and in 2005, a species of bat, Pteralopex Flanneryi, was named in his honoured.
Much of his career has been dedicated to making science accessible to the people, igniting a love and understanding of science in the public imagination. Indeed, Professor Flannery was once named “one of the all-time greatest explorers” by Sir David Attenborough.
His love of science, and ability to capture the public imagination with his passion and enthusiasm, has cemented his place as one of Australia’s best science communicators.
“It’s like if you study classical music, you can understand an opera and the way that different parts of it work, and you have a much richer experience,” Professor Flannery said. “The environment is like that for me. Science gives me an understanding that makes it a very rich and astonishing and beautiful experience.”
Since the early 2000s, much of Professor Flannery’s work has been driven by his desire to halt the effects of climate change and minimise human impact on the planet. He was the Chief Commissioner of the Climate Commission, and once it was disbanded in 2013, he was instrumental in forming The Climate Council, which aims to continue scientific enquiry into climate data.
He is passionate about the critical changes we must make in order to protect our delicate ecosystems and avert catastrophic damage to the environment.
“How are we to live sustainably in a population of seven billion, soon to be nine billion?” said Professor Flannery, who was named Australian of the Year in 2007. “We are in a race against time, we are losing so much. That’s why I do what I do.
“I think everyone understands that we have to have clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink, we have to have food. And ultimately, they are the products of their environment. Us and every other species depend on it. It’s fundamentally wrong to trash the environment for short-term gain.”
In presenting the honorary doctorate during today’s ceremony, UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Wellings said Professor Flannery has captured the public’s imagination and allowed a love of science to thrive during his long, distinguished career.
“In all his areas of endeavour, Tim combines his insatiable curiosity about the world with his flair for research and his verve with language to make science relevant and interesting to the general public as well as the scores of budding scientists who will follow him,” Professor Wellings said.