Commonwealth National Podcast

Dr. Tim Flannery: A Natural History of the Planet (5/4/11)

Duration: 
1:01:32

Tim Flannery

Professor of Science, Maquarie University; Chair, Copenhagen Climate Council; Author, Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet

 

Greg Dalton, Vice President of Special Projects, The Commonwealth Club; Founder, Climate One - Moderator

 

Tim Flannery doesn’t do pessimism. Flannery explains the source of his optimism, a major theme of his new book, Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet, in this Climate One conversation at the Hoover Theatre, in San Jose. It stems from what he says is a popular misunderstanding of what natural selection actually is. “This is not a ‘survival of the fittest world,’” he says, referring to the phrase used as shorthand for Darwin’s perceived worldview. “This is a world where evolution has spawned extraordinary interrelationships, interactions, and co-evolutionary outcomes.” Over the last 10,000 years humanity has built what Flannery describes as a “super-organism” – a level of organization similar to that of ants, termites, or bees. And the glue that holds the super-organism together is the division of labor, interdependence. “That means,” says Flannery, “that the survival of the super-organism becomes all-important to us. We can’t afford to back up the planet.” And as “we form this one great super-organism, where we are all interconnected, we gain the capacity to deal with environmental challenges.” And for the biggest environmental challenge of all, climate change, Flannery sees reason for hope where others despair. Take COP15, the momentous United Nations climate change conference convened in Copenhagen in December 2009. Conventional wisdom holds that COP15 was a failure. Flannery disagrees. “I think it is self-evident it wasn’t a failure,” he says. The meeting was the setting for the largest-ever gathering of heads of state. Countries accounting for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions made reduction pledges. Flannery sees progress across the map. China is a global leader in wind and solar energy, and is preparing to launch regional carbon cap-and-trade systems. India has enacted a small tax on coal and recently launched an aggressive energy efficiency trading scheme. South Korea is spending 2% of GDP on green growth. The European Union raised its 2020 emissions reduction target from 20% to a minimum of 25%. The United States is halfway to reaching its goal of reducing emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. “The job now for us,” Flannery says, “is to knuckle down and make sure that our countries carry their fair share of the burden. We need to have hope. We need look at things over the right time scale. And we need to re-gather the energy that’s required to carry this further.”

 

This program was recorded in front of a live audience at the Historic Hoover Theatre in San Jose, CA on May 4th, 2011

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