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New­ton-John, Ellen De­Generes and in­ter­na­tional cam­paign and run­way mod­els like Jar­rod Scott, are all do­ing their bit to raise a col­lec­tive aware­ness.

“Ev­ery time I come back to the reef it’s like say­ing good­bye to an old rel­a­tive who is slowly weak­en­ing and dy­ing,” says Flan­nery. “I find it very up­set­ting. Heron Is­land won’t be here if I live to be in my 90s and ris­ing sea lev­els and death of coral will con­trib­ute to that. The clear-eyed view is we are see­ing a sys­tem in tran­si­tion. I don’t want to be one of those peo­ple who run off to see the last of some­thing, I want it to be around for gen­er­a­tions to come.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Mel­bourne based sci­en­tist, tourism is one way to get peo­ple think­ing about the Reef—it gen­er­ates pub­lic­ity but also puts climate change at the front and cen­tre of the dis­cus­sion. And while bleach­ing has de­pleted a lot, there is still plenty to see.

“Most peo­ple say what­ever and ig­nore it, but it’s like an ice­berg, the prob­lems are in­vis­i­ble but they’re eat­ing away at our fu­ture,” says Flan­nery.

The lat­est IPCC [In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Climate Change] re­port, launched in South Korea last month, has warned gov­ern­ments that the win­dow of op­por­tu­nity to tackle climate change is rapidly run­ning out.

“Global tem­per­a­tures have risen 1°C in the era fol­low­ing mass in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion and this has di­rectly af­fected Aus­tralians, with wors­en­ing ex­treme weather events like heat­waves, droughts, bush fires and coastal flood­ing,” said the Climate Coun­cil’s act­ing CEO, Dr Martin Rice.

The IPCC re­port found that cur­rent na­tional pledges are not enough to limit warm­ing to 1.5°C.

“It’s clear that con­certed ac­tion from all coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant green­house gas pol­luters like Aus­tralia, is crit­i­cal if we are to keep tem­per­a­tures be­low the 1.5°C limit,” says Rice. “In­ac­tion has al­ready cost us dearly. A 1.5°C world, our best pos­si­ble fu­ture, will change our lives. It’s go­ing to be tough to meet that tar­get but we must strive to do so be­cause a 2°C world would be much worse.”

The Climate Coun­cil, Aus­tralia’s lead­ing climate change com­mu­ni­ca­tions or­gan­i­sa­tion, says the sea sur­face tem­per­a­ture around the Great Bar­rier Reef in early 2016 was the hottest since records be­gan in 1900. And the re­sult­ing dev­as­tat­ing bleach­ing was at least 175 times more likely due to climate change.

For sci­en­tists like Flan­nery, it was a bio­di­ver­sity con­fer­ence in Ja­pan in 1999 that in­spired him to pur­sue a life of cam­paign and com­mit­ment to climate change. His book The Weather Mak­ers was re­leased in 2005 to crit­i­cal ac­claim, earn­ing him Aus­tralian of the Year in 2007.

The Weather Mak­ers was in­spired by a talk given at the con­fer­ence by pro­fes­sor of en­vi­ron­men­tal bi­ol­ogy and global change at Stan­ford Univer­sity, Stephen Sch­nei­der.

“I was in­vited to at­tend the same con­fer­ence as Stephen and af­ter lis­ten­ing to him speak it was a land­mark mo­ment for me in my ca­reer to make climate change my main fo­cus,” says Flan­nery. “I knew a lot of the statis­tics about climate change in the back of my head, but I hadn’t cal­i­brated the risk prop­erly un­til then. That’s when I de­cided my life was go­ing to be about climate change. I wrote The Weather Mak­ers and told Stephen that. He was a to­tal hero of mine, and one of the tough­est I ever knew. He lived and breathed by his word, ed­u­cat­ing about climate un­til the end.”

As one of Aus­tralia’s lead­ing thinkers on climate change, the reef holds a spe­cial place in Flan­nery’s heart. While it sad­dens him to see it van­ish be­fore his eyes, he says gov­ern­ments need to act at a pol­icy level and so­ci­ety must put pres­sure on them.

“As a sci­en­tist you have your ego taken out of you early on. Your re­search pa­per isn’t your baby and has to suf­fer its own fate when the in­for­ma­tion is put out there. I don’t like rock star analo­gies and pre­fer to take a back seat,” Flan­nery says of his many ac­co­lades. “I don’t want to be that per­son who claims that space. Climate change is real and we must all act col­lec­tively. We are all equal and need one an­other to make that dif­fer­ence to our fu­ture and that of our coral reefs.”

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