Chief Climate Commissioner
Born in: He grew up in Sandringham, VIC.
Tim Flannery has perhaps the most unenviable job in the country: explaining to the Australian public why they should pay for pollution before most of the rest of the world.
It means he's got influence, as anyone with the ear of government should. But it has also made him some powerful enemies. And they're not afraid to hit him with a tsunami of tongue-lashings, criticising his credentials, methods and predictions.
"Tim is right at the heart of the climate change debate," prominent writer, academic and former ALP staffer Tim Soutphommasane tells The Power Index.
"That he's such a target of the News Limited papers and talkback radio shock jocks testifies to his stature: he is a scalp that those opposing the carbon tax want to claim."
As head of the Gillard government's newly-created independent Climate Commission, it's no surprise Flannery is spat with venom from foes in the media. To them, he is public enemy number one: they disagree with his reading of the science; they're opposed to his advocacy for taxing the economy.
Most notably, it's the conservative columnists, in lockstep with talkback tsars like Ray Hadley and Alan Jones, who are the quickest to feed on anything that can be used to discredit Flannery's work.
Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and others, pitchforks in hand, regularly deride him as an "alarmist" or a "fear monger", while fellow keyboard culture warriors Tim Blair and Piers Akerman laughingly refer to him as a "professor of warmenology", "rich Labor luvvie" and one of Julia Gillard's "claque of handsomely-paid shills".
But it's not just the frothing tabloid media that has a problem with him, Flannery also has his critics in the more measured scientific community as well.
While many praise his skills as a communicator (he's a prize-winning author of books like The Future Eaters and The Weather Makers), they say his good work is often unraveled by making daunting forecasts which are yet to be proven.
Stated claims that Perth could be the 21st century's "first ghost metropolis" and that sea levels could rise by "eight storeys" are regularly dredged up to damage his credibility.
"He does occasionally make mistakes," says Melbourne University climatologist David Karoly, who works with Flannery at the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists. "And so some of his statements on climate change science are not completely correct.
"But that's a relatively small number ... he is still a respected figure in climate change science, who is tackling a very difficult task."
Flannery also attracts heat for talking outside his area of expertise. While the Akubra-wearing naturalist may be a polymath, with degrees in arts and geology and a doctorate in palaeontology, one thing he is not is a climate scientist.
Still, as Karoly tells The Power Index, Flannery knows his stuff and is an effective "translator" of the climate science advice he has received. And, according to childhood friend and naturalist Bob McDonald, criticism from the cheap seats is unlikely to bother him anyway.
"Tim's answer to [opponents] could be to say 'well then how the fuck are you qualified?', but he doesn't. He just lets it go over his head," he says.
But that doesn't mean invectives go unnoticed. When The Power Index arrives for an interview in the lobby of a Melbourne hotel, Flannery is reading a copy of The Australian. It's an almost masochistic choice for someone who has felt the full force of the paper.
"I just find it a very useful insight into right-wing thinking in Australia," Flannery tells The Power Index when sitting around the corner on a park bench in Treasury Gardens. "I never buy it, but I will read it."
Minus his trademark Akubra and khaki get-up, the bald and bearded Flannery is miles away from the bumbling tree-hugging caricature his enemies often portray him as. He's in an open-necked white shirt with a leather jacket slung over one shoulder, giving off the casual air of an academic walking through the quad to get a coffee.
And as the interview progresses, it doesn't take long for him to fall into his consuming passion as a naturalist. On a couple of occasions he interrupts our discussion and identifies a family of wood ducks waddling through the park.
But when The Power Index cites the regular attacks from some in the media, Flannery's casual mood darkens ever so slightly.
"A little bit?" he chimes in half-jokingly. "That's an understatement. It's like watching footy, as soon as the team starts playing the man rather than the ball you know they're on a really bad losing streak ... and we are winning, we've had some big wins the past 12 months."
An example he gives is last month's climate talks in Durban. Flannery says the commitment that came out of the forum -- nearly 190 nations including the US and China agreed to form a pact to cut emissions by 2015 -- was encouraging.
"I was much more pessimistic than that," he says. "I don't think people realise quite how rapid progress has been over the past three years on dealing with the issue of climate change. People will look back and say that was extraordinary."
Still, he knows he faces an uphill battle to convince the community action is needed. The climate debate has become increasingly bitter in the past few years, particularly with the introduction of the Gillard government's carbon price. The opposition, lobby groups and sections of the media have used that policy to paint the federal government, along with Flannery, as destroyers of jobs and the economy.
"I've seen it first hand where you have a community of coal miners who have always had the view that theirs is a very proud and honourable profession," he says. "And you come in and say, 'actually what you're digging up here is destroying our children's futures'. For them it is deeply confronting."
On dealing with those who have the most to lose from action on climate change, Flannery admits his side of the debate has not been sufficiently empathetic.
"I think that's why we get so much misunderstanding and contention, we need to think through the impacts," he says, before adding: "It doesn't mean you pull back from what you're saying or believe, [but] great leadership in this area is one that is empathic and not combative."
Raised in Sandringham, in Melbourne's south-east, Flannery says seeing things like Red Bluff cliffs being used as a rubbish tip galvanised what would become his modern crusade.
He studied arts at Latrobe University before moving on to do a masters in geology at Monash University in the 1980s. After that he completed a PhD in palaeontology at UNSW, before going on to hold a series of academic roles, including working as director of the South Australian Museum.
He's written reams of published work and counts broadcaster Sir David Attenborough as his biggest influence.
"He was pretty wild," remembers Bob McDonald, who used to go fossil hunting with Flannery in Beaumaris. "He could be ruthless in what he did. But he has this hyper-intelligence that he's still got. He had this most unbelievable ability to focus ... he could talk about getting drunk with mates or about an epic trip one minute and then really complex biology the other."
So how would the man himself like to be remembered?
"I was in a cemetery in London last year, just trying to get over some jetlag having a look at the headstones. It was a military cemetery, and this one gravestone cracked me up, it just said 'he did his best'," Flannery says, holding back a trademark giggle.
"First of all I thought 'I hope they never put that on my gravestone', but then I thought perhaps it's actually appropriate ... as long as it's not boring."
A previous version of this story said that Australians were paying for pollution before the rest of the world. The error has been corrected.