Dr Jim Salinger spent almost 30 years with the New Zealand Meteorology Society and Niwa before an employment dispute in 2009. A climate change expert, he is now sought after at universities around the world.

1. When did weather and science first fascinate you?

At the age of 13. I was given a maximum and minimum thermometer, then bought a rain gauge and built my own weather recording station in Dunedin, observing the weather and recording observations of temperature and rainfall. I liked collecting data, noting things down and the thing that attracted me was that weather was always changing. There's always something happening.

2. What did your parents teach you?

My parents taught my two brothers and myself the importance of discussing issues and worldly matters at the dinner table, and the art of conversing without becoming emotive. They taught critical reasoning, and also emphasised the importance of study, and the importance of what is right and wrong. They loved us, and when times were difficult in the household because of my mother's depression they taught us how important it was to co-operate so we could all pull through. My mother had depression for eight years so she was in hospital at times. When I think about it, it was a very loving time because we all were together. Some families would fall apart. My father was a gentle man. Not your typical patriarch. Mum had psychotherapy which was very advanced for the time and she would have had the odd anti-depressant. It wasn't kept secret. We all saw what she was going through.


3. Have you also suffered depression?

I guess in some families there's a propensity [for depression] but it's also a personality thing. Whether that's genetics I don't know. It's the sort of personality that worries and gets anxious. Some people never have it and therefore can't understand it. I had an early episode when I was younger. I thought "I wish I could have it so I could see what it's like", but when it struck I thought "oh hell". I was at university at the time. I had a bit of medication and a bit of psychoanalysis and decided I had to leave and went to Auckland and seemed to emerge from it. In the end, although the medication might help, you sort of have to climb out of it yourself.

4. Was 2009 your annus horribilis?

No " 2005 was my annus horribilis. In that year I had four deaths " my mother, favourite aunt, and two first cousins, and a divorce. It caused a horrible depression. I had persistent sad, down and miserable feelings, loss of interest in activities, feelings of guilt, "empty" feelings and a bleak and pessimistic view of the future. I combined psychiatric help with antidepressants, and there was tremendous support of close friends and family, and a sympathetic workplace at Niwa.

5.You have found yourself at the centre of controversies in your career - how does that happen?

That's a good question. I don't think it's intentional. I think it's part of my personality. I accidently do things that send me into a controversy. I have a low dose of Asperger's [syndrome]. I get taken the wrong way.

6. You took Niwa to the Employment Relations Authority and lost: how do you feel about that now?

I'm not into blame. After my divorce I found I was someone that doesn't do vindictiveness, or get upset. Relations with Niwa are fine these days too. It was very odd, that incident, because it had nothing to do with science. It was to do with protocol and procedure. I accidentally, through my Asperger's I would say, went outside [the procedures] and they decided I had to go. There are some things you feel you must take a stand on and that was one of them. But there's no point in being bitter. It helped me enter a new life phase. I had known I needed to retire at some stage and wondered how I would do it. When it happened, the University of Auckland said 'this is your home now" and from there I've had positions at Stanford University, in Italy and several in Australia. It has been really exciting. It's nice being useful, feeling you have a role in society.


7. What in life brings you most joy?

Communicating climate science to all, and especially assisting the youth of today in understanding the science, and getting them engaged in the issues. It is also very pleasurable working with my climate science friends as it is a small and very co-operative community where we share ideas. And imparting the joy of science to my new wife who loves travelling with me, and watching our grandchildren grow up.

8. Is love different second time around?

It's different because you are both adults, with adult children and grandchildren. You know yourselves much better. After my divorce I had one or two excursions into dating and thought "this is no good, I'll just go about my work". Then I was a visiting fellow at Griffiths University in Brisbane. I was giving a lecture and my wife was there and we met up afterwards. She's Kerry Salinger now but she was Kerry Smith-Douglas, she was one of Schapelle Corby's lawyers. Oh yes, good work stories. My career has been rather reclusive whereas she was out there, dealing with all sorts of people.

9. Do you miss New Zealand?

Yes. New Zealand is a tremendous country. It is not too large, and the people are honest, hardworking and very friendly. It has a very stable society which cares for its communities. The landscapes are tremendous and the physical environment, especially the rainforests and the Southern Alps are a wonder to behold. It is a wonderful laboratory to work in - I regard New Zealand as the country everyone is going to want to live in.

10. How hopeful are you for the future of our planet?

Very hopeful. We have got to reduce our energy use and transfer to renewables. There is much that can be done in houses through passive design to capture sunlight, increased insulation and reduction in power use, good public transport and the introduction of either hybrid or electric vehicles. The plummeting cost of renewable energy production through solar panels and wind turbines is fast becoming a reality.

11. Do you have faith?

I have faith in the inspiration of humanity. Human civilisation in the past has ascended great heights and the challenge is to do so again. Civil society needs to work on the great energy transition - and my faith is it can do so. If we will it, then it is no dream.

12. You're not an atheist?

I would never call myself an atheist. I am a secular Jew. You don't have to believe in God to be Jewish though you might aspire to. I'm not into spirituality but I enjoy the culture which is very rich and diverse, the customs. It's part of me, part of the family. Is religion hard for a scientist? Yes, and no. In science you have the unexplained. You have things that can't be proven, but we may believe in the hypothesis. My faith really is that phrase, given to me at my Bar Mitzvah when I was 13. If you will it then it is no dream. If you put your mind to something then you can make things happen.