Chance to cure those old environmental fatalism blues


A shag swimming in a local drain surrounded by plastic bottles.

You may retreat, panic or get depressed. You give up on the future of the world. The more realistic your assessment, the more profound and dark can be your emotional reaction.


Story & photo Mary Gardner

Somehow we get lost and end up watching wildlife from a bridge over the ‘town drain’. The banks are soft with mud, exposed after the bulldozer pulled back all the grassy vegetation. To one side, a muddy water dragon rests between discarded plastic bottles. In the drain water itself, a black cormorant swims and dives.

It churns up murky swirls, disturbing oily slicks on the surface. It flies off shrieking as an elegant white spoonbill lands nearby and wades in. This drain matters to these animals, among others. We humans built it and from the looks of things, time has come to put some renewed care into it. Sure, such a project can improve this environment but it can also help us people, too. Lots of us have a winter dose of ‘environmental fatalism’.

This is a debilitating mental condition. The trigger can be any small thing – a local degraded site or plastic on the beach. Dying koalas. Aerial spraying of herbicides. You feel something ought to be done. Then you feel that doing anything is so hard. Or that so many things need doing everywhere you look.

What happens next is part of a syndrome recognised around the world. Suddenly all of your thoughts rush up as a tsunami of grief mixed with despair and futility. You say cynical things like ‘humans are doomed anyway’ or ‘there’s no point’. You may retreat, panic or get depressed. You give up on the future of the world. The more realistic your assessment, the more profound and dark can be your emotional reaction.

One remedy is deeply personal. New from Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone is their book Active Hope: How to face the mess we’re in without going crazy. They suggest creative ways individuals can help themselves to move through fatalism.

Another remedy is collective. In 2008, EarthJustice published a report on environmental fatalism in the Pacific Northwest. They surveyed residents about their social values and mapped the responses as neighbourhoods of like-minded people. Fatalism loomed in some areas but not in others. The most powerful way to reach across all these neighbourhoods was with campaigns that brought individual actions together and multiplied their effect.

Here in the northern rivers, we’ve seen that’s true with CSG Free street surveys and town declarations. In the same spirit is the international campaign to divest from fossil fuel industries. It’s similar to the divestment campaign against apartheid in South Africa. The managers of banks, super funds and savings of every kind are being called upon to remove financial support for expansion in coal, oil and gas industries. If they won’t, their customers will move their money out.

They can lose millions of customers, people like you and me. Or they can use their skill and put the weight of our money behind renewable energy and other investments that support the future we prefer.

On Sat August 31, Charlie Wood, director of the divestment campaign Go Fossil Free Australia, will be a speaker at the 3rd Annual Byron Bay Science Film and Talk Fest. She will explain national and global actions and the campaign in communities like Byron Bay (see

Other guests will describe investment alternatives. This will be followed by some shorts about renewable energy and the film Do the Maths, featuring Bill McKibben. This free session starts at 3pm at the Southern Cross Room upstairs at the Byron Community Centre. Wood will also run a divestment workshop on Sunday September 1.

(Please note: the Fest is for only one day this year so mark your calendar now. Evening session about The Ocean starts at 6 pm).

And as for rehabilitating the drain in town? There are a few people already talking about it, since those Byron World Café meetings in early 2013. Join in and cure those environmental fatalism blues. Check out the debate on the website


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