The Gift Economy, Anarchism and Strategies for Change
Terry Leahy's website
The New Environmentalism and its Critics
The Perils of Consumption and the Gift Economy as the Solution Daniel Miller’s ‘Consumption and Its Consequences’
Anarchist and Hybrid Strategies
Ruling Class Men: Money, Sex, Power
Options for a Sustainable Future - Four Models of Utopia
Exploitation, Surplus and the Community Economy - 2013
What is the Difference between Anarchism and Socialism anyway?
Checkmate: Why Capitalism Cannot Survive Global Warming
The Social Meaning of the Climate Crisis
Indigenous Sustainability and Collapsing Empires
Sustainable Cities in a Low Energy Future (Part 1)
Sustainable Cities in a Low Energy Future (Part 2)
Sustainable Cities in a Low Energy Future (Part 3)
Sociological Utopias and Social Transformation: Permaculture and the Gift Economy
On the Edge of Utopia: A Letter to the Green Parties (Part A)
On the Edge of Utopia: A Letter to the Green Parties (Part B)
Sustainable Agriculture: A Marketing Opportunity or Impossible in the Global Capitalist Economy?
Food, Society and the Environment - 2003
Apocalypse Most Likely: Agency and Environmental Risk in the Hunter Region
Second Wave Feminism - The Opening Debates
Second Wave Feminism - Since the Mid-Seventies
Ecofeminism Part One: Different positions within Ecofeminism
Lecture: Deep Ecology
Apocalypse Most Likely: Agency and Environmental Risk in the Hunter Region

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Beck suggests modern society is perceived in terms of real and often catastrophic risks that are integral to modernity and affluence. This paper explores people’s perceptions of the relationship between environmental risks and the presumed benefits of modernity and the way these may be mediated by socioeconomic circumstances and sense of agency. These issues are explored with reference to focus group discussions and a recent telephone based survey conducted with residents of the Hunter region. A substantial majority of interviewees responded that a range of catastrophic future environmental outcomes were likely and that urgent action was required. However, responsibility for this crisis was attributed to "others", notably "big business", and it was from this indeterminate social realm that the solutions were to be sought. While respondents demonstrated little confidence in governments or major parties, they were wary of environmentalism, fearing negative impacts on the lives of "ordinary people". Only a very small minority were themselves politically active. This apathy and statis can be interpreted in a number of ways - in relation to "risk society", globalization or fatalistic withdrawal in the face of impending catastrophe.

The authors acknowledge the assistance of Anne Gardiner, David Shellard and Donna Russo and the generous support of the Hunter Valley Research Foundation.

Modernity, postmodernity and environmental crisis

This paper explores the way residents in the Hunter understand the environmental crisis. While we cannot generalize these results for Australia, they do suggest useful insights into the way recent processes of socioeconomic transformation contextualise environmental crisis.
The environmental crisis has been understood by a number of authors as a crisis of modernity, "a modernity which, as it becomes globalised and ‘turned back against itself’, comes up against its own limits. (Giddens 1994, 11 ). Western modernity carried the enlightenment promise that scientific knowledge aligned with the liberal-democratic nation-state, the organizational practices of industrialism, and the growth dynamic of market capitalism would bring forth a world of liberty and material abundance. In the post World War II era (Keohane 1984) a regime of "embedded liberalism" allowed western nation-states to maintain a sufficient level of internal economic and political sovereignty so as to manage national economies and at least partially incorporate and address the needs and aspirations of their citizenry. Within this era, political subjectivity and social identity could be constituted by the "imagined community" of the nation.

In this period, environmental problems were not an overriding concern except for a "radical fringe". They were seen as essentially local and in principle solvable through changes in technology and social practices; the capacity of the natural environment to absorb the polluting by-products of human activities was regarded as essentially limitless (Franklin 2002).

From a contemporary perspective such views have a pernicious naivety. The prospect of an environmental crisis engendered by the collision of the limited capacities of the natural environment to supply resources and absorb pollution and the boundless growth of demand for these capacities has moved from the "radical fringe" to the mainstream (Beck 1992; 1995a; 1995b). As Beck puts it, environmental risk. has become a constitutive element of our understanding of "postmodernity".

One way to understand "postmodernity" is to see it as the collapse of the grand narrative of affluence and scientific progress - and the absence of a replacement narrative (Jameson 1988). It is also the growing economic insecurity that has accompanied economic liberalism and globalization (Castells 1997; Pusey 2002). Related to this is the erosion of predictable identities formed around class, gender and workplace; their replacement with fractured and reflective subjectivies (Beck 1992; Jameson 1988; Giddens 1994). To most people such changes may appear as a very intimidating prospect, threatening to cast them adrift from the anchorage points through which their sense of collective identity has been constructed. Responses may involve xenophobia, political populism, distrust of politicians and urban elites, fundamentalisms, and attempts to seek out and magically invoke the "rewind" button on history (Castells 1997). Within this broad ambit, environmental issues are unlikely to be the only concern for the majority.

Beck (1992; 1995a; 1995b) and Franklin (2002) link this social context and the recognition of environmental problems in the wealthier countries. It is scientistic to think of environmental problems as coming to political attention solely on account of their real existence. Instead, environmental issues are socially constructed. In a telling example, Beck (1995a) ponders the deep concern of the German public with "the dying forests" at a time when German motorways are taken for granted. As well, industrialism has seen forests destroyed for centuries while it is only recently a political issue.

In his first analysis of this issue (1992) Beck argues what has become known as the "post-materialism" thesis - that environmental problems only come to attention when other more serious problems of scarcity and distribution have been solved in the affluent countries. Later Beck (1995a; 1995b) and also Franklin (2002) draw a connection between the disruptions of post-modernist globalisation and neo-liberalism and people’s environmental concern. Beck argues that as wealth advances and stress increases with the pace of paid work and the growing insecurity of employment, the natural environment is more and more seen as a calming refuge. In Germany, the forests are a national symbol of idyllic peace. Injected into this mix is realization of the global reach and arbitrariness of current environmental risks. Modernization itself constantly reminds us of this - the nuclear industry is its own worst critic. Franklin (2002) provides a different version - so long as the welfare state and increasing affluence were secure, environmental damage could be seen as an unpleasant, if inevitable, side effect. Now that this cosy arrangement is undermined, tolerance for environmental despoliation evaporates.

Our research allows us to consider these hypotheses in reference to data recently obtained by Michael Pusey (2002). Pusey investigates Australian attitudes to economic restructuring and neo-liberal reform. Awareness of falling real incomes, economic insecurity and anger with ruling elites are constant themes in his data. These findings mirror our study.

Interviews and survey

We conducted a phone survey of 300 Hunter residents and a prior interview and focus group study of more than 100 between 1993 and 1996. Survey interviews were conducted by telephone by the Hunter Valley Research Foundation to a random sample of 300 domestic telephone subscribers in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie regions as well as regional towns and surrounding rural hinterland in August 2003 . Questionnaire items included a range of demographic characteristics as well as themes articulated by informants in the prior qualitative research.
Some distinctive regional characteristics need to be noted. The area has high unemployment, substantial resources sector associated with coal, electricity generation and aluminium smelting, and recently suffered closure of the steelworks. The area has a low percentage of NESB migrants (Postma 2000). Politically the region is divided between an ALP heartland and a regional hinterland including some marginal electorates.

Apocalyptic imaginary

One of the most striking findings of our study is the sense of probable apocalypse. In the focus group discussions, when asked about their views of the future, participants volunteered possibilities ranging from economic collapse to the extinction of humanity by ecological disaster or an attack on the Earth by aliens. Eight scenarios were nominated which had featured among people’s fears.

Scenario Central Tendency
  Median Mode
An environmental crisis that threatens human survival Neither likely or unlikely Likely
Invasion or takeover of Australia by foreign interests. Likely Likely
A disintegration of moral values and social order. Likely Likely
Nuclear war. Likely Likely
A devastating epidemic or plague. Likely Likely
A civil war between rich and poor. Unlikely Unlikely
The end of democratic government in Australia. Unlikely Unlikely
Massive poverty and widespread unemployment Likely Likely

Table 1 Central tendencies, Apocalyptic Scenarios

As table 1 indicates, the most widely accepted scenarios concern the possibilities of environmental crisis, an invasion or takeover of Australia, disintegration of moral values, nuclear war, a devastating plague or epidemic or massive poverty and widespread unemployment. In all these cases the modal response was "likely" and in all but one case this was the median response as well, meaning that about half of respondents saw it as at least a likely possibility. The only scenarios which were the overall modal response was "unlikely" were the possibilities of civil war and the end of democratic government in Australia. Respondents commonly regard more than one of these possibilities as likely.

Number of Apocalypses seen as likely Percent of interviewees

Table 2 Number of Apocalyptic Scenarios seen as likely

Number of Apocalypses seen as very likely Percent of interviewees

Table 3 Number of Apocalyptic Scenarios seen as very likely

Only 8% of the sample failed to pick any scenarios as likely or very likely and the modal response was that four scenarios were likely or very likely. About one in five nominated at least one scenario as very likely. So, our respondents are deeply concerned about a number of apocalyptic scenarios of which the environmental catastrophe is just one.

Further insights may be gained by considering the way responses are connected to each other. Of particular note is the way in which belief or otherwise in an environmental crisis is associated with the prospects of nuclear war, an epidemic or plague, an end to democratic government in Australia and massive poverty and widespread unemployment.

Correlations (a)
An environmental crisis that threatens human survival
Invasion or takeover of Australia by foreign interests Disintegration of values and social order Nuclear war A devastating epidemic or plague A civil war between rich and poor The end of democratic government in Australia
Invasion or takeover of Australia by foreign interests 0.21(**)            
Disintegration of values and social order 0.21(**) 0.28(**)          
Nuclear war 0.25(**) 0.25(**) 0.22(**)        
A devastating epidemic or plague 0.25(**) 0.21(**) 0.16(**) 0.23(**)      
A civil war between rich and poor 0.20(**) 0.17(**) 0.09 0.21(**) 0.19(**)    
The end of democratic government in Australia 0.26(**) 0.21(**) 0.11(*) 0.23(**) 0.10(*) 0.21(**)  
Massive poverty and widespread unemployment 0.26(**) 0.27(**) 0.27(**) 0.15(*) 0.21(**) 0.16 0.14(*)
(a) Correlations based on Kendall's tau-b.*inidcates> 95% confidence, ** >99.9%.

Table 4 Correlation matrix, responses to apocalyptic scenarios.

The centrality of the belief or otherwise in the prospect of an environmental crisis is further exemplified by cluster analysis which suggests the centrality of a sense of looming environmental catastrophe to a broader apocalyptic sensibility.

The respondents who were least feargul of apocalyptic crises were those with a strong sense of control and satisfaction in the workplace, a commitment to religious values, or a sense of satisfaction in the home or the occupation in which they worked. In all these cases significance reached a confidence level of 95% or greater. What is suggested here is an almost Durkheimian vision of social integration and personal efficacy as proof against apocalyptic nightmares.

Highest level of education One or more likely One or more very likely
Not completed high school
98.40% 50.00%
Completed high school
82.10% 40.00%
TAFE or Tequivalent
91.40% 56.30%
84.60% 32.70%
All categories (a)
92.00% 47.30%
>99.9% >95%
Occupational Category

75.00% 34.80%

Professional/para professional



97.60% 48.80%

93.50% 29.80%

96.20% 51.90%

Household duties
100.00% 75.00%

80.00% 40.00%

100.00% 100.00%

All categories (a)
91.40% 44.10%
>95% >95%
(a) Figures differ with respect to the two different independent variables because different response rates to the questions in the crosstabulations
(b) Calculated using a chi-square test

Table 5 Crosstabulations, education and occupation with attitudes to the likelihood of apocalyptic scenarios

As table 3 suggests, personal power and efficacy expressed in a respondent’s occupational role was also correlated with a diminution of apocalyptic fears. At the same time, it is worth noting that workers in even the most well insulated occupations were still deeply concerned with apocalyptic crises.

Although the overall evidence is more suggestive than conclusive, it suggests a connection between people’s sense of agency and their sense that the world outside is full of risk and uncertainty, possibly beyond human control. With this in mind we consider environmental concerns in more detail.

Environmental concerns

Within this general context there was no doubt of our respondents’ concerns about environmental issues. 83% believed that urgent environmental action was needed or the earth would no longer support human life. Huge majorities were either concerned or very concerned about a range of environmental problems of the kind typically addressed by the environmental movement.

Nature of problem Concerned or very concerned Very Concerned
Air pollution 84% 51%
Climate change 75% 30%

Pesticides and weed killers
86% 54%

Native forests
90% 66%
Drinking water 60% 36%
Species extinctions

Genetic engineering
77% 47%

Table 6 Extent of concern with environmental problems

Not surprisingly, given the general level of expressed concern with these issues, responses to different questions were highly intercorrelated as indicated in the following table::

Correlations (a)
Air pollution is increasing.
The climate is becoming worse, too hot or too cold Pesticides and weed killers are making food and water supplies unsafe. The forests are being cut down and not replaced. The water you drink is becoming dangerous to your health Many types of animals, birds, fish, insects and plants are dying off
The climate is becoming worse, too hot or too cold.
Pesticides and weed killers are making food and water supplies unsafe
The forests are being cut down and not replaced
The water you drink is becoming dangerous to your health.
Many types of animals, birds, fish, insects and plants are dying off.
Genetic engineering is being promoted without adequate safeguards.
(a) Correlations based on Kendall's tau-b. ** >99.9%.

Table 7 Correlation matrix, seriousness of environmental problems.

In these responses some issues concerned with people’s own health and well being were not as much concern as issues associated with deep ecology - with environmentalism as a moral movement to save other species. The highest percentages of people who were very concerned were in relation to forests being cut down and not replaced (66%) and biodiversity (59%). Only 36% were very concerned with health issues in relation to drinking water. Nevertheless, the correlation matrix reveals a clustering of concerns centred on "pollution" and human welfare. What is probably the most immediate and severe risk to people’s well being and to biodiversity - climate change - was only of great concern to 31%. Perhaps, the scientific complexity of the issue prevents it from being readily understood.

What is puzzling about these detailed responses is that a deep general sense of environmental apocalypse - human life on earth under threat - does not correspond closely to the issues which are of most significant concern. Certainly, we could say that humans are part of the web of life. Clearing native forests, the extinction of species are threats to the web of life. On the other hand, global warming probably has more potential to threaten human life on earth in the medium term future.

The interview data suggests a solution to this conundrum. On the one hand there are deep concerns with a range of environmental problems that can be named and identified. Very often these are concerns for other species. This is what environmentalism means to interviewees when it is raised as a topic. On the other hand there is a general sense of environmental threat - a vague sense that the unexpected and totally disastrous could come about - without any specific analysis of how this might happen. So the visible environmental problems of species decline are viewed as an ominous warning that things are out of control. This links to people’s sense that governments cannot be trusted to do something effective to deal with environmental problems.

For example, when Margie was asked what she saw as environmental problems she made the following comments:

Terry: What have you heard about that you would you see as problems of the environment?

Margie: Ohh. This is a tough one, I've heard about there's a hole the ozone layer, I have heard, ohh you can see where the oil leaks out and all those animals are getting, full of oil. Umm they keep telling us about the sunscreen. I don't know. Other than that there's always the greenies going on about not cutting down wood and so on and so forth ... they're all into natural things and trying to save our natural resources and they don’t want to cut down the trees, and they don’t want you to kill off the animal life.

This response identifies environmental problems in terms of harm to other species, and this is linked directly to Margie’s sense of the "environmentalist" movement. In other words, it is this movement which for her identifies these issues as environmental. The only exception is the hole in the ozone layer - identified in terms of public campaigns to prevent skin cancer. The hole in the ozone layer is in fact a threat to life on earth but is not identified as such here. Later, Margie revealed that she was much more concerned about nuclear Armageddon than about any other apocalypse.

When environmental issues are couched in terms of apocalypse, the mechanism is often very vaguely adumbrated. A student in a focus group made the following comments:

Economics is defined by human nature and politics is defined by human nature, which is to procreate, dominate and expand ... I think humans as dinosaurs are doomed. We’re going to die. The planet’ll be alive a lot longer than we are. I mean even if we kill it, the earth and soil will still be there.

In this account the mechanism of environmental apocalypse is not spelled out but apocalypse is assumed to be an inevitable outcome of the growth economy, itself an inevitable outcome of human nature. In an interview with a salesman, the present environmental problems are seen as indicative of a trend that must finish in apocalypse, given the absence of an adequate political response. Asked how he saw the future the interviewee laughed:

Very grim (laughs). Very grim. Oh yeah. Complete disaster. Yeah I mean because in my lifetime, you think about it, there has never been one positive, uhh overall macro improvement in the environment. You name me one. All the factories, all the pollution in Sydney, it’s ten times worse than it was twenty years ago [mentions several other examples] I mean, it’s all downhill. We haven’t seen a change in government policy or attitude to keep up.

So in these interviews there is a distinction between concern about environmental problems, which are not regarded as life threatening, and impending apocalypse, environmental or otherwise. The former act as pointers. The failure to remedy these immediate and apparent problems bodes ill for the future. As Beck suggests, there is an awareness that we live in a society of apocalyptic generalized risk (Beck 1992,1995a, 1995b). In some of these interviews, the political economy account of environmental risk is implied - a growth economy coming up against environmental limits. More often the mechanism of apocalypse is not specified.

Blame games

The interviewees very commonly blamed business for environmental problems and believed that it was the responsibility of business to address these issues. 76% agreed or strongly agreed that those who build and run factories and cut down forests cause dangerous pollution. 96% agreed or strongly agreed that businesses should pay for the environmental damage that they caused. Yet this was tempered by a recognition that environmental problems were the responsibility of the whole community. For some questions, responses were bimodal. For example the statement that regulations on big business are necessary but not on ordinary people split interviewees, with 35% agreeing and 58% disagreeing. 47% thought taxes on all parts of the community would have to be increased but 47% disagreed, suggesting that taxes might have to be increased for the most wealthy but not for others. .

The questions which focussed this issue in a way that invited consensus suggested that everyone should play a part and that contributions should be voluntary. 96% agreed that we all need to play a part to protect the environment and that regulations are necessary, but 75% also thought that what we need is voluntary action and education - not more rules. In another question more than 70% disagreed with the statement that there is little point in making individual efforts to save the environment if most people did not bother.

To summarize this complex picture we could say that most people blame business or a mythical "they" for environmental problems, but also believe that some degree of personal action is necessary. One group believes that while taxes and regulations should be targeted at business, ordinary people should be encouraged and educated. At the same time another substantial group are prepared to accept some regulation and some increases in their taxation to pay for environmental reform.

Interviewees are aware that most people do not have much impact on decisions made by companies. These decisions play a key part in environmental degradation. As well, people experience a sense of resentment at the social regulation of daily life. They resent the implication that they cannot be trusted and have to be compelled by legislation.

Our data on this runs parallel to the findings of Pusey (2003) - that "big business" was viewed as responsible for falling incomes and insecure employment in middle Australia. Both sets of findings suggest a perception that democratically elected governments are neither able nor willing to exercise control over private economic interests.

Accordingly, there was a great deal of scepticism about government action on the environment. 81% believed the Australian environment was getting worse because too little was being done to protect it. 76% maintained that the government was not doing enough to deal with environmental problems. 73% said we could not trust our elected representatives to protect the environment. 54% said that the major political parties were not taking environmental issues seriously and only 32% thought they were.

The Australian government is doing enough to deal with environmental problems
Strongly agree
Strongly disagree
The major political parties in Australia are taking environmental issues seriously.
Strongly agree
Strongly disagree
We can trust our elected representatives to protect the environment.
Strongly agree
Strongly disagree

Table 8 Confidence in mainstream politics on environmental issues

In the qualitative study, distrust of the government and condemnation of big business went hand in hand. In the last years of the Keating government, when the focus group interviews were conducted the ALP in government was not spared this attack. An interview with three maritime workers included this discussion:

John: I try to do the right thing at home, bit of recycling, chasing the kids around turning off the lights, you know all those sorts of things and trying to explain to them, you know, but you may as well go and hit your head against a wall as far as the total global situation, you know. ‘Cause look what they’re doing in the sort of like the rainforests in the Amazon and that.

Wayne: Just to feed a bit of meat to the Yanks, for McDonalds, you know.

Chook: That’s what I mean, it’s got to be at the top level, they’ve got to take a stand and say. You know how are you going to get a company like McDonalds to say, ‘Oh OK well we’ll forego our, you know, our profits for our shareholders'. It just doesn’t happen, it can’t happen, you know under the present system.

Terry: What about the politicians, why not them?

Chook: Who really puts the politicians in, and it’s not the voters, it’s the people behind the scenes. Yeah the money that really determines how you’re going to go on an election.
Wayne: Yeah, well big business control government, let’s face it.

This is fits the phone data well, combining the willingness to take personal action with a global analysis which sees business and government as largely responsible and working hand in glove.

This critical analysis of government and business was also proffered by people who distrusted the environmentalist movement. Petronella, a commerce student, was scathing about environmentalists but also made the following statement:

It's the large scale corporation which causes most of the pollution and damage to the environment. Like EXO for example, and the waterways in Garden City. Sure, people's small problems help. But it's large corporations that have to change their habits as well. If they're not going to change, then why should the individual person change? I don't believe the government really cares about the environment. They just care about making profits for the country.

What is to be done?

This ambivalence is reflected in views about overall scenarios for a future political structure which might help restore the environment. While there is a favoured option three other options also receive strong support. The most favoured option is surprisingly close to a left social democrat or Green Party position. 51% said that it would be desirable or very desirable if most things stayed the same but we had stronger environmental regulations and higher taxes. However 34% viewed this option as undesirable. 27% supported the status quo, with a small group owning most of the wealth. 13% favoured a democratic socialist model with most businesses owned by the government. 18% favoured an anarchist gift economy model with no money or wage labour.

The most striking finding here is the failure of consensus on these fundamental issues. Far from the status quo having the solid support that one would expect in view of the dominance of the coalition and the ALP at election time, there were only 27% who nominated the status quo as their favoured option. The program of the Greens - strongly regulated capitalism - got 51% in this poll, despite the poor showing of the Greens at elections. Even anarchy and democratic socialism were much more strongly supported than could possibly be suspected. This is an aspect of what will become even more clear as we explore this data further: people are quite dramatically alienated from the status quo but see no way forward to express this politically. At this time of neo liberalism and global capitalist hegemony, support for the capitalist system in its neo liberal guise is actually quite weak.

Again, our findings mirror those of Pusey (2003). Despite the electoral strength of the major parties, their consensus on economic restructuring and their lukewarm environmental policies are not supported. As with Pusey, we found that the most strongly supported program is a left social-democrat agenda with much more government intervention. On the other hand, the strength of the three other alternatives makes it clear that this majority does not create a consensus.

Political implications

Our data suggests deep concern about the environment and distrust of both major parties (Coalition and ALP). What interviewees call for is strong regulation of capitalism and increased taxation - the program of the Greens and Democrats. Yet, voters in the Hunter, of which our interviewees are a random sample, continue to substantially support the major parties. While cynical about the major parties, informants’ attitudes to environmentalist parties and the "environmental movement" were complex. These parties and the movement in fact evoke other kinds of fears.

Political Viewpoints Strongly agree Agree Neutral (a) Disagree Strongly Disagree
A vote for the Greens or the Democrats will put pressure on governments to take a stronger environmental position? 11.1% 50.1% 8.0% 25.6% 5.1%
The Greens and the Democrats take an extremist position. 8.6% 40.5% 10.3% 36.8% 3.8%
My vote will be wasted if I vote for a minor party. 11.9% 34.4% 5.1% 42.2% 6.5%
These groups have been successful in protecting the environment 8.9% 59.7% 12.6% 16.4% 2.4%
They ignore the effects their policies have on ordinary people. 8.4% 36.6% 12.2% 39.7% 3.1%
They are an unrepresentative fringe group of extremists 4.4% 28.8% 12.5% 42.4% 11.9%
They are well informed people who have a right to express their opinions. 8.0% 49.0% 17.0% 18.3% 7.7%
They do not know a lot about the issues they demonstrate over and they forget that other people's jobs may be involved. 15.0% 40.7% 15.4% 24.9% 4.0%
They are the pioneers for a new lifestyle that we will all adopt eventually. 1.5% 18.1% 16.1% 44.1% 20.2%
They are much better off than they look and are wasting their time trying to get attention. 6.2% 27.0% 14.7% 43.2% 8.9%

(a) Originally "neither agree or disagree"

Table 9 Frequencies, questions on environmentalists and minor political parties

The strongest support for the minor parties and environmental lobby groups was expressed in the context of their role as lobby groups. A huge majority (83%) agreed that they were necessary to put an environmentalist point of view. Respondents generally agreed that the Greens and Democrats have been successful in protecting the environment (69%) by putting pressure on governments to take a stronger environmental position (61%) and a little less convincingly (57%) that were well informed and had a right to express their opinions. On the face of it, since people also say that they are concerned about the environment and do not believe governments are doing enough, this should translate into votes - which it clearly does not. Yet 48% did not believe their vote would be wasted if they voted for a minor party, so this cannot be the problem.

In the interview data support for environmentalists as a lobby group is common even for people who are otherwise opposed to environmentalism. A typically nuanced comment came from Beth, a coalition supporter whose husband is an engineering contractor:

I mean I think they’re necessary and they might be very radical to start with and I think that’s necessary to get the politicians thinking, ‘cause if you don’t have the radicals well nothing happens. It’s like with every movement that’s ever happened. Then after a while all the radicals are pushed aside and the normal people flow through. I mean, yes, you do need that because it makes everybody aware. They can be a pain in the bum at times, but at least it’s helping make people aware. It’s making the governments more aware.

Beth achieves distance from this somewhat annoying group while at the same time seeing them as a necessary part of the democratic process.

Despite consensus on the necessity of the Greens as a lobby group, deep environmental concerns are not translated into votes. Questions designed to probe points of opposition to the environmentalist movement split the interviewees into two opposed camps. 56% of respondents agreed that environmentalists more generally "do not know a lot about the issues they demonstrate over and … forget that other people’s jobs may be involved". Yet 29% disagreed with this statement. Also on a negative note 64% disagreed that "they are the pioneers for a new lifestyle that we will all adopt eventually", although 20% agreed.

Ambivalent, though more evenly divided opinions were expressed on whether the Greens and Democrats take an "extremist position", whether a vote for a minor party would be "wasted" and whether environmentalists "ignore the effects of their policies on ordinary people". A range of these questions had fairly high neutral responses, such as those relating to how well informed were environmentalists, and whether environmentalists were "pioneers for a new lifestyle".

Clearly there are some strong class issues which were revealed in the earlier qualitative study (see also Leahy 2003). Working class people can see environmentalists as a section of the middle class with a moral agenda which takes little account of working class life situations. Adelle and Mandy come from a family of rural timber workers. Mandy’s husband Martin well expressed the support for the ALP as part of working class culture as well as the disillusionment with the ALP in office:

I still remember. Ohh, you gotta vote Labor, gotta vote Labor, as a young feller. I always remember that. And I, I haven't seen a change in my life yet of what goes on in the Parliament. I reckon they're both even terms. Whoever gets in, it's good for their side. But umm, I haven't really seen a great, there's been no changes well I don't think in fifteen years.

Despite this disillusionment, it is unlikely that any of this group would switch their vote to the Greens. Adelle is vitriolic on the subject of environmentalist activists and nominates them as interfering middle class urbanites, at least in so far as the timber industry is concerned:

I think a lot of them'd come from the city and they'd just go out there and just, you know.
They just don't know what they're talking about. I really don't. No I think they go on, yeah they do, they go on. The trees'd die off. I mean they grow again anyway, I reckon. I think half of them are going more for the fun of it. People that haven't got better things to do I think. They want to get attention.

The three interviewees went on to tie this distrust of environmentalists to the opinions of Adelle’s uncle, a worker in the industry:

Martin: Barrington Tops. Well they're logging there now, Adelle's uncle, Mick. Well anyway, he's, he's a man on the country all his life and he's explained it to us.

Adelle: And he knows the land.

Martin And he said. What they're chopping down now is nothing to what's going to grow anyway and he's saying, they've just picked a little spot which people are making money on and causing a ruckus over really nothing, yet ...

Mandy: See, most of our family, they come from Wauchope and it used to be a timber town. And I think maybe a lot of our views about chopping the trees down and the unemployment whatever.

In the qualitative study the "class" issues for middle class interviewees are of two kinds. The Greens, a party whose main concern is the environment, are not trusted as economic managers. Culturally, the environmentalist middle class is resented as illegitimately taking the moral high ground - through an affected pretence at a pure environmentalist lifestyle.

A sizeable majority in the survey rejected the lifestyle of activist environmentalists. In the interview data, these issues were often cited as objections to environmentalist lobby groups, and were raised by people of all classes. A policewoman’s somewhat extreme reaction covered many issues that were hinted at more politely in other interviews:

I find them a sort of alternative breed. We had to fumigate the police station last time they were in. They absolutely stunk. It was unbelievable. They’re all kids. Never worked. Just living off the government. They’re actually just people that don’t really want to fit in with the rest of the society and they’re not interested in working hard or anything like that. They’re interested in dropping out. They said, "Well why don’t you come along to the next rally?" And you think, well if I’ve got to wear no deodorant and eat chick peas and brown rice, I don’t think I’ll be part of that.

This distrust is also reflected in some deep ambivalence about the Greens’ policy mix. Both the Greens and Democrats advocate higher taxes and more stringent regulations to deal with environmental problems, as well as a taxation regime targeted to environmental problems. Much of this program is not popular with the respondents, and there is a great deal of ambivalence. The following questions elicited a bimodal response:

Regulations on big business are necessary but not on ordinary people 35% 58%
It is necessary to increase taxes on all parts of the community to protect the environment 47% 47%
Government has plenty of money to look after the environment 40% 41%
Taxes should only increase on things that cause environmental damage 57% 33%

Table 10 Support for environmental policy options

What people are most uncomfortable about are regulations on ordinary people and especially taxation of ordinary people to repair environmental damage. What is most supported is regulations and taxes on big business - considered to be the pre-eminent environmental vandal. While the last question seems to offer support to the environmentalist program of targeted environmental taxation, this may only seem to be the case, since people could well assume that "things that cause environmental damage" are the actions of companies and businesses rather than the choices of ordinary consumers - for example to drive to work, something that could become more expensive if a carbon tax was levied. The questions in this set that elicited more consensus clarify the contentious issues here.

We all need to play a part to protect the environment and regulations are necessary 96% 2%
Voluntary action and education are what is necessary, not more rules 76% 16%
Businesses should pay for the environmental damage they cause 96% 3%

Table 11 Responsibility for addressing environmental problems

These answers suggest the following formula. We play a part after being educated and taking the necessary steps voluntarily. Business must be regulated and taxed to deal with the environmental problems they have caused. Yet it is clear that substantial numbers disagree with this comfortable solution and accept taxes on ordinary people and environmental regulations.

In the interviews, environmental regulation was resented for a variety of reasons. A steelworker spoke of "an old woman" who was "snooping around" and called the Fire Brigade because he was burning off papers – illegal, because of environmental consequences. He felt invaded - "there must have been half a dozen blokes there and he's come into my place and he says ...". He protected his private space from bureaucratic control (see also Leahy 1994).

Petronella’s "they" joins government and environmentalists:

Well I don't believe they should make it legalized and enforce people, enforcing them to recycle their rubbish. That's not really fair. I believe it should be up to the individual. Like they're just talking about taking away all the large bins and making people have small bins so that you're forced to recycle, but that's not really fair. What are you going to have? Fifty bins in your house. One for newspaper. One for glass. One for this. You've got no room. Your house will be a pigsty.

"It’s not really fair" suggests environmentalists are imposing their moral choices on everyone. Aware individuals should be credited with the moral high ground that environmentalists occupy. We are all environmentalists - so why should government force us to recycle? The survey confirms most people are deeply concerned about environmental issues.

These are concerns that underlie community fears of environmental regulation and taxes. The real problems come from big business which dominates a corrupt political establishment. Ordinary people are aware of environmental problems and willing to do the right thing if they are encouraged and educated, rather than coerced, particularly when it involves their domestic space – where individuals should make their own rules.

And Yet …

In a sense what remains puzzling in the data is that large minorities, almost always over 20%, and often large majorities, accept Green Party policies and environmentalist perspectives on every issue. Yet the Greens would double their vote if even 20% voted for them - such an event would trigger a major rethink of environmental issues in Australia. So what is the impediment? Without contradicting our survey results, it might be that for each respondent there is at least one serious disagreement with environmentalism and that these vary from person to person - so that the at-least-20% who support the Greens on one issue are not the same 20% who support them on another issue. Alternatively, it may be that the circumstance of a survey taps into concerns about environmental issues and leads interviewees to look kindly on the environmental movement and to support their policies. In the context of voting, there are different priorities.

What are the lowest points of community support for environmentalism? Only 28% disagreed with the statement that environmentalists did not know a lot about the issues on which they demonstrated and that they forgot that other people’s jobs may be involved. Within the capitalist economy we are all dependent on our jobs. While people may recognize that there is an environmental crisis they do not want jobs threatened (Beck 1995a). A good example of this logic is a discussion with a steelworker, whose own job was of course threatened by globalising rationalisation. He was a recreational fisher and I asked him about proposals to ban commercial fishing in Lake Macquarie:

Well there again, Terry, I don't really - I don't really get involved in that sort of thing I mean - uhh, I mean if they're fishing they're fishing for a living, those guys aren't they? Why should I stop 'em? I mean they don't come up to me and say well listen, uhh, you've been there twenty years, how about giving my son a job, something like that, you know. Uhh, it's probably higher up that's got to do something about it ...

Environmentalists may be recognised to be right about environmental problems in general but in any particular case, and especially where your own job may be affected, you reserve the right to say they are ill informed. Politically, these issues touch on a central dilemma. While it makes sense to blame the capitalist class and call upon them to take financial and economic responsibility, governments must balance this with the contrary admonition to preserve jobs in all cases.

This is an impossible task (Trainer 1995, Leahy 1998). Interviewees did not generally support utopias which would totally alter this landscape of choices. Overwhelmingly the most popular alternative was a more regulated capitalism. So, unkindly, we could say that interviewees want to regulate capitalism more strongly - without being prepared to accept the real disruptions that this program would imply in practice.

Another low point of environmentalist support relates to the statement - voluntary action and education are what is necessary, not more rules. Only 16% disagreed with this. A key problem for environmentalism is that it is inevitably associated with regulation of the conduct of ordinary people. At the extreme are stickers claiming 4 wheel driving as a "legitimate family recreation". But feelings like this are quite widespread. Bureaucratic supervision and modern capitalism go hand in hand. People defend a space of freedom in leisure activity and in domestic life to compensate for the rules that apply at work and in the public domain. Pushed to its limit by ultra left writers such as Cardan (1974) this is a demand to institute face to face community control of decision making. Yet the interviewees do not support this anarchist utopia. Instead, most demand more effective government regulation. Yet interviewees are ready to blame environmentalists for any specific case where their own "legitimate" choices might be curtailed. As with jobs. Regulation of the economy is the way to go but not when it affects jobs. Here. Regulation of conduct is necessary but not when it affects the right to leisure freedom.

A final low point of environmentalism related to the lifestyle question. Only 19% agreed with the statement that environmentalist activists are the pioneers for a new lifestyle that we will all adopt eventually. If we could have environmental reform without lifestyle change, this would not be a problem. In that case the subcultural conduct of environmental activists would be merely a cultural arbitrary. I am sure that is how many of the interviewees see the issues. For example Beth was scathing about other members of the middle class who were "environmentalists":

Like our neighbours around here. They fancy themselves as greenies ... Some of the ones that I know who are middle class people. On the weekends they like to dress sort of hippyish. Umm, you know. And go to the Wilderness Society shop and buy all their Christmas presents and that. Well that's fine. But I don't always know if they actually do as much as they say that they do, sort of thing. About certain things. I think it's just an image for them, rather than getting out there and doing anything.

However for the environmental movement these issues are not just about cultural choice. ‘Feral’ activists represent the values of voluntary simplicity that animate environmentalist solutions for the future. Their rejection of work and of whitegoods relates to a utopia in which there is a zero growth economy, approximately five percent of the use of fossil fuel now common in rich countries, and far fewer people are employed producing material goods. Even the notorious smell of green activists represents a political choice - "obsessive" cleanliness seen as psychic withdrawal from nature; so too, their often mentioned food choices, a move to a more vegetarian diet "for a small planet".

Whatever else, the cultural gap between environmentalist activists and the general population is perceived as difference. Bob Brown may wear a suit in parliament but his association with the feral subculture is not forgotten. People’s unwillingness to sympathetically endorse this feral lifestyle represents a continued commitment to consumerism, affluence and the growth economy - albeit with improvements that will allow it to be environmentally sustainable. This compromise is neither technically nor economically possible (Trainer 1995, Leahy 1998).

The connection between lifestyle politics and the longer term ambitions of the environmental movement is obliquely indicated in Beth’s final comment on the middle class who "fancy themselves as greenies":

I mean if you stuck them out in the log cabin out in the bush, they wouldn't be there for very long I don't think.

The logical extension of hippy affectation in the middle class is an environmentalist utopia of austere rural self sufficiency without modern conveniences. For Beth, no one could really want this outcome in all seriousness.

Activism at a Personal Level

Failure to vote for environmentalist parties and ambivalence about the environmental movement is also manifested in an absence of political participation. Although people may be concerned with environmental issues on a personal level, they are not significantly engaged in environmental concerns in a public way, and even less so in political way. Highest rates of public environmental participation were indicated for "local environmental projects" such as Landcare activities, tree planting at a local school or events such as "clean up Australia" days. Nevertheless nearly three quarters (72%) suggested they never participated even in these non-political manifestations of environmentalism, while only 3% indicated regular participation.

Engagement in overtly political activities such as protests and demonstrations or the activities of political parties was even less prevalent. 86% reported never participating in direct political actions such as protests and demonstrations while only about 2% were involved at all in the activities of political parties.

Local environmental projects 71.5% 25.7% 2.7%
Local direct political actions 85.5% 14.0% 0.5%
Political party 97.9% 0.8% 1.3%

Table 12 Frequencies, engagement in local environmental and political activities

In the qualitative study, a variety of reasons were suggested for failure to participate in environmentalist actions - cultural difference from environmentalist activists, a sense that nothing you did could make a difference, or a strong commitment to the pleasures of private life (see also Leahy 1996). Some of these issues were raised in a discussion with a steelworker. Peter did not attend union rallies at the steelworks when strikes were called despite his antpathy to management. He linked his feelings about environmental activism to more general ideas about political participation:

Peter: I've never ever had much to do with that sort of thing, it never ever interested me, I mean people do everything because that's what they want to do, you know and Greenpeace, or demonstrating about something, you know, I'm not that sort of - I'm never ever interested in anything like that...

Terry: 'Cause?

Peter: I don't know. It just, I've always though it doesn't make any difference to me, what I say, you know, so ... I’d rather spend time with my family.

Terry: What sort of things, would you do on your days off?

Peter: Well, we like, we like picnics, barbecues, markets, things like that, you know, or just, just going to a place where we can, the beach or something.

Ultimately, the failure to politically participate is but another indication of the way the respondents have painted themselves into a corner. Yes, the environment is in a state of imminent collapse. No, nothing can be expected from governments, major parties or business elites. But no, I will do nothing about this, whether that means voting for a minor party or involving myself in environmental activism.

Concluding Remarks

Theorising this data, Beck’s concept of "risk society" seems highly relevant as a starting point (1992; 1995a; 1995b). As he suggests, modern society is perceived in terms of real and often catastrophic risks that are the products of the very processes which are also producing modernity and affluence:

I use the term ‘risk society’ for thsoe societies that are confronted by the challenges of the self-created possibility, hidden at first, then increasingly apparent, of the self destruction of all life on this earth. (1995a, 67)

He argues the distinctiveness of risks of this period in comparison with risks of early industrialisation. Current risks cannot be limited to a particular region, social class or time. Hazards are not readily attributed to particular individuals or companies. They can never be entirely ruled out and outcomes may be catastrophic. Governments are obliged to present themselves as responsible for controlling hazards, but their efforts merely remind the public of risks and of the impossibility of dealing with them. For example bans on milk after Chernobyl. Government oscillates between denying the seriousness of risks and issuing warnings. For example, in Australia, education in schools about the greenhouse effect while the government stalls on Kyoto. Science produces hazards but is also the only legitimate means to establish their presence. The end result of all this is a crisis of legitimacy, of the state and in relation to industrialism. There are always powerful interests that benefit from any technology that generates hazards. In every case, jobs are at stake if risks are to be reduced; instead of considering whether some technology is too risky, "we have to ensure our position in world markets, our jobs and the basis of our existence" (1995b, 36). Those who produce risks can end up being affected by the damage. If farmers poison the barrier reef with fertilisers, the tourism industry suffers and with it, markets for farm produce.

All of these points make good sense in relation to our data. Our data certainly shows that it has "become a given in contemporary consciousness that species are dying our, that oceans are being contaminated, that climatic catastrophe is looming" (Beck, 1995b, 1). Concern about environmental catastrophe as well as about more delimited environmental problems is evident. The concept of "risk society" has a broader relevance in view of the multiplicity of apocalyptic scenarios our interviewees nominated. There is undoubtedly a crisis of legitimacy, a generalized perception that governments and political parties are not dealing with the issues adequately. This distrust extends to industry and business. There is also the paralysis of action that Beck describes. As to "what it is that prevents action or how to overcome it" (Beck, 1995b, 1), our data certainly confirms Beck’s suggestions that people’s concern about their jobs and the state of the economy is an important issue.
Addressing this issue in a broader context, we can consider the failure of the nation state to protect wages and conditions in the context of globalisation (Castells 1997; Martin & Schumann 1997; Hoogvelt 1997). As Castells points out:

The nation state ... has lost much of its sovereignity, undermined by the dynamics of global flows and trans organizational networks of wealth, information and power. Particularly critical for its legitimacy crisis is the state’s inability to fulfill its commitments as a welfare state ... (Castells 1997, 342).

As Pusey (2003) maintains, in the Australian context the main issue is perceived to be falling real wages and insecure casualized employment. The perceived failure of government is the breakdown of a "wage earners’ welfare state", based in full employment and national wage awards. However, to restore this prior national solution, Australian governments would have to restore tariff protection, with serious risks to our global position. As Castells puts it in terms of the problems faced by national governments the world over:

... to foster productivity and competitiveness of their economies [nation-states] must ally themselves closely with global economic interests, and abide by global rules favourable to capital flows. (Castells 1997, 307).

Castells argues that frustration with the inaction of the national state can lead many to reject the political process, with private life, social movements or fundamentalisms taking up the landscape previously occupied by party political action.

Just as nation states have little control over welfare and employment policy, strong policies to deal with environmental issues are equally difficult for the state to implement . The most likely response to strong national regulation of the capitalist class on environmental matters - a solution much favoured in our responses - would be capital flight, trade sanctions and economic crisis. Nor is a global regulation of environmental matters likely. Accordingly, the reponses of our interviewees make the following kind of sense. They are perceptive in seeing environmental issues as critical. They are angry with the failure of major parties and correctly see the capitalist class as responsible, to some extent, for the problems. However they are not prepared to embrace the more drastic solutions offered by the minor parties, from the Greens and Democrats through to One Nation. They worry about what these parties might do to Australia’s economy and their jobs. This is a perceptive insight in terms of the economic context created by globalisation. Their response is not to engage in political action to change this context but to retreat into private life.

Another way to look at this is through Beck’s and Franklin’s suggestion that environmental issues become more salient in the context of other aspects of risk society; even that they become a metaphor for other risks to personal security. While this hypothesis is not verifiable through our data, there are some interesting pointers in the parallels between this data and that of Pusey (2003). There is the same anger with the failure of government and business to do something about the problem. There is the same sense that big business and government are largely responsible and that governments and major parties have lost their independence.

Our data suggests further parallels. Evironmental problems figure as just one among a number of major risks which also include social and economic risks. For both environmental and economic catastrophes the response is apathy and withdrawal rather than politcal engagement. Interviewees do not support environmentalist parties or engage in any environmental activism. Nor are people mobilising to confront neo-liberal policies by joining or voting for minor parties, by strengthening and radicalising union activity or by civil disobedience and demonstrations.
This combination of expectations of disaster and unwillingness to embrace political action can be regarded as what Baudrillard terms a "fatal strategy" or "hyperconformism"; a situation in which people unconsciously accept that the growth economy of capitalism is headed for disaster and do not intervene to postpone this outcome or attempt to rescue class society. Baudrillard develops this idea in his essay "In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities" (1983). Withdrawal into private life is seen by Baudrillard as "... a form of actively resisting political manipulation" (1983: 39). "Hyperconformity" is a strategy which undermines the system by pushing it into excess. Consumerism is a key example:

They have turned consumption into a dimension of status and prestige, of useless keeping up with the Joneses or simulation, of potlatch which surpassed use value in every way. A desperate attempt has been made from all sides (official propaganda, consumer societies, ecologues and sociologues) to instil into them sensible spending and functional calculation in matters of consumption but it is hopeless. (1983: 45)

They haven't waited for future revolutions ... They know that there is no liberation, and that a system is abolished only by pushing it into hyperlogic, by forcing it into an excessive practice which is equivalent to a brutal amortization. 'You want us to consume - O.K., let's consume always more, and anything whatsoever; for any useless and absurd purpose'. (1983: 46)

In Baudrillard's analysis the movement from an expansionary hierarchical society towards a new mode of production is almost inevitably a violent change. We could consider the environmental crisis as a desired outcome in that it will put an apocalyptic end to class society. Responsibility is rejected and apathy is intended. The environmental crisis drives the system to collapse by accelerating its excesses.

This is a somewhat extreme interpretation. It implies an unconscious strategy to bring down class society - which is certainly not reflected in any intentions revealed by our data. On the contrary a majority are in favour of some version of capitalism. There is also a stated willingness to be involved in environmental repair and a demand for more effective regulation. Yet Baudrillard’s hypothesis of an unconscious desire for apocalypse fits some of the more puzzling aspects of our data. There is an almost complete consensus on the likelihood of an apocalyptic end to modern society. An environmental catastrophe is widely believed likely. This crisis is extrapolated from current observable deteriorations in environmental indicators. Such common sense knowledge fits with an unconscious but deep seated awareness of the problems of capitalism and the growth economy. The system manifests the signs of a creeping, incremental, multi-faceted and irreversible disaster, leading to a "partial penetration", as Willis put it in another context (1983). The system cannot be rescued. In such a case apathy and withdrawal may represent, as Baudrillard argues, an unconscious desire to see catastrophic change. At the very least, what we are looking at is a fearful inertia in the face of the enormity of what is called for, an understandable desire to make the most of what is on offer now in view of the bleakness of likely future events.


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