A Big Mood: Political Depression & Ecological Anxiety in Activists

Dr Natalie Osborne1

1Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia


Insert for yourself a sentence on the latest ecological and/or social crisis as a topic sentence for this abstract – the speed at which things unravel makes any reference to a particular event seem immediately dated. In any case, this work isn’t about a particular crisis – it’s about the experience of unravelling.

Political depression is an experience of impasse – our usual tools feel ineffective and unsatisfying. Ecological anxiety refers to an embodied experience of the fear of human impacts on the environment, and of already-existing and imminent system collapse. The affective entanglements, emotional geographies and politics of political depression and ecological anxiety are not well understood, though they are seemingly increasingly and widely felt.

This paper shares some early findings of ongoing, storytelling-based work on the emotional geographies of political depression and ecological anxiety amongst activists in Meanjin/Brisbane, including the roles of ruptures and refuges, the shifting timescapes of these geographies, and the science-fiction futuring work of community organising.


Natalie Osborne is a Lecturer in Urban and Environmental Planning in the School of Environment and Science at Griffith University. Her work explores social, spatial, and environmental justice in cities, radical spatial politics, public spaces, and emotional geographies. n.osborne@griffith.edu.au @DrNatOsborne

On the island, on the water, underwater: arts–science collaboration for the Great Barrier Reef

Dr Leah Gibbs1, Dr Sarah  Hamylton2, Ms Kim Williams3, Dr Lucas Ihlein3

1School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, University of Wollongong, Wollongong

2School of Environmental, Atmospheric and Life Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, 

3School of the Arts, English and Media, University of Wollongong, Wollongong


The Great Barrier Reef has become an icon of anthropogenic climate change. Major threats to the reef include chemical and sediment run-off from agriculture, coal mining, over-fishing, and most significantly, increasing levels of atmospheric CO2. The data is now incontrovertible. Yet, climate scientists have expressed grave concern that scientific data demonstrating the present and potentially catastrophic future effects of climate change are met with political inaction, in Australia and elsewhere. Numerous scholars have called for new approaches to investigating and communicating about climate change that draw from the theoretical and methodological approaches of multiple disciplines. It is in this context that arts–science collaboration is gaining new ground. This paper emerges from such an interdisciplinary, arts–science research project. ‘Mapping the islands: how arts and science can save the Great Barrier Reef’ involves a human geographer, a coastal reef scientist, and two artists, and asks what such a collaboration can reveal about the environmental, social, cultural, and more-than-human consequences of climate change. Specifically, the paper explores what insights emerge from being in place. To do so, it takes three views of the reef: on an island, on the water, and underwater.


Leah Gibbs is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Wollongong. She is fascinated by the more-than-human world. Her current research projects examine people and sharks, nature and cities, and arts–science collaboration for political change.

Protected areas management, more-than-human realities, and ‘el sentipensar’

Mr Francisco Gelves-Gómez1, Associate Professor  Jennifer  Carter2, Professor Ruth Beilin3, Dr Shannon Brincat2

1Sustainability Research Centre, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, Australia,

2School of Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, Australia,

3School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia


This paper proposes to critically study the everyday socioecological relations of protected areas adaptive management and their dominant practices that discursively re-(produce) the Anthropocene. The relational ontologies present in scholarly projects such as more-than-human geographies, or the epistemologies of the South through ideas such as ‘el sentipensar’ (Feeling-Thinking), offer different forms to critically reflect about human-Nature relationships, the embodied and embedded realities of protected areas and biodiversity conservation. Problematising spatio-temporal and human-Nature relations focuses attention to the contingencies of everyday adaptive management practice. The importance of studying the messiness of spatial and temporal entanglements between humans and nonhumans, by focusing on the daily practice of adaptive management, emerges as central to the perspective of everyday practice offering a space to think about the complex process of protected areas management. I will present my preliminary understanding of the sociocultural and ecological contexts in the Whitsunday Islands National Park. In this first phase, I will have examined if and how instrumental views of human-Nature relationships in, for instance management documents and scientific management practices, inform expectations of adaptive management practice.


Francisco Gelves-Gómez is a PhD student. Francisco’s research interest lie at the interface between the natural and social sciences including: more-than-human geography, socio-ecological systems and resilience thinking, biodiversity conservation, Indigenous peoples’ relationships with the environment, inter/transdisciplinary research. He is part of the Landscape and Environmental Sociology Research Group at The University of Melbourne, and is currently doing his PhD (Geography) at the Sustainability Research Centre in The University of the Sunshine Coast


The Role of Emotional Experiences on a World Heritage Reef in Facilitating Conservation Outcomes

Miss Freya Croft1

1University Of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia


In the face of anthropogenic climate change and other environmental pressures, the world’s coral reefs are in a particularly vulnerable state. Despite its complexities, coral reef tourism has the capacity to facilitate conservation outcomes. As previous research has shown, after undertaking nature-based tourism experiences, tourists often display (at least) an intent to engage in pro-environmental behaviour. Emerging geographical research aims to further understand how emotions function within such nature-based tourism. Ningaloo Reef, on Australia’s West Coast, is a World Heritage listed protected area that draws in diverse visitors – many of whom seek the experience of swimming with iconic animals including humpback whales and whale sharks (an often very emotional experience). This paper will explore the kinds of emotions that take place while people are having an ‘in-water’ experience with these large marine animals and it will look at the role that these emotional experiences play in encouraging individuals to engage with the reef as a protected area. It will explore tourist experiences of Ningaloo as a ‘fragile’ place rather than just a tourist site and will assess if any in-situ conservation benefits are reflected in the behaviour choices and everyday practices of individuals after their visit.


Freya is a PhD candidate at the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities at the University of Wollongong. She is affiliated with the Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society and Space. Her research interests are broadly based around human connections with the ocean. Areas of interest include marine tourism, emotional geographies and the social science of marine conservation.

Can’t see the power plant for the manatees: Directing view, making unsustainable human accretion invisible to the public eye

A/Prof. Tema Milstein1, Senior Lecturer John Carr2

1University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia,

2University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia


The prospect of endangered species finding protection in the discharge of fossil fuel-fired powerplants is counter-intuitive, yet these sites have become safeguarded under US and state environmental law as wildlife sanctuaries. This study examines discourses at play at the paradoxical protective site of Tampa Electric Company’s Manatee Viewing Center – the only industry-created viewing center – which has hosted more than 5 million visitors. We interrogate ways broader environmental protection laws that enable powerplant discharge channels to be protected as marine mammal sanctuaries coalesce and complicate discourses mobilized at the Viewing Center. We engage Milstein’s (2009) dialectical ecocultural framework to illustrate ways Center discourses are embedded within wider Western dialectics, such as harmony vs. mastery, connection vs. separation, and ecocentrism vs. anthropocentrism, and examine ways such framings, and overarching entertainment and individual freedom frames, serve to justify and mask destructive status quo practices under the guise of environmental protection and responsibility.


Milstein, T. (2009). “Somethin” tells me it’s all happening at the zoo:’ Discourse, power, and conservationism. Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture, 3(1), 24–48.


Tema Milstein is an associate professor of Environment & Society at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and convenor of UNSW’s Master of Environmental Management. Her research and teaching focus on the intersections of discourse, culture, and ecological relations. She is a former US Fulbright Scholar and her research interests span the globe, examining ecocultural meaning systems and identity, ecotourism and endangered wildlife, ecological activism, and culture jamming. She also has an interest in ecopedagogy, and is co-editor of Environmental Communication Pedagogy and Practice (Routledge, 2017) and served as her former institution’s University Presidential Teaching Fellow.

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