Embrace a healthy dose of scepticism to avoid apocalypse fatigue

Apocalypse fatigue - graphic by Aimée Lister

Apocalypse fatigue, the belief in an inevitably grim world future (as defined by Buck in 2015), is highly contagious. Cases usually arise from the consumption of popular media: fear sells, and consequently apocalypse fatigue is rife. The apparent omnipotence of news outlets and Facebook algorithms manifests in the stories we consume and believe. In a world where repetition makes noise, and where volume carries truth, doomsday reports are increasingly convincing. Left untreated, apocalypse fatigue can distort perceptions of reality: the future is cast in a bleak, grey hue of smoke plumes and ecological collapse. The immediate present is lost as we struggle between idealised images of the past and visions of inescapable future decline. Beyond a theoretical malaise, apocalypse fatigue is expressed in key symptoms, including:

  • Virtual escapism: muting news outlets, consciously scrolling past stories on current events

  • Scepticism towards positive media or claims to progress regarding environmental problems

  • Resentment towards older generations, particularly decision makers

  • Feelings of defeat, personal unimportance and powerlessness

Left untreated, apocalypse fatigue can distort perceptions of reality

Recognising that apocalypse fatigue is just that - a symptom of a wider system capitalising on the currency of fear - is a remedy in itself. Maintaining a healthy degree of scepticism towards the stories we read and systems they circulate within allows us to reclaim individual agency over the state of things as we understand them, rather than blindly accepting how they are presented to us. Whilst this may all seem intangible (which is understandable given that apocalypse fatigue is a theoretical state) there are very real actions we can take to disrupt the power imbalance between writer and reader. But before we delve into these actions, it is important to note that not all media outlets or journalists are ill-intentioned in their reporting on environmental problems; these stories are needed to stir opinion, unite public outrage and incentivise political change. The problem arises when torrents of negativity drown out stories of local-scale positive action, or when they accumulate in such a way that we find ourselves exhibiting the symptoms listed above. Louder Than The Storm is an example of a countercurrent trying to disrupt such flows of negative media, and alter the way in which we talk about environmental change.

The problem arises when torrents of negativity drown out stories of local-scale positive action

One example of a powerful antidote to fear-mongering, and by extension apocalypse fatigue, is scepticism. In his highly controversial book The Skeptical Environmentalist, Björn Lomborg (2000) argues against the so-called ‘litany’ of bad news that we are bombarded with in popular and scientific media. Whilst his book has been heavily criticised for flawed arguments and misinterpreted data, the core message endures: we must remain sceptical of media in all its forms. This act does not only reclaim our ability to judge and reason, but also regulates the media itself and thus preserves its integrity. As a geography student frequently tasked with reading lists detailing various ecological and sociological problems, I found Lomborg’s account refreshing. It was a novel experience to read a book by someone so convinced that things may not be as bad as the majority perceives. That is not to say that Lomborg’s book convinced me that species extinction, climate change and resource insecurity are not real threats; rather, that I should take it upon myself to seek greater understanding of these issues, come to my own conclusions, and question how it all affects me. We should be encouraged to take ownership over the news sources we trust, as well as the various technologies and systems we choose to believe in.

We must remain sceptical of media to reclaim our ability to judge and reason

Of course, too much scepticism might cause a different kind of problem: inaction. Over-enthusiastic scepticism might cause us to question the importance of personal agency and foster sentiments that individual action is pointless or superficial. This is compounded by dialogues of environmental degradation (namely climate change) which often frame problems at the global scale. Living in a ‘global community’ implies an individual duty towards collective environmental futures: this abstract concept can be overwhelming and cause us to shrug off individual responsibility entirely or shoulder a greater weight than we may be able to carry. Too frequent are critiques that we aren’t vegan, or not vegan enough; or that we buy Fairtrade but not plastic-free. These narratives further aggravate the anxieties of apocalypse fatigue, making the possibility of ecological reconciliation even more outlandish.

Individual inaction is compounded by dialogues of environmental degradation (namely climate change) which often frame problems at the global scale

At Louder Than The Storm we believe that all actions, however small, are meaningful in the global fight against the threatening stories we read about in the media. For example, eating one less ham sandwich a week can significantly reduce your personal meat consumption, as well as the meat consumed on your street, in your country, etc. Scaling upwards, this individual action has the capacity to affect the supply/demand of the global meat industry, wherein multiple, separate actions can cause cumulative change. But it would be misinformed to think that one person shoulders the responsibility to change the entire meat industry. Change is organised around key spokespeople and organisations, but these would not exist without the unspoken masses. Sometimes a global perspective can deter individual action under the argument that we are each insignificant, but individual insignificance occurs when we act in false separation.

Eating one less ham sandwich a week can significantly reduce your personal meat consumption, as well as the meat consumed on your street, in your country...

So upon reading this, be assured of your ability to affect change in the global environment, but not overwhelmed in the personal responsibility to fix problems that the majority media shines light upon. Perhaps you’ll read Lomborg’s book and completely disagree with this article’s review of it. Scepticism is healthy, and helps us to assimilate both opinion pieces and ‘neutral’ reporting that can overwhelm our newsfeeds to such an extent that we dread reading the headlines each morning. Whilst it is unrealistic to avoid negative news stories, and unproductive to do so, it is healthy to believe in the power of individual action. Some might say that your choice to shop or vote differently is pointless, and arguably, it is often comforting to follow this argument because it eases our sense of responsibility for problems that seem vast and insurmountable. Such feelings, key symptoms of apocalypse fatigue, can be overcome with deeper individual exploration into news stories as well as paying attention to positive reports of proposed solutions. Ted Talks are one incredible source of such information, particularly the under-20 playlist which highlights a new generation of creative thinkers and problem-solvers. Furthering the idea that we have agency over the stories we choose to consume, and that our future may not be the downward linear trajectory that the media’s ‘litany’ can make it seem.

But form your own opinions - don’t take my word for it.

By Louder Than The Storm contributor Flo Lappin.


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