Beck suggests that contemporary society is perceived in terms of real and often catastrophic risks that are integral to modernity. This article explores people's fears of environmental risks and how these are mediated by socioeconomic circumstances. Issues are explored with reference to a first phase interview and focus group study, and a second phase survey of Hunter residents. A majority of respondents reported that a range of catastrophic future outcomes were likely and that urgent action was required. Responsibility for this crisis was attributed to 'others', notably 'big business'. 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 small minority were politically active. This apathy can be interpreted in a number of ways - in relation to 'risk society' and globalization, or as fatalistic withdrawal in the face of impending catastrophe.