And now Butler, who studied art at high school and is also a keen musician, is harnessing his frustration to make art. He’s hoping his photos and video installations might attract attention – and action – in a way scientific reports often can’t.
“I take the tools of a scientist, including chemistry apparatus, reports, rulers and structures, and juxtapose them with the things that they are supposed to manage – drought, flood, fire, sea-level rise etc,” he says.
‘What’s the point of a plan when it just gets bashed around and decided on the fly anyway?’
In one of his images, the drought management plan for the central-western town of Dubbo is strung over a nearly dry creek.
“It’s just blowing in the wind,” says Butler.
And in another, called Count Every Drop, water drips from a beaker onto a pile of recommendation pages from 2,500 water audits, gradually destroying them.
“What’s the point of a strategy, what’s the point of a plan when it just gets bashed around and decided on the fly anyway?” says Butler. “That’s one part of it. There’s also this sense that, ‘We have a plan so we’ll be OK’. And then nothing happens.”
Butler also says his work is a call for individual action rather than expecting politicians to solve all our pressing environmental problems.
“Everyone is the problem and everyone is the solution,” he says. “Each of us is the reason why it is happening so we all have to do something. Thinking the government or someone is going to fix everything with a plan or strategy is useless.”
Many scientists go through the motions knowing their work will have little effect but Butler says he can no longer go along with that.
“I say it like it is when I am in meetings with these people,” he says. “I can get quite annoyed and I don’t know whether it’s great for my career. But as a consultant you can’t tell any one to f—k off so this give me a bit of an outlet.”
Water Paper, Incinerator Art Space, Willoughby, March 2 – 23
Nick Galvin is Arts Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald