Climate Anxiety Counseling: Cranston Health Equity Zone Speak Out event, 11/23/19

Weather: We were inside the Arlington Elementary School cafeteria. Outside it was mild, in a post-frost way.

Number of stoppers: 15

Number of walkbys: None (see below for why)

Pages of notes: 15.5

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Conversations between strangers other than me: 6 or 7; again, see below for why

Observations:

The purpose of the Speak Out was to listen to people living in the three neighborhoods covered by the Cranston Health Equity Zone about the factors that contribute to, or tear down, their health and well-being. There were other stations about food access and quality, transportation, housing, trauma, education, affordability and expenses, and a few other things, and the event was set up so that people could enter a raffle if they got a paper signed at every station. So a lot of people stopped to talk with me who might not have otherwise.

Also for this reason, I was talking with people pretty much constantly except at the very end when the crowd thinned out (after the raffle, I think). So if there were walkby comments I didn’t hear them, and because it was inside and no one had a service dog, there were no dog sightings. I didn’t collect money today, although I did tell a couple of people about the Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective, where other donations have gone this season.

The HEZ set me up with a Spanish-English interpreter (plus a floating Khmer-English interpreter, who also translated some signage for me) and a note-taker. As the conversations went on, both of these people talked with the people who were talking with me—sometimes with me involved, sometimes while I was talking with someone else. I loved this and want to do it all the time now! They both appear in these conversations: N is the interpreter, and C is the note-taker. K is me.

My signage was different today, based on conversations with a few people in and outside the HEZ, and I’m kicking myself for not taking a picture! The front of the booth said, “Climate Anxiety Counseling 5¢” and then, in Spanish, English and Khmer, “Are you stressed? Angry? Worried?” and then, in English at the bottom, “Here to listen.” Instead of a blank map of Rhode Island for people to write their worries on, I drew a map of some of the climate change/health connections specific to Cranston (there’s a picture below). All the RI organism cards I gave out were food or medicine plants that grow wild in the city, and one person recognized one of them, which was my secret dream!

No Batman sightings today either, but the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, who was maybe about 6, helped me pump up the handtruck tire that won’t hold air.

Some conversations:

It’s not something I really pay attention to. You live in New England, you get what you get.

K: [I said something about high heat days, and she took it a different way than I meant it.]

Oh, yeah, the heat. Definitely heat. My daughter gets assistance for heat.

K: Or I don’t know if you remember the flooding back in October—

Oh yeah. Yeah ,we live right on Pontiac. … I work for the school department, and I have five grandkids that I pick up every day. I don’t have time to breathe. My husband’s retired, so he’s sitting around all day and I’m doing all this. But I can’t sit around doing nothing. But yeah, my daughter had to move, and she went from gas to oil—now she’s back to gas, and we had to fill out the paperwork again. She’s a single mom with three little girls—seven, six and four, the baby’s almost five.

So it sounds like—obviously you want to do it, but it sounds like that takes a lot out of you.

Yeah, but like I said, I need to be doing something. And she does have enough support. When it’s too much, I call my sister, she’s in Ohio, and we just vent. She vents to me too—she just found out my brother-in-law has prostate cancer, and they can’t operate because he’s already had so many surgeries. But life is life. You gotta have a positive attitude, you can’t go around every day down in the dumps.

*

Every day there’s a reminder of the fact that we’ve got twelve years, ten years, before we can turn the clock around.

K: Sometimes like to ask people how they know what they know about climate change—where have you been seeing that?

Well, the media, but I’ve also been reading a lot of reports, studies, that say realistically we need to start changing it around now. But I don’t know what, if anything, we’re really gonna do. Obviously we do things in our own communities that are helpful, but what governments and corporations are doing—I generally try not to be stressed out about it. I do worry about other people, in my community and elsewhere, who don’t have the resources to deal with it…

…There just needs to be better allocation of resources. I don’t want to get too political, but Mike Bloomberg bought $30 million of political ads for one week, and he’s got [billions of dollars] total. The UN released a report that the food crisis could be solved for $30 bilion. It’s just really bad allocation of resources. [Climate change] does have real life consequences, but it’s hard for people to conceptualize how to address it on their own local level. There’s this LNG plant they want to build in Providence, down on Allens Avenue … If that thing ever blows, not only is the whole community affected but Cranston and Edgewood are gonna go just like that.*

C: What makes you so involved?

I started when I was eighteen or nineteen, but when I bought a house and I realized I was gonna be staying for thirty years—that’s why housing is so important. That’s what gets you invested in the community—well, there’s family ties, but a lot of people don’t like their hometowns.

*The Univar chemical tanks, which are within the explosion range of National Grid’s LNG facility, have a 14-mile disaster radius.

*

One of the things, for example—it doesn’t have to do with climate change—but where I live, I try to grow things over the summer, and animals come over the summer and they don’t have food, so they eat it, so I never get to grow any food. Sunflowers, tomatoes—these animals, the little chubby ones, they created this tunnel underneath the house. And something that worries me—where I live now there hasn’t been a problem, but at the time when I lived around this area, we had a problem with rats. I worry that they might come through the pipes for the laundry.

*

I’m pretty sure the school that I live next to has radon in the basement. Supposedly they’re knocking it down in the next few years, so I don’t know what’s gonna happen then.

K: Is it something that people talk about in the neighborhood?

I know the kids are scared to drink the water at school. It’s kept pretty hush-hush, but the parents all used to go to the school.

K: Is it the kind of thing where parents might be willing to get together to ask for some kind of action?

I used to do after-school programs there, and the problem with any kind of action is that there’s a lot of languge barriers. A lot of the parents are immigrants coming from other countries, they’re scared to say anything—people don’t know that we live in a democracy [sic] and that they can speak up. And there’s a lot of grandparent-raised families and multi-job families. I work for One Cranston, and we ask people what they would change about their communities, and a lot of people don’t know what they would change about their community.

*

Climate change, that’s an issue. I’d say I’m pretty worried. I like what Providence did, with no more plastic bags.

When do you think about it, what gets you started worrying about it?

Randomly. Or I’ll start thinking about it over the summer when it gets really hot, or when weather changes too drastically.

C: What kinds of things do you worry about?

How animals are gonna get affected. They don’t really have a choice. I’m a big animal person—I like them more than people.

Do you try to look out for animals or help them survive?

In Guatemala I saved a lot of turtles. My family’s from there, so we go down there every year. We were at this restaurant and there were baby turtles in cages, I guess because the bigger turtles [in the pond] wanted to eat them. But there was a little hole in the cage and the baby turtles were getting into the pond. So I was like to the guy at the restaurant, “Do you have a net or anything?” and he got me a long net and I caught them and put them on a little dock. My family’s like, “[NAME], come, the food’s on the table and it’s getting cold,” and I was like, “I don’t care, I’m fishing out turtles.” … I would love to save animals 24/7.

*

Just, like, the timeline– “We’ve got twenty years and then we’re all dead.”

K: How does it feel to see people saying that?

I just stopped going on Facebook. But anytime I make—I just graduated from college, so anytime I’m making large life choices, I’m like, “What’s the point?” [laughs]

K: You’re laughing but I’m guessing you don’t really think it’s funny, so—what is the feeling?

I don’t know if I have a good word for it. It’s not one of those stresses that come up every day.

K: How does it affect your decisions?

I don’t know if it’s made a specific or conscious choice that I’ve made. There’s just so many big things [happening] and it’s just like, what’s this big thing.

*

I feel like I don’t know enough. I’m embarrassed to say that.

K: [I pointed her towards the map I had made, which you can see below.]

I can say this, I’m sensitive to high heat days in terms of my workplace. OSHA doesn’t govern schools. There are days where I can’t even walk up the stairs, let alone be in that building for six hours. Sometimes people will pass out.

*

[This person spoke quietly and it was hard for me to hear them well, so there are some gaps.]

I’m a little bit worried about myself—from the war, I went through a lot. From 1970 to 1975. I left my country. I’m here helping people, especially with education for people from poor countries. People in my country who were educated were killed by [the Khmer Rouge]–professors, doctors, police…

…I’m still too much in my mind. All the worries for everybody, many things with my job. [He named the schools he worked at.] I retired Friday, June 26, 2015, almost five years now. I’m still thinking too much. My family all graduated from high school, Classical or Central, [I think he also said where some of them were going to college]. Myself, I’m still worrying about living here. I’m healthy, but my mind still misses my country. I want to fight for freedom—not to arrest good people.

[C asked a question about how he thought the Cambodian government would respond if there were bad storms.]

They’re selfish. They didn’t care. The government doesn’t come up with a solution. They take your family from the ground to the top. Day by day, I’m safe but I’m thinking about them.

K: When you feel like it’s too much for you, what do you do? Is there someone you talk with, is there something else you do?

I went to the doctor. The doctor told me I need counseling, but I can control it myself. Sometimes I get headaches, I take a pill, one aspirin. I exercise sixty minutes every day. I don’t know what the solution is.

*

[Person 2 was Person 1’s mom.]

Person 1: Does it affect us? Not really.

Person 2: Yeah, it does.

K: I like it when people who are talking with me disagree, because it means we can try to figure out whether you really don’t agree with each other or whether you’re reacting to different things. So can you tell me why you think it won’t affect us?

Person 1: It’s natural—well, all the gases in the air coming from cars, and coming from factories, causes climate change, that’s not natural. But it wouldn’t affect us directly.

Person 2: It’s affecting us right now, ’cause we have more hurricanes because of the things that we’ve done to the environment. It’s affecting the climate—the air gets trapped and it causes natural, what we call natural disasters.

K: Does it stress you out to think about it?

Person 2: Yeah it does, because it makes me think, what’s the future gonna be like? All these things we call natural disasters, but it’s not natural. If you call it natural—but it’s something we can do something about.

N: So in a sense we’re building it up. We’re like, “Oh, where is this coming from?” But we built it up.

Person 2: We’re living in this earth—it’s gonna affect the generations to come. We’re all human and we’re all connected! We’re gonna feel something. … I try to use less vehicles, walk places, riding a bike.

K: Also there’s things like—if the bus was better and went more places, then people would use their cars less.

Person 2: But the bus is costly for someone who can’t afford it. If it’s free—then the bus company doesn’t make money, so then we pay for it out of our taxes. But it could be less costly.

Person 1: They do offer it for free when it’s too cold.

Person 2: When we really think about it, everything is connected to climate change.

Person 1: I understand it from that perspective too—but before climate change we have to get into other things as well. We have to take care of ourselves as a people before we can worry about the climate.

*

I’m a science teacher. This is in our curriculum, and we spent most of the first quarter talking about it. I know a lot about it, and it does make me anxious.

So I have two questions. How do you deal with that anxiety with your students? And how do you deal with it when you’re by yourself?

It’s hard to hide it, because stressing how important it is is what makes it worthwhile. I try to spin it as an optimistic thing: you are the next generation, you have the power to change things.

K: What about when you get home?

It’s peaks and valleys. It can be pretty optimistic and moving to hear things that my students have to say. But it can be pretty depressing knowing that some people are out there actively doing things to spot progressive change. What kind of world—I don’t have children, but if I have children—will they be living in? …. It feels like it would be kind of selfish to [have children]. I studied environmental science, it was my major in college, and I’ll never forget, the first day of class, Environmental Science 101, the professor said, “This is a depressing major …” So it’s always in the back of my mind. It makes me more conscious of trying to make better decisions. I carpool to work … There are so many aspects of the world today that are heavy and depressing.

*

I’m in Sunrise, I’m on the recruitment team. I’d really appreciate it if you could send people my way for the next strike, on December 6th.

How’d you get involved with Sunrise?

I was at Wyatt Detention Center at a protest—that was the first action, the first activism I’d ever done. I was like, “Hey, let me actually do stuff.” There was a Sunrise person there from Philly, and they were like, “Actually, there’s a meeting tomorrow.” So I went to it. I’ve been doing other activist work as well … Climate change is just a bummer. Just doing work about it—I probably don’t dedicate as much time as I should, but doing work around climate-change-adjacent things, it helps keep me not as anxious. It feels like I have nothing to feel bad about. Even if in twelve years Delhi is uninhabitable, it’s 200 degrees in Death Valley, I have the satisfaction of the knowledge that I tried, I did what I could, I tried my hardest. I can’t just not do social justice and climate justice.

*

I really don’t know that much about it. I have asthma. But it isn’t as bad as it used to be, so maybe the pollution isn’t as bad. I heard about plastic, I heard that in Providence you can’t have plastic bags.

What have you heard about plastic?

… How animals are gonna die—it’s making it [easier] for it to kill the sea animals. People are taking action upon it though.

[We also talked a little bit about relationships between humans, plants and other animals in ecosystems, like how ocean algae produces 2/3 of the oxygen we breathe.]

*

Climate change affects our mood. I do see people’s mood change when it’s colder, they’re depressed and down. I see a lot of people being affected, especially people who are away or apart from their families. In summer I see more people getting together, depression seems to get better with summer being around. Stress is worse during the winter—people are worried about paying for heat. People are coming more for assistance so they can be able to afford heat, or for National Grid to extend services because of heat.

C: In your work with people and families, do you hear them concerned with big storms, or power outages, or stuff they hear about the environment in the news?

I haven’t heard much of that. It’s more people filling out paperwork for National Grid to say they can’t shut off their electricity or heat.

K: And that’s so wild because that’s the same people, we have to pay money to the same people who are making the climate worse.

C: Do you think that people realize that?

I don’t think they’re aware of it—I don’t think people realize that many things are part of the same thing.

K: So your job is really helping people survive. Is that a strain on you? What about when somebody gets turned down?

That’s a terrible feeling. I see the frustration in their face, that they’re not going to be able to survive living here when it’s actually cold.

N: Let’s say they get turned down, and you see the person’s frustration. How do you deal with it? Do you allow those reactions to get to you? Like with situations I’ve encountered at my job, I don’t want to get too attached because it’s going to affect how I make a decision?

I’ve never gotten frustrated with them. I’ve felt disappointed, and frustrated with National—with the system, when I have my hands tied. It never gets easy to say, “I can’t get the extension and there’s nothing else I can do for you.” It’s not an easy answer…

N: We’re in a sense creating a barrier, to not allow these emotions to get through.

It takes time … [But] otherwise you would not have a clear mind to assist them and help them. It’s not that I have less feelings. If a child comes to you and tells you they’re being sexually abused, you want to kill that person. But [over time] you become able to say okay, we’re gonna get you help and here are the services you need.

C: With the HEZ, there were some mixed feelings about whether people would be concerned about climate change to have it be part of where the investments in resources are made. Is it or is it not a concern? And why do you think that is?

It is, but it’s not until it starts affecting them.

N: It’s like knowing that the issue is there, subconsciously, but then it gets cold and then your mind is actually talking to you.

It’s the same thing like if somebody needs new brakes—you don’t do anything about it till you hear the sound. People are like “I gotta go to work, I gotta make sure there’s money coming in, I don’t have time to worry about electricity. I gotta make sure I have my medications.”

C: That’s the insidious part of this. The large companies that create this issue make sure people can’t put the bigger picture together so that they can continue [making money].

N: In school they teach you how to not question these things—it’s more like they’re teaching you how to get a living, so you can just go through life.

[IMAGE: A hand-drawn black-and-white map of Cranston, with a few major interactions of climate change and health–high heat, air pollution and asthma, food supply chains and flooding–marked on it.]

Speak Out for the Cranston Health Equity Zone on 11/23!

Cranston’s new Health Equity Zone (HEZ) is holding a Speak Out event, where people living in Arlington, Stadium, and Laurel Hill can tell people working for the HEZ about what would improve their health and well-being, and what threatens it or makes it impossible. If you live there, please come–what you say will shape and guide what the HEZ supports and provides using money from the RI Department of Health! (There’s an explanation at that link above of what the Health Equity Zones are supposed to do.)

I’ll be there with the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth, talking with people about their mental health needs, their knowledge about climate change, and whether those things ever intersect for them. If you talk with me, I’ll ask permission to share our conversation here and also with people working for the HEZ. Here are some of the things I might ask:

  • How does the environment affect your health?
  • How have you noticed your health change while you’ve been living here?
  • How have you noticed the climate, weather patterns, or seasonal patterns change while you’ve been living here?
  • What do you do when you feel stressed or angry or anxious? Who do you talk with, if anybody?
  • Here are some of the ways that climate change affects this part of the world; are those among the things that stress you out?
  • Who’s responsible for your well-being and whose well-being are you responsible for?

There will be lots of other people listening at the Speak Out, too–some other things they’ll be asking about include food, housing, transportation, education and affordability. Spanish and Khmer interpretation, childcare and activities for kids, and food will all be on offer.

The Cranston Health Equity Zone Speak Out is November 23rd, 11am-2pm, at Arlington Elementary School, 155 Princess Ave, Cranston, RI. Please come if you’re a resident, and share if you’re not!

[IMAGE: A sketch of the Climate Anxiety Counseling Booth setup, with annotations and some additions like extra stools for people to sit on, signage in English/Spanish/Khmer, and provision for a group conversation.]

What I wish I’d said

The REJC very kindly gave me a chance at the mic at the resilience celebration and presentation of Providence’s new Climate Justice Plan (Spanish / English). What I said was okay–climate change can stress us out and can add to the stresses we already have, if our kids are sick with asthma, if we don’t have enough work or if our jobs are killing us; while we’re fighting to remove those stresses, it’s better if we can also take care of and support our mental well-being; talking about what we’re feeling can help us practice talking to each other, which is necessary for working together.

But there’s also some stuff I wish I’d said, because it’s true, and here it is:

I wish I’d also said how grateful I was to be there, and how much strength I saw when I looked out at everybody who was there, sitting in folding chairs and leaning on picnic tables and watching the kids on the playground.

I wish I’d also said that mental health is a zone of justice and equity, both in the sense of, “Who gets care? Who gets to feel well?” and in the sense that landlords and bosses and power hoarders of all kinds want us isolated and lonely and tongue-tied and depleted, with nothing left over for each other.

I wish I’d also said that sometimes we don’t call what feels wrong “mental illness,” or even “sadness” or “anger” or “shame.” Sometimes it’s a stomachache, tight shoulders, a perma-clenched jaw, tiredness. Sometimes it shows up in a rejection of practical help, or abandoning a sustaining friendship, or giving up on trying to change something because we’re scared it won’t work.

I wish I’d also said that talking and listening can be part of healing if we do it carefully, and that it can help us know what we can do and should do. I wish I’d said that the city government had made a good choice in listening to the knowledge and experience of the city’s people, those most affected by racial and environmental injustice.

I wish I’d said again how glad and grateful I was to be there with everyone, in this time, in this place.

Resilience Celebration and Climate Justice Report for Providence

Today, join Providence’s Racial and Environmental Justice Committee in celebrating our city’s resilience and sharing the Climate Justice Report for Providence. Providence residents have worked with the REJC and the city’s Office of Sustainability to put together a plan that doesn’t treat any place like a sacrifice zone, or anyone as disposable, but makes the well-being of our city’s people a priority.

If you have questions about what the plan will mean for you, your family or your neighborhood, or how you can participate in carrying it out, this is a great place to ask them! If you don’t know the people of your city that well, this is a great place to meet them.

12-3pm, Davey Lopes Recreation Complex (227 Dudley St), Providence. Spanish-English interpretation will be available, as will food for the first 100 people. I’ll be there with the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth.

There’ll be music (live and DJed) and stuff for kids too. Please join us.

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Stop Cricket Valley: November 16

Last month I held Climate Anxiety Counseling in Millerton, NY, where I talked with a lot of people my parents know. Many of them, and some of the people I didn’t know, said they were worried, angry and frustrated about the Cricket Valley Energy Center. On November 16, residents and activists are rallying against it.

No photo description available.

This fracked-gas power plant is scheduled to receive out-of-state fracked gas through the Iroquois Gas Transmission System, a pipeline project co-owned by TransCanada and the Virginia-based Dominion Resources. Advanced Power, a private Swiss energy company, would own and operate the plant. Here’s a little more background, including some of the project’s investors and other ties.

I grew up about half an hour from where those companies want to build this plant, and my parents live there still. Dover Plains could use some jobs, but this won’t bring them; it’ll bring asthma and other environmental illnesses, weaken a vibrant but struggling ecosystem, and haste climate change.

If you live nearby and can go to 2241 Rte 22 on November 16th at 11am, please go. Sign up here. The Facebook event is a good place to ask about the specifics of support roles. There’s also picketing this Saturday.

Racial Justice and the Climate Movement: an opportunity for learning

As more and more people recognize the need to respond to climate change with multiple forms of action and transformation, we need more tools for working together in a way that doesn’t replicate unjust power structures, but undoes them within as well as outside our activities. If you live in Rhode Island or can easily get here, here is a way to start doing that! It requires some time but is free in money. I’m going to do it and maybe you would like to do it also, especially if you’re part of an environmental or climate organization whose members are mostly white! Sign up here by September 19th for the dialogues described below.

“Join White Noise Collective, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) RI, No LNG in PVD and the FANG Collective for a dialogue series on understanding racism in the climate movement. This 5-part dialogue series is designed to support white climate justice activists and other white co-conspirators in the Rhode Island area in making connections between climate justice and racial justice and how to incorporate anti-oppression into our movements and organizations. Participants will commit to 4 three-hour sessions and will be guided through readings, exercises, and dialogue to reflect on the ways that white supremacy and other forms of oppression show up in our culture, organizations, relationships and within ourselves.

Some of the topics discussed will include: white supremacy culture and how it impacts our organizations, how non-native people can show up in solidarity with indigenous movements and leadership, accountability with front-line communities, Jemez Principles, Green New Deal, and strategies for shifting organizing culture to address oppression when it shows up.

We use these dialogue spaces to develop greater self-awareness, literacy, and accountability in order to show up with more integrity to the movement work in which each of us is involved. We also investigate larger patterns and systems of racism including white supremacy culture, intersections of race, class, and gender, and practices of allyship.”

Again, registration is here, along with dates and locations, descriptions of the organizations leading the dialogues, some core values, and some opportunities to request particular topics of discussion.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Seasonal Total for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective

This season, I asked Climate Anxiety Counseling booth interlocutors to donate their nickels (often, in practice, more–as much as $20.00 from some people) to the Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective. Their commitment to healing and nourishing work as a key part of fighting oppressive forces and enacting a livable, possible world is powerful and necessary, and I wanted to support it. I thank you all for supporting it too.

I’m pleased to report that the people who spoke with me at the booth shared a total of $116.85 (rounded up to $117.00 because GoFundMe doesn’t do decimals). If I do any rogue booth sessions this fall, I will add to the total.

You can read a little more about Tooth and Nail’s principles and projects at the above link, and if you didn’t get a chance to stop by the booth this summer but would like to support their work, I encourage you to do so.

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[IMAGE: Hands digging in brown leaf mulch, mostly oak leaves, a few beech leaves.]

The Tooth and Nail farm also has work days; after I post this, I’m going to put my shoes on and head out there.

Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY, 2-6pm, Sankofa World Market! Last session of the season CANCELED

I was going to be at the Sankofa World Market (275 Elmwood Avenue, Providence) between 2 and 6pm today, August 28, but it is now Too Wet, and I have bailed. I did have a nice visit with this person, who asked me to take their picture.

[IMAGE: A small child with beaded braids running out over the grass and into the rain, carrying a blue and white umbrella.]

The market itself continues through October! Please buy some vegetables from local, hardworking farmers and vendors.

I visited this tidepool when I went to Block Island a few days ago. Tidepools are among my favorite ecological phenomena and one of the places where I feel the weight of climate change, and my love of the living world, the most.

[IMAGE: A shallow tidepool with sand, small rocks and large algae-covered rocks, some submerged and some emerging.]

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Ungallery/Millerton Farmers’ Market, 8/17/19

Weather: Coolish, gray, muggy

Number of people: 14 stoppers

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 11

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 16

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $43.50!

Observations:

I was here with my parents, who are here most weeks (my dad sharing art buttons, my mom selling pottery), and many of the people who stopped for conversations were people my parents know. Some of them also know me—in a couple cases, have known me since I was very small.

Most of the people who spoke with me were also in a similar, fairly narrow demographic—comparatively well off, politically liberal, white, “professional” or recently retired from being so. This doesn’t reflect the demographic of people attending the market, which had a little more range in all categories.

Many people spoke about the Cricket Valley Energy Center, the fracked-gas power plant scheduled to go online this fall about 20 minutes down the road from the market site. There was a fundraising event for the fight scheduled for later that day.

Overall, what these conversations emphasized for me (and thank you to my dad and sister for helping me think through this) is how much capitalism and its narratives deliberately and destructively limit our imagination of how we can participate constructively, lovingly and sustainingly in the world, even when we have the material ability to do so.

Nonhuman animal presences: Big butterfly, little butterfly, tiny ant, pigeons, big grasshopper on my pant leg.

Some conversations:

I’m not gonna be around much longer, but my kids are. You know where I’m going after this? Cricket Valley. I’ve got signs in my car. That’s my big political concern.

How does it feel to think about it?

Oh my God. I feel helpless, I feel anxious. But I also feel—not hopeful, but I feel angry. The anger has always kept me going. But the anger is hiding the fear. Whatever I can do, I’ll do.

…The thing about Cricket Valley is that there’s supposedly ammonia on site, more than there’s supposed to be. The high school’s three-quarters of a mile away. I can walk to the high school from the plant. I protested outside the high school

How did the kids take it?

Some gave me the finger, and some looked. Supposedly the people running [Cricket Valley] are providing story hours, they’re providing scholarships. I talked to a woman who lived next to the plant, I asked her, “Aren’t you afraid?” She said no, and I said, “Well, I’m afraid for you. Do you have kids? I’m afraid for them too.”

*

Several years ago, when I was educating myself more about more about climate derangement and getting more and more despondent about the future of earth and all of its beings, I read something that you guys were doing in Providence that changed the way I started thinking—you were making plans to deal with the certainty of the river rising, and you were actually making plans to deal with the effects of climate change.* So that gave me a different way of looking at this huge issue. And it’s had many effects, one of which is that in our wills we have essentially left all our money to organizations that we feel will be important in meeting the world as a changed world. I have to say how thankful I was to run across that. One of the things I thought was going to be important is how to provide health care, health services…**

How are you feeling now about it?

I feel personally that I have made as much of a contribution as I’m going to figure out how to be able to make. My thinking about it is that the world and humanity are going to be sorely tested.

*Possibly they were talking about this?

**If you’re going to go the donation/financial support route, I usually recommend going with organizations or efforts that are local or semi-local so you can see what they’re doing. If you’re going to go big, look for sources besides their own material that compare their claims to their effects! This article on climate change philanthropy provides a little more context.

*

Hi. I’m really anxious. I think it’s contributing to my dizziness and my gut rumblings and my general discontent and anger at Mr. Trump. I’m very concerned about what he’s doing with the EPA. I’ve traveled quite a bit in the world and I’ve seen poverty—people are going to be in big trouble.

What do you do when you feel the way you just described?

I give money to the Nature Conservancy and the EDF. I try to breathe deeply. … I work in the garden—that helps a lot. There’s a group of friends that I have, we have a code word, “beagle beagle”–it means, “don’t talk about it right now.” There are certain people I trust not to take it too far and not get into rage. But sometimes you have to let it out.

How do you direct that anger?

I physically can’t do what [the first person who stopped] does, going to the Cricket [Valley] protests. I go on doing my art and just being conscious of my gratitude.

*

I have dystopian fantasies about where we’re headed. Earth isn’t gonna be able to sustain its existing population. Climate catastrophe, migration—and what’s gonna happen to the next generation, and how are they gonna deal with that? I think it’s the number one problem in the world. It’s terrifying.

How often do you think about it?

Probably every day. Particularly because our political system is so frozen. I feel paralyzed by the magnitude of the problem. … All of a sudden I woke up this winter and I was like, “Oh my God, this is a crisis.”

*

I think I’m more worried rather than anxious. It’s pushing me to see what I can do about it. Changing from a gasoline powered car to an electric car. Asking what I can do in my town. It started with the election of Trump—I would go to town board meetings just to know what was going on. And I started going to planning meetings for zoning changes for solar energy and wind energy, and I got myself on the planning board. It’s an eye-opener. A lot of people on the planning board are very into, “Let’s develop.” I keep asking the questions [that challenge that], but I haven’t been involved in any actual decisions yet. Maybe it’ll happen, or maybe we’ll agree. But I do worry that at some point it’s gonna be our turn … Things have been happening all over the globe. What’s our turn?

What are some things that you could see the planning board doing that would make “our turn” less destructive?

That’s more of a town board thing than a planning board thing. The planning board is more like okaying or turning down new projects. The ones that are really egregious—those are the ones to stop. I spent half a year going to these town board meetings, and sometimes I was the only person there.

Why do you think that is?

Where I am, I’m kind of blessed. People who are struggling, it’s like the struggle takes everything they have.

*

This is what’s not fair. This is really unconscionable. We can pollute the water, the air, the ground, but what about the animals? What about their rights to have clean water and air? I read that in North Carolina, Duke University polluted about thirty miles of river. What about the fish and the wildlife? It’s so cruel. I can filter the water, but the deer can’t, the raccoons and the beavers and the fish can’t. We seem to be so callous to the environment. We live here. Who put that trash there? It’s the number one issue facing us today. There’s no tomorrow, there’s no “wait till next year.”

…I’m seeing our [CT] reps Monday night. I want to know where Jahana Hayes stands on impeachment. … One impetus for immigration is the environment. They can’t survive, they can’t grow enough food. Yet we’re standing idly by. … Especially when I look at what’s happening to this administration–I am, I am upset. We can’t have this rapacious appetite when it comes to resources. I actually think we’re on the path to extinction.

*

The thing that gets me is personally I’m very sensitive to weather and have been my whole life. What I notice now is more extremes that last longer and are more powerful. It doesn’t just rain, it’s a deluge. … Or the heat—it’s cold until May and then it’s hot. Two months ago we were underwater, now we’re in a serious drought. The pond behind my house—I had to [let some of the water out]. Now you can see the backs of the fish rippling the water because it’s too shallow. I don’t even want to think about what’s gonna happen in a couple more weeks. I feel disappointed and disgusted by my race.

What’s it like to carry that feeling around?

It’s actually becoming part of my identity. Because even though I’m doing what I can … The feeling for me is that there’s some awareness but [we’re] swimming upstream, swimming against the tide. Until I’m not throwing anything away anymore–

*

[Person 2 is the adult child of Person 1.]

Person 1: What’s gonna become of us? There’s really a constant cloud, because I know that the world as we know it—even already it’s not the world as we knew it, and I despair for the future. And I truthfully, even though I would love the hell out of them, I’m not sorry I’m not having grandchildren. I would welcome them if they were to appear.

Person 2: You liked reading dystopian novels, but now—

Person 1: Now it’s become too real. Every other month the magazine I work for comes out, and there are more and more stories [about terrible futures].

How does it feel to imagine how bad it can get?

Person 1: For my lifetime, I’m not likely to be impacted. Except for my kids, who are in their thirties and forties. Unfortunately, there are so many crazy issues right now. This and income inequality are my two biggest issues.

Person 2: We don’t talk about the climate, we talk about politics.

Person 1: Because the climate is so overwhelming.

Person 2: And we’re on the same page about that. I don’t eat meat, I live in the city so I live in an aprtment, I don’t use as much gas. But it all feels futile.

What would feel less futile?

Person 2: Stopping the Koch brothers? I don’t know. I just feel like everything is tied together.

*

Right now I’m concerned about the birds. The Arctic is getting warmer and the summers are getting hotter, so the birds are going to have to adapt—or not adapt.

[This person also emailed me the following, later:]

Loved visiting you all today in Millerton. Anything that takes the impersonal and makes it a part of personal consciousness helps the cause. My concerns for migrating birds moving from melting northern climes to the overheated southern climes and back involves so many unknowns. Who knows how the migrating birds will be able to adapt. We’ll have to find out, while paying attention as best we can the the disrupted climates and the effect on birds, much less other flora, fauna and humans.

*

I saw an article in a magazine about climate scientists and their battle with their emotional state—they know too much, they know what’s gonna happen. I can completely relate to these people. I’ve been an activist now for twenty, maybe twenty-five years. … I got run out of college my first year for drinking and drugging, and I went to Washington DC, and this PIRG approached me to come work to help clean the oceans. So I went door to door. My rock is activism, my rock is change.

Is there a campaign you’ve been part of that you’re really proud of?

Silo Ridge. Over in Amenia, they wanted to put up a walled compound for the 1%, keep everyone else out. I was hired by the next door neighbors, who were the gun club. They were just bullies and I don’t like bullies. I put in probably 7000 hours and I made $7000.00. But I proved to some very wealthy people that if they would have been on my side from the beginning–

…I work with people on a sporadic basis. For a massive project—I’ve got to get better at that.

*

It’s scary. I feel really frightened for my grandchildren. I think you have to maintain hope in the next generation, because our generation really screwed it up.

*

My feelings are all over the place, but I’d say the incline—feeling it’s been on a steep incline, and that makes me feel terrible … Do you know know that poem “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith? I often had that feeling when my kids were growing up. Right now I’m trying to sell myself the world. They’re in their twenties and they know everything is kind of an exquisite mess.

What is the world? I mean, in this scenario?

I don’t need to sell myself many things in the world. If I’m walking or just taking in the world, I am there. It’s really when I hear about just a lot of the materialism and the way Trump’s whole scam for bringing out the worst in people and their tendencies.

What’s the relationship for you between enjoying and despairing?

Enjoying lives here in a circle with ten other people enjoying. And once I enlarge the circle more and more, that’s when I head toward despair.

*

I’m a journalist from a long time ago, and I recently retired from a job in PR for the UN. I went to a forum at Columbia last spring … on journalism and climate change—how to get climate change covered properly. I thought it would be something to get my head away from the deep Trump depression. But in the end it just doubled my depression because I started paying more attention. I’ve been aware of climate change for more than 30 years. Since I retired, it’s been more about how we’re allowing ourselves to be driven off this cliff. People aren’t stopping the Kochs and the Trumps. I can be pessimistic—I have a science background, and when I see science being ignored—I have a hard time looking for the hopeful side of this.

More specific is how I relate to how you live your life. When I get off the train in Wassaic, I see a hundred cars waiting there and they’re mostly SUVs, and they’re getting ready to drive to their second homes. That’s who I am, I’m a privileged second homer. I have a large footprint. I’m guilty, and I’m angry about the inadequacy, and I’m pissed off at how we tolerate this culture of inequality. I live in Chelsea, where they just built these new multimillion dollar apartments. When we do get people aware of climate change, it seems like the only action that we’re allowing for is individual.

*

Here is a picture of my mom, me, and my dad, as well as a stopper and a very small passerby.

[IMAGE: Three people are stationed on an expanse of grass, two people are standing/walking. The leftmost seated person, a white woman in her 70s, is sitting behind a table of pottery for sale and a sign that says “Freedom of speech / Freedom of worship / Freedom from fear / Freedom from want.” The middle person, a white woman in her 40s, is sitting behind a booth that says “Climate Anxiety Counseling 5 cents / Here to listen,” and a gray-haired white person with their back to the camera is talking to her. The rightmost person, a white man in his 70s, is sitting at a small table with a box of art buttons that says “You are free to take one.” A small white child with a blonde ponytail is walking past, looking at all of them.]