Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 14

Weather: Started sunny, short rain shower, got sunny again.

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 6 walk-bys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

Business cards proffered and received: 1

Packets of Small State Seeds given away: 2 (we still have some left, come tomorrow!)

People who took a picture without permission: 1

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.25

 

Observations: 

A family of 4 walks by, and I can tell they’re chatting and laughing about me, the way my family and I do when we see something particular and delightful that we want to share with each other. I hadn’t imagined that way of being seen, until today. 

 

Some conversations: 

When my mom goes into a store for more than 5 minutes, I turn her car off. 

*

It seems like all these cataclysmic events have been happening, it seems like it’s a triangle coming to a point. It seems like the earth is responding to what we’re doing to it, all the pressure we’re putting on it. Obviously people see it, because look at all these disaster movies they’re making these days.

*

I’ve been wondering what the strategic plan is — is there one for storms? I’ve been looking around for some sort of strategic solutions.

*

There aren’t enough green areas. Near Cranston Street, where I live, there’s only one park, and it’s not properly maintained. I go running there, and I see a lot of garbage. It’s not healthy — if I had kids, I wouldn’t want them running around there.

Do you pick it up when you see it?

Yes. At RIC, we have to do a certain amount of volunteering hours. But you can clean it up, it stays nice for two, three days, then it comes back again. I think what we need is more education. All the green areas, they’re nice, but they need to be maintained. I think if we had the help of people in the neighborhood, maybe just for thirty minutes a week, but thirty minutes times a bunch of people —

[I suggested that he get in touch with the WBNA.]

*

Climate change is pretty important, climate change does worry me, but I’m most worried — well, what’s also worrying me is the eternal bottleneck that seems to be happening in Washington. 

*

They spend a billion dollars over there, but here, they got the homeless. It was told to me the U.S. was like a bully. My mother always told me, take care of home.

*

I’m 22 years old. My entire life climate change has been in my awareness, it’s been on my mind. We don’t have too much longer of the weather patterns being the way they’ve been. My grandfather was a meteorologist, and he taught me how to read the signs of what weather was coming next, up to a month in advance sometimes. Those signs are no longer as predictable. Everything is changing. 3000 years of human writings that talk about weather patterns, and they’ve never shown it changing as fast as this. It’s going too fast for a natural evolution cycle. We’re acidifying the oceans, we’re leaking oxygen as well as letting in cosmic radiation, we’re building up this giant carbon layer. Rainwater used to be — you could drink it. Now if you drink rainwater, people look at you like you’re crazy.

You clearly know a lot about this. Does it worry you?

Yes, and I think it should worry everyone. We’ve forgotten that we’re just a creature. We’re changing the earth and making it unsustainable, not only unsustainable for us, but unsustainable for everything. We’re doing nothing but the things that are damaging. 

*

Today’s poem: 

 

You’re very much not

alone says someone

about whom I know

a lot more than he knows

about me as a plant

knows that greater carbon

dioxide is near or shadow

the knowing we do

in our tenderest shoots

that hides or grows

and can be wrong

and can be fooled

by an altered light

by a source of heat

our ability to trick

processes into happening

we took such pride in

colluding in ruin

our ingenuity

isn’t it counting

doesn’t it keep

the outcome, the downfall

coming a little

further away or more

slowly or off-loaded

onto an island

a world full of islands

the world is close

a running horizon

unpunctured, escapeless

to find a way out

from under

our greatest treasure

we cracked with our teeth

I’m not motionless

I can’t be motionless

I must be restless

there is no big limb

pinning my neck

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 13

Weather: Balmy, sunny, breezy; got a little chilly toward the end of the shift.

Number of people: 12 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

Packets of Small State Seeds given away: 3 (we still have some left, come tomorrow!)

People who asked (and received) permission to take a picture: 1

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $5.37

 

Observations:

Today was the first day that someone made an “only one person” comment in a sincere way. 

A couple of people called the booth “funny” or “cute” today and I realized, talking with a friend about it, that that’s intentional on my part: I want to seem odd, but unthreatening.

This shows up really explicitly in the first conversation below, but I think it’s true for a lot of people: “the world” is always here, and “the environment” is always somewhere else.

*

Some conversations: 

I don’t know how I’d survive a natural disaster, what I’d do in that situation. I guess we need to reconsider our entire way of constructing buildings, to have safer and more renewable homes–if at any time you’re gonna be swept away, you need to design things differently.

Is there anything you really love that’s particularly vulnerable to climate change?

The rainforest. It’s kind of like this environmental paradise. I’ve always wanted to see it, and I’m afraid it’ll be gone before I can see it–all this great biodiversity, all the things the world has yet to discover will be gone.

*

Crime, how the law deals with crime. And then they don’t prosecute, they put away so many non-guilty people, and other people get away with it. When they say something’s not admissible and it’s the only evidence they have …  I work for an international company, and I worry about agents we send to other countries. It’s laws and crime in all the countries, not just here.

What do you do when you feel anxious about this?

Just quit watching the news. You wanna know, but you don’t wanna know. And there’s nothing that a single person can do about it. There are organizations, I’ve been part of them, I’ve signed petitions, but it’s just still a slow, slow process. 

*

Other people’s energy that they give off. What they expect of me. I try to calm myself down, but I usually end up either smoking, which isn’t good, or staying by myself, which isn’t good. Other people expect me to be somebody else, and then my heart starts racing.

What’s your true self like?

Humble, non-materialistic. I don’t try to act all cool. I take my time with everything I do in life. 

*

I’m extremely disappointed that we’re driven by economics and politics rather than what’s right. The motivation of the fossil fuel industry is greed, and the government continues to subsidize it. Even though they’re subsidizing renewable energy now too, they’re still going to subsidize oil, I think they even subsidize coal …

What could you see getting them to change their direction?

A big carbon tax. Let’s pay what it really costs — well, you can’t pay what it costs, because it kills people. But if you go to Europe, gas is $10-$11 a gallon, and people drive less, they drive smaller cars. You have to change the way people behave. 

*

Social unrest and collapse because of food and water shortages. They’re saying corn is going to be a luxury. Especially with kids, it’s very concerning. If I were alone I wouldn’t mind so much, I could just jump in the river with rocks in my pockets.

Why is killing yourself better than dying in one of these other ways? 

I think it’s a fear of what’s gonna happen. You can say well, we all die anyway, and if we die in a flood, we all just go at once, you don’t have to grieve … Part of having a kid is it’s forcing me to become more aware in the moment, more present, more spiritual, and consider spirituality even more. I think of spirituality as the bigger picture, bigger than economics or politics — it encompasses everything. I keep hoping for this worldwide awakening. 

*

[These two were friends.]

Friend 1: Drowning, getting blown away by a hurricane, the rest of the world dying of thirst while I’m drowning, wishing I could tip the world so the water could go somewhere else. What else am I anxious about?

Friend 2: I haven’t seen you in a while.

Friend 1: It’s the same ones.

What do you do when you start to feel these anxieties pressing on you?

Friend 1: Eat candy, or do something else not that healthy. Or I just go into denial.

Who else do you talk about it with?

Friend 1: Everybody. My partner, my friends, we all talk about it. The conversations usually end with despair, hopelessness, lack of ideas about what to do.

Friend 2: Maybe we need something like the despicable LinkedIn–six degrees of separation from people who actually have the power to do something. How close are we to people who have a role, who have influence? My brother works for [redacted] and he has cute children that he loves desperately, but he thinks they’re gonna find a scientific solution.

 

Today’s poem: 

The first day will be

the hardest ground to break

the hardest news

to bear the first

week will be the deal

we make with thinking

it’ll get no worse

why are you angry

I’m angry because you’re going

to take everything I love

away from me and kill it

and I don’t know where you are

and I don’t know how to stop you

the first year will be

the hardest the harvest

that isn’t what it should be

but what it

will be the first few

years the hardest

singing their whisper song

like a belt radio

slung into a thicket

a lack of replacement

with nothing to lose

the first 10 years will

be bearing down hard

like a monstrous birth

with no I.D.

and no idea

 what to do now

or to have done

 

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 12

Weather: Gray, damp and chilly, misting with occasional actual rain and gusts of wind

Number of people: 9 stoppers, 2 walk-bys

Number of hecklers: 1, possibly? Couldn’t really hear him (seems to be a pattern)

Pages of notes: 9

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 0.5

Packets of Small State Seeds given away: 7 (we still have some left, come tomorrow!)

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.31

 

Observations: 

Number one thing that seems to keep stoppers’ numbers down is cold and rain — people are more eager to get where they’re going, and if they don’t have anywhere to go, they’re still less inclined to conversation.

Related: Butts can shiver, it turns out.

Someone yesterday brought up the political valence of climate change as it’s discussed in the U.S., and how that separates Americans from the reality of it. That’s been showing up a lot this week. Other themes today: low-emissions cars, how to talk to people you don’t know.

 

Some conversations: 

 

I think it’s some natural, a lot manmade, and it’s definitely something to be worried about. It affects not only us. This is where we live. But I believe that things happen for the good of the planet eventually — like the ice age helped the planet overall.

I get what you’re saying about the long term, but how do you think people can help each other in the short term?

I feel like it’s the little things that work towards something big. Like some people say “I can’t help because I can’t do that much,” but if everyone does a smaller part, it can have positive effects.

What about things like driving less?

Driving definitely is a problem, but maybe it’s more like not to drive things that–like some cars, all they do is pollute. Maybe more efficient cars, but that’s companies’ responsibility to make more efficient cars, cars that don’t pollute.

*

Do you ever talk to people you don’t know about it?

Not too often. If somebody says something really ignorant–but I don’t go up to people and go, “Hey, world’s kinda hot today.” … We need to change people’s ideas around how they use energy, how they use renewable and unrenewable resources. It seems like when people talk about this, they’re not giving a good reason, or they’re not presenting the information in the correct manner.

What is the correct manner? 

I don’t know. I feel like one way to enact that sort of change is to look at examples. Holland decided, instead of burning fossil fuels, they’d burn their trash for energy. And then they had so little trash, they actually take trash from France and Belgium. It’s the same with solar energy and wind energy–if you have more than you need, you can sell it back to the grid and make money. Or you can live off the grid, there are people who do that–they call them “landships”, they use the methane from their waste to heat their houses. They’re totally self-sufficient.

That’s silly, they’re not self-sufficient. The trees make their air–

Okay, they’re not relying on outside human systems.

*

I started thinking about how people think of things as replaceable–the things we buy are designed to last shorter and shorter. What if some CEO was in the production business, and he wanted to shorten the business model to have the company for like, 7 years, and then get out? What if he just made the highest quality things he could and they would last for ever? What it means for something to be replaceable–if our things are replaceable, are we replaceable? The thing that isn’t replaceable is the earth … The other thing that really makes me anxious is that people seem to think different activisms can’t work together, like social justice and environmental justice–they’re seen as irrelevant to each other. But the physical place where people live is so related to hierarchies of power. 

*

Society doesn’t care until it’s at your back doorstep, and then it’s too late. Let’s find better ways of getting cars not to put so much emissions into the air, factories not to put so much pollution. Let’s find ways to care about the environment. America is one of the best countries in the world. We have every advantage, we just need to appreciate it more. 

*

I’m concerned about it but I don’t know how to get people to be concerned about it as well. Frankly, I think people think it’s almost not real. … We all have this common thought that the government’s gonna protect us, that if there was anything to be worried about, they’d be worried. I believe people do notice it. But they’re like, “Oh, I’m just one person”–that’s how I feel sometimes. But also, how can you move from conversation to the next step? My friends from college and I have these great philosophical conversations, but how can we move from conversation to action, how can we accompany our thoughts with some actions? I don’t do as much as I should do, but I believe it’s our duty to do it. 

 

Today’s poem: 

The idea that there’s always going

to be more especially

more to take away

is with us even if we were

or are the children of

the ones taken even

if our name was plunder

way back in the family

presumption of bounty

has communicated itself

like a blight on a host

it moves on

to ourselves and staggers

how we disease

and how we sicken

the whole incontinent

so wide we thought

it could never be us

we could never be full

communicably we came through

with no sense of waste

with consequence of waste

and now in a double blink

we forward our future to our present

we say goodbye to our beloved grasses

even though they’re waving

our beloved ashes even

though they’re standing right

in front of us making promises we see

through them we see right through them

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 11

Weather: Warm with clouds and sun, cooling off later

Number of people: 12 stoppers, 1 walk-by, 1 drive-by

Number of hecklers: 1, possibly? Couldn’t really hear him

Pages of notes: 9

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 2

Packets of Small State Seeds given away: 5 (we have more! Come by tomorrow!)

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $6.45

 

Observations:

Two people mentioned the article in the Providence Journal, and one asked me to sign his copy! No notable uptick in traffic, though.

A couple I’ve spoken with before stopped by and kidded around with me about the article: “Now that you’re so famous, thanks for giving us a moment of your time!” As I swing into Week 3, there are many people I’ve seen two or more times.

I am not (as a commenter on the ProJo article pointed out) a real doctor or a peer-reviewed counselor of any sort. I suspect that if I would be, I would be more familiar with some of the ways people reveal or withhold information. Also, still working on that whole “not getting mad at people I suspect are jerking me around” thing, which I suspect a real doctor would be better at. 

 

Some conversations

Being stuck at my current job. I don’t have freedom to speak as I’d like or do as I’d like. I’d like to be a counselor of some kind for high school students.

Do you know what steps you’d take to do that?

No, but the counselor at my high school was really good, so I might ask her.

*

What’s making me anxious and nervous about climate change right now is the massive change in temperature making the ice caps break. I’m thinking terrible waves and tsunamis that could take off all of us — East Coast, West Coast, North, South, it doesn’t really matter to the water. It will go where it will go. … I’m afraid that something terrible’s gonna happen, something truly irreparable, damage that cannot be reversed, and that in the wake of that tragedy, people will ask, “What should we have done?” That by the time we acknowledge it, the answer to “What should we do?” is gonna be, “Tell your loved ones and your dear friends that you love them very much, and say your prayers.” 

*

I’m concerned about it. Where’s U.S. agriculture gonna be in another 10 years? We’ve been observing how in the South we’re losing oranges, grape fields, cornfields, potatoes in Idaho. How is the U.S. gonna provide for themselves, support themselves, instead of depending on other countries? Let the grass grow again! Or blow up or dynamite so the water can go where the drought is! If you can put a man on the moon, you can’t end a drought? … The earth is the ground, the dirt. Once you kill the ground, you kill everything, the trees–we’re gonna be extinguished. We’re gonna be extinguished. 

*

It’s the biggest problem we’re facing, and we should be devoting huge amounts of resources to it. Instead, they’re still having debates about whether to give oil and gas leases in national parks. We’re putting the earth, the country, and the climate at risk by looking for oil and gas. It won’t be helped by a piecemeal approach. And I’m not hopeful. I don’t think governments have the guts to face up to oil and gas interests. I think we’re doomed. And my biggest concern is not so much for humans–I’m worried that we’ll make it impossible for anything else to survive. We don’t begin to take this seriously enough. 

*

One time I was reading this article where they were claiming, this particular scientist was claiming that we’re gonna have extinctional climate change in the near future, that peak temperatures will rise above what animals can survive, and I realized that I was automatically thinking about Fahrenheit, not Celsius–a rise of 3 degrees Fahrenheit is not a big deal. But the idea that all humans could die, just get hotter and hotter and lie down and not wake up, seemed like the opposite of anxiety. It’s not like a punishment, it’s pointless–it undermines human moral grandiosity. 

*

My colleague runs climate modeling labs and he faces this problem: how do you make sense of something when in order to prove its claims, it has to be too late? It makes you feel sort of frozen. That may be why I’ve deprioritized it among the activist-oriented things I do. 

 

Today’s poem: 

We who are already here

have received so much.

We who are about to die

surrender our collections.

We who are apparent show

what has sunk into us.

Imagine if we had to give it back

All of it, every molecule.

Of air. Of flesh. Every cell

we build. Every waterdrop.

We are terribly concrete.

Made terribly of everything.

 

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: News Post

Thanks to Richard Salit for writing about Climate Anxiety Counseling in the Providence Journal!

Thanks also to Karl Saliter for writing about it in Elephant!

A few people have asked about remote counseling, and I know I mentioned that last week. I’ve decided that I’m not going to try to do that concurrently with the actual booth, but will do it as another phase of the project. I’ll let people know when and how we can do it.

A new week begins tomorrow, 3-6 pm, with a special seed giveaway! The first 20 people to stop tomorrow can have a packet of Small State Seeds, if they want them. Thanks to Ben and Katie of Scratch Farm for making this possible.

See (some of) you at the booth tomorrow!

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Reflections on Week 2

Part 1: I Am Becoming Very Strange

“Mitigation”, from people involved in climate change activism and response, refers to efforts to stop worsening the problem– legislation that limits greenhouse gas emissions, for example. “Adaptation” refers to efforts to help people, ecosystems and structures / infrastructures endure the results of the changing climate. One of my interlocutors, who speaks to state agencies and groups of professionals about adaptation, talked to me about the “look of fear” they often give her at the end of presentations. “The issues seem so huge,” she said. “So if we can bring it to a to a local level, an individual and neighborhood approach, people will feel less — alone.”

She backed off the notion of feeling alone, but because it was one of my reasons for beginning this project, I want to return to it. I hoped that through talking about the climate and the ecosystem, their changes and my fears, I could contribute to a public discussion of urgency–mitigation–but also of loss–adaptation. American culture at large is bad at loss. Our language for it is impoverished, sparse, invariant. I hope, and still hope, to enrich that language as a gift to myself; I hoped, and still hope, that the people who talk with me, and who read this blog, will also receive it as a gift. At the risk of sounding like Yogi Berra: you can’t feel less alone all by yourself. You need company.

But another and possibly contradictory hope is that people who haven’t thought about the changing climate very much, or who push it to the backs of their minds in the ways that several of my interlocutors have described, will say to themselves, “Wow, this must be a big deal, because this person is willing to do something very strange about it, and to make herself seem very strange.”

I was kind of strange to start with, in the sense of “odd” (she wrote, chewing the handful of greens she stuffed in her mouth straight out of the fridge) and in the sense of uncommon: for many of the people who speak with me, the amount of time devoted to this project–never mind what I’m doing with that time–is taken up with labor, paid or unpaid, or absorbed by other tasks of survival. While I tried to keep expectations low when I started the project, I did have some, and one was that someone would tell me to get a job. That hasn’t happened.  (Future passersby, in person or online, please don’t feel you have to fill that gap. I have a job; this isn’t it.)

But how strange am I willing to get? Which is another way of asking: what changes am I willing to choose? When I sit at the booth on a rainy day, my arm crooked around the umbrella to keep it from blowing away, I feel more dedicated, more committed, more serious. “People aren’t willing to go out of their way,” a few people have declared, looking me in the face as I sit at the booth, more in their way than mine.

 

Part 2: Adaptation

As I noted on Day 8, I’ve adapted, and adapted to, this project. I know which sloped curbs collect deep puddles when it rains, and where the nearest detours are; the muscles in my calves and lower back are gaining power from pushing the handtruck up the hill. The “CLIMATE ANXIETY COUNSELING 5 cents” sign, which in Lucy’s booth is above her head, now has its bottom edge flush with the tabletop because the wind kept blowing it around and even breaking it off. Not only do I hug the umbrella, I bungee the handtruck to the park fence.  I’ve repainted the lettering with waterproof paint, after a rainstorm turned both my signs into a suffusion of yellow. After a few shivering end-of-shift hours in this cold spring, I’ve finally figured out how many layers to wear. My booth-unpacking and booth-repacking time has shrunk. I’ve started bringing sidewalk chalk for younger visitors.

I’ve also made mistakes in engagement–arguing even though I promised myself I wouldn’t, losing a potential conversation because I was replying to a text — and been scathed. I replay those interactions, imagining a more genuine and less strategic response, a better redirect, an opening rather than a shutting down, or a quicker insistence on boundaries. What could I have said? I think. What should I have said? What will I say next time? For most interactions, there is no “next time”; I can try to adapt to what that last encounter required of me, but the next encounter may require something different.

If you’ve been following the daily posts, you also know that a few questions (in italics) recur: What do you think of when you imagine this hard future? is one that I ask often. And when people come up and ask, “What is this?”, I answer them more or less the same way, at least to start. But then I’m on my own–or rather, I’m there with them. Being more or less scriptless means that if I don’t pay attention, I can screw up any chance of actual communication, and miss what someone has to offer me. It means, too, that some people ramble, a few bloviate, and none are compelled to tell me if they fear what I fear. It also means I have a chance to see their particularity, whatever about them is irreducible and urgent. It gives me the chance to transform myself into the listener they want–to adapt myself to their story.

Paleontologist, evolutionary biologist and writer Stephen Jay Gould wrote once about the Lamarckian idea of inheritance: that organisms respond to “felt needs” in their environments (growing a thicker coat to survive a colder climate) and pass those traits on to their offspring. Gould’s point was that while biological evolution doesn’t work that way, cultural development does. Based on what we think we know, what the people around us have known, and what the world around us seems to be demanding from us–and the complex ways these interact–we change ourselves, and we change each other.

 

Part 3: Nothing But Feelings

The relationship between feeling and action is also complex. A feeling isn’t an action. Feeling something isn’t doing something, it isn’t the same thing or kind of thing. A feeling can motivate action, or inhibit it, or make it seem like a good or bad idea. That’s the relationship. And the feeling in another person can only spur you if they allow it to inform their actions (which could include telling you about it). A feeling is like a gene–you can’t see it, you can only see its expression, and usually what you’re seeing is the expression of many genes or feelings working together, some more obvious or visible than others, some jerry-rigged with historical parts of distant origins.

Like all analogies, this one breaks down if you push it far enough. But it’s helpful for me to think about because if I (or anybody) expect what we feel about climate change–its causes, its effects–to do direct work, that’s like expecting magic. But feelings are real the way genes are real: they lead or they withhold. What can our climate anxieties lead us to do? What will they cut us off from? What mutual gravities will they exert with other factors–innate and environmental, the changes we choose and the changes written in other people’s choices, out of our reach in the past? How can what we feel guide what we do with what we know? Those questions will hover over me as I move into Week 3.

Money raised to date for the Environmental Justice League of RI: $46.55

Rhode Island sites for which people have expressed concern, either in conversation or on the map:

Whatever they’re spraying along the East Bay Bike Path

[I’ll add more to these tomorrow: the map is out in the garage]

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 10

Weather: clouds and sun, with a big heavy gray cloud coming in from the north

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 6

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

People who asked (and received) permission to take a picture: 1

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 3

Mentions of the Industrial Revolution: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $6.30

 

Observations

A sample size of 2 suggests that Saturdays are slower than weekdays.

I may have missed a potential stopper while responding to a logistical text. Let that be a lesson.

 

Some conversations: 

[Small girls to whom I gave a snapping turtle card and a blue cohosh card yesterday]

Can we use your chalk?

Yes.

 [They take it into the park and start drawing. Later they’re joined by 2 other girls, around the same age. Later still, girls and chalk are nowhere to be seen. I mentally bid farewell to chalk. About an hour later, one of the original girls brings the box back, chalk sticks well used.]

*

I don’t know that there’s anything we can do to help. We try to think as human beings that we have control over certain things, but we really don’t.

I think we’re talking about different things. I’m talking about like, if there was bad flooding, would you give someone a ride in your car?) No. I’d like to say I’d like to help all these people, but I think when it’s in complete survival mode, it gets to be every man for himself.

So you don’t think people depend on each other.

No, I do think people depend on each other … …  It’s something that needs looking into, and we’re not doing enough about it. There’s enough methane on the ocean floor–you know about this? What happens when the ocean warms up and releases that methane into the atmosphere? It’ll be a global catastrophe that–[he looks over and sees the girls drawing within earshot]–we’ll all be in trouble.

*

I don’t want to grow up. I don’t want to have to be responsible–I don’t want to become an angry old adult and hate the world.

What do you like about the world now?

I like that everything is magical … I’m afraid I’m gonna be hurt. I’m in a state of transition. I don’t want to let myself drown in responsibilities, having a job.

What could you do to hold onto that feeling of magic?

Trying to learn how to be still and enjoy moments. Like today it was supposed to rain, and it didn’t, and I’m really thankful for that. I was raised by a conservative family, with the idea of a fairy-tale wedding and stuff like that, and I’m afraid of finding out that things aren’t really like that. 

*

[These two were friends.]

Friend 1: I’m anxious that we’ve passed the point at which anything other than geoengineering will make sense, and that it will become necessary seems like this huge problem in itself–whether it’ll work, what the side effects will be, will it stop working in a catastrophic way? And in a way that makes me feel more helpless, like what’s the point of doing other stuff, we should just jump straight to trying to block the sun with tiny mirrors.

Friend 2: Tiny mirrors? I don’t know anything about this.

Friend 1: They’re not really mirrors, they’re reflective particles.

Friend 2: My high school education was totally focused on the environment, on climate an conservation. [Friend 1] and I actually met at an action–was it about cap and trade?

Friend 1: Yeah–no, we were trying to get Barack Obama to go to Copenhagen in person.

Friend 2: Then I stopped. I turned more toward local work, work that’s more immediate, like helping someone [redacted for privacy]–I believe it’s important work, but I do it because it’s more satisfying to me. It’s easier to put my arms around. And the climate is so hard to put your arms around. We did that action where we stand where the water would rise–

Friend 1: By the end of the century, they’re saying sea levels will be 1-4 feet higher, probably more toward the high end of that. But the real thing, I think, is storm surges–not like a permanent thing, but what happens in a big hurricane … In the next few years I think I’m going to have to either stop working on climate issues or become a deeply religious person. I can’t sustain hope on my own anymore. I need a group of people for whom hope is built in — hope in the literal sense that we will do something or figure something out, that human civilization isn’t gonna collapse, and in a bigger sense that the world will continue to become better, more just, more peaceful, in the very longest term.

Friend 2: That we’ll make progress. Do you think we’ve made progress?

Friend 1: This is the Industrial Revolution question. I think so.

Friend 2: I do too. You were saying–a big part of your hope involved the future generation. Do you think people who are motivated to try to do something about this are motivated because of that?

Friend 1: I don’t know, it varies. I think in this climate context, 95% of the American public doesn’t understand what it means —

Friend 2: Or it’s not that urgent.

Friend 1: Or it’s not that urgent. Americans put climate change dead last on a list of things they were worried about, they put it after “moral decline.” 

Friend 2: Or they mix it up with like, recycling, and the ozone layer.

Friend 1: I think it sort of lumps together in this category of “We’ve done something bad to the air. Now we’re in trouble.”  … The policies in question have costs. This isn’t anyone’s, quote, problem. There’s always something that’s gonna be easier for you to do.

Friend 2: And everything’s just so connected. 

*

From the beginning of time–I believe in the Creation and what He created. I believe in trying to restore that, taking away all the sorrow and pain and death. I believe in the Lord.

How does your faith affect the way you live your life?

I try to study, I study the Bible every day … You end up praying for relationship, Heaven and Earth. We’re part of that Creation. It’s just finding it, I guess, divine.

*

[I give her the card with angelica on it.] This is a flower that grows here in RI.

Oh, I know! This is one of my favorite plants.

 

Today’s poem: 

Tiny mirrors reflecting light

back into space are under discussion

a flicker we can always hope for

because they are moving away

hope as progress, air as mirror

we did something bad to and now

we’re in trouble we’re drawing the dark

fur of an animal now that absorbs

without gloss or that reflects like

particulate matter my whole body works

with writing my face works with rage

self-heard and induced helplessness

I tilt and tilt myself toward and away

from the sun I tilt and tilt

my umbrella toward and away from the rain

“Not only that but” people keep saying

not only that but another thing

and no things but others

or no other things but us

on the land and in the water

the clouds boiling up in fast motion

because regular motion isn’t

scary enough I sit here without

my umbrella hoping to outwait the rain

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 9

Thanks to Camila for keeping me company today (and offering translation services, even though no one took you up on it) and Julia for an energizing and idea-filled conversation!

 

Weather: gray, humid, cool, rain promised but never delivered

Number of people: 12 stoppers, 3 walk-bys

Number of hecklers: 0

Number of really committed homophobes: 1

Pages of notes: 9

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 2

Business cards proffered and accepted: 1

People who asked (and received) permission to take a picture: 1

People who did not ask permission and took a picture anyway: 1, from a car!

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.08

 

Observations:

I don’t know what the white trees are that are in bloom in Burnside Park right now–I didn’t go up to them–but they smell awesome.

Big themes today were “all-encompassing worldview” and  “interdependence.”

 

Some conversations: 

Are you the climate person? I’ve been seeing you from my car! Obviously I’m concerned about the environment, but it’s mostly personal stuff. Getting into law school–well, I got in. I’m interested in international human rights law.

[There was a transition here that I don’t remember and didn’t note — this person came by while I was still setting up.]

How can we make interdependent, healthy connections?

There’s some connection here with your field too–as people get displaced, as there’s food shortages–

Absolutely, and water shortages, like the water wars going on right now in Africa. I’m interested in environmental law as well.

*

[The second speaker came into the conversation while I was talking with the first.]

Person 1: And I also find myself wishing that I had a lot more money so I could do some of the green things I read about, like putting a green roof on my house. I fantasize about buying and destroying parking lots, but I can’t afford to buy property to smash it up.

Have you tried pricing one of those things–not the parking lots, but the other things–just to see if you could do it?

Person 2:  And if you do that, you can also see if any of your neighbors want to do it–do you live in a neighborhood?

Person 1: We do, that’s actually one of the nice things about where we live.

Person 2: So you can talk to your neighbors, show them what you’re doing, see if it’s something they’d want to do on a larger scale–often the city doesn’t want to do it but if a neighborhood is willing to pay for it, they won’t have a problem with it. And you know, there are grants you can get to plant trees on your street.

Person 1: We’re doing that! Some people actually went around and said, The city will pay for this.

Person 2: That’s great, because not only does it maximize the impact–the more you know your neighbors, that’s the biggest safety net that people can have. That elderly person who lives on your street–you can make sure they’re okay, or you can invite people over to use the same A/C.

Person 1: That’s true, and that’s definitely not something I would’ve thought of.

*

I’m anxious because I feel personally responsible for this. I’m such a part of the system, how do I fight it? … We need to change the way we’ve been doing things for the past 200 years, and people with influence are not prioritizing it–other things seem more important. But this is pretty immediate for people who live on islands, people who live in big urban centers. I study it every day, I read about it every day, I’m very familiar with it, but how can I talk to people who don’t even know what it is? Am I studying something invisible? I think sometimes I’ve chosen the wrong career — if I was a doctor maybe I would be able to help people more directly. But also, I can use the knowledge to maybe influence policy, maybe in talking to people. So sometimes it’s discouraging, sometimes it allows a positive light.

*

Are you gonna scare me?

*

I’m anxious that climate change will happen but that the things that make the world unjust, or unequal, now will get worse. … I still feel like it’s urgent, it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna be bad, but it can be better than what it’s going to be. I used to have a hard time integrating my work for climate justice with work on race and labor, but now I emphasize those two–those are the reasons why there’s injustice and oppression, those are the problems that I have with the world and the things I want to change.

*

I work a lot on climate change, and my anxiety is that more knowledge won’t help. I’m in the university, in a place of power, and in a position of power in the world, and so I get listened to, but I’m worried that people outside that won’t listen to me, and that the strategies I choose to focus on might not do anything positive.

What would be positive? 

That’s the thing, I haven’t defined that for what I’m doing. We can say 2 degrees C, but we already know we’re gonna go past that, and that’s not what it’s about–it’s about how it affects people. … And like it or not, people are watching what’s happening on campuses. Now that they’re looking at us, what are we gonna say?

*

I’m doing a lot of work on the expansion of the universe, on supernovas. I’m just an amateur, but I’ve conducted studies–my most recent one is on binary star formation. I think that in part the sun’s nuclear reactions are heating up earth, but I think it’s mostly man-made objects–what the sun is doing is not as drastic as what we have done.

 

Today’s poem: 

We should do more

fun stuff this summer

like lying down

all over the land

like staying away

from all of the land

you can’t get away

from all of the land

you’re in space

you’re in style

the key to behavior

change you hope

you have hidden

in your mouth

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 8

Weather: raining when I arrived, getting lighter and heavier throughout my time there. Just stopping and clearing as I walked home.

Number of people: 12 stoppers, 1 drive-by

Number of hecklers: 1, sort of — a climate change trivializer who wouldn’t quit

Pages of notes: 9

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

People who were real sticklers about putting in exactly a nickel: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.97

 

Observations:

No one has ever asked directly what the money in the jar is for.

I’m “adapting” to the project, learning better strategies — putting the umbrella where I can get an elbow around it in case of wind, for example.

It’s okay to stop writing and hang onto the umbrella sometimes.

 

Some conversations: 

It’s been on my mind recently because of this project. I saw something online about a protest in NY in September. … It feels like we’ve kept on hearing about this for years and now we’re really realizing it’s here and a problem, when it’s too late for collaborative change, too late to have much of an effect, reversing it or slowing–well, not slowing it, but stopping it. I guess it’s not surprising, it’s such an enormous thing. I think people push it to the back of their minds and worry about it a little when they read things in the New York Times, because to address it, they’d need to change the entire society.

Why is it easier for us to imagine everything dying, blank ocean, blank land, than it is for us to imagine changing society?

That’s a good question. On an individual level, if people aren’t willing to commit their whole lives to this, why should they expect other people to be able to–and some people aren’t in a position to. It seems like the problem is basically the way capitalism is–the whole logic that the only thing that matters is making a profit and continuous expansion. Even reforms, things like green energy, they’re still trying to be like, “This is the future, you need to invest in this now and make more money.”

So keeping that in mind–that profit motive–what are things that people can do within that, or alongside that, to take responsibility for each other, and for other things, places?

If people reorient their value systems — see inherent value in an ecosystem, in animals and plants living — their lives will start to organize around this idea, both within the world of consumption and outside it. Forming points of community beyond the profit motive, like religion, or family. But I feel like those things aren’t as strong as they used to be.

*

Are the poles really melting, and it’s gonna raise the seas? So we’re gonna lose Manhattan, Nag’s Head? It doesn’t matter! There’s no anxiety–you’ll be dead, I’ll be dead, and new life will come.

*

People moving away from the coast, losing their homes, and there’ll be a lot more sloshing around, so we’ll have to worry about a contaminated water supply … As Americans, we waste so much. And what’s happening in California is terrible.

When you think of this hard future, how do you imagine helping other people survive?

It’ll be the difference between some people surviving and other people not surviving. It’s a terrible moral tragedy and it’s occurring right now. It has to do with the upper classes winning out and overusing everything … Having everybody have their own home, their own retreat–why do people have to get away from it all? … . I think that one of the things is we could switch from an 8-hour workday to a 6-hour workday. There’d be more time for leisure, thinking, education. There’s this ideology of freedom, that people should be able to do whatever they want. I think it’s time for us to work together.

*

Taking the bus in the rain.

Does that make you anxious, or you just hate it?

I just hate it. The news says it’s not gonna rain and then it does rain.

*

I’m anxious about punctuality and being here in the last 4 minutes of your shift. I don’t know if I’m interested in climate change, but I’m here because I saw the article in the Phoenix and I was interested in this setup for public engagement … I’m afraid I’ll fail to live up to my full potential as a great artist who’s really satisfied with my own work.

What kind of artist are you now, like are you okay, or pretty good?

I’m okay. I think I could be really good if I devoted 100% of my time to my art.

Why don’t you? 

Fear of failure, fear of losing the stability that I’ve worked so hard to achieve. I have a regular job and I do regular things, and I hate it.

 

Today’s poem: 

What do people have

to get away from and how

to get away from what

you have and what have you

to get to heaven with

if you’re in heaven now

a cooler quieter time

than the one you had

the one you owned

the one you admitted to

were admitted to

through a gate of accident

as things like this are

organized or organize themselves

and thus as they go or have done

what you have is something

the past owns

the ancestral home

the familiar farm

the day like today

no time like the present

to know more or

to be more known

to be drawn not in

to argument (a mistake)

but into recognition so

that someone might as me

how you are and I

would have that knowledge

not forever, not for very

long but not nothing

just as if never

not actually never