Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 7

Weather: warm and windy, shading to chilly later

Number of people: 19 stoppers, 5 walk-bys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Number of climate change deniers: 1.5

Pages of notes: 10

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 4

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.97 + one UAE dirham coin with 3 oil derricks on the back of it.

 

Observations:

All the climate change deniers so far have had three major demographic qualities in common. 

Many people say they wish they could do something, they don’t know what to do. Many other people’s “doing” is along the lines of good manners or good vibes. Sometimes there’s some overlap. 

Some conversations:

That’s the $64,000 question. Nobody can say what it’s gonna do. 

*

We’re gonna be on lakefront property right here … I’m just glad I have darker skin, there’s gonna be a lot of cancer. You kill all the plants, you don’t have any medicines. There’s no bees left, we’re killing ’em all. A lot of people here don’t care. Too many harder things to worry about. 90% of the population is unemployed, homeless. Keep ’em hungry, keep ’em confused, don’t educate people.

*

I’m actually really worried. We had the coldest winter, and I’m worried that’s going to mean the hottest summer.

What will you do?

Go to the beach a lot, but I burn, so maybe just stay inside. And of course next year is gonna be even worse. And I worry about what’s going on in the rest of the world, not just the climate, but those Nigerian girls that were kidnapped, they’re not getting the attention that they should have, that we’d seen if a bunch of young white women were kidnapped. Feminism is about equality for everyone.

So believing as you do in equality for everyone, how do you help people try to reach that? How can people help each other?

Just what you said, help everybody out — when you see someone in need, give them something. I’ll put change in a parking meter if I see it’s about to expire. 

*

[These three were friends.]

Friend 1: We’re about to leave on a cross-country trip, so that’s exciting. We’re gonna take the Megabus to NY, then hitchhike or couchsurf or WWOOF down to Florida, and then try to make it over to Cali. We wanna feel a little bit more purpose, more spiritually orientated–well, I feel like we all have different reasons for going.

Friend 2: I want to float on the universe for a little while.

Friend 3: I wanna be a philanthropist. If anybody needs help with anything, help them out. Even little things, like, “Can I carry that?

*

Rhode Island IS my home. I choose to be here, I like it. 

*

I definitely feel like within my lifetime the world will be irrevocably changed and damaged by what we’re doing. Probably by the next 30 years–we won’t be able to keep up this lifestyle.

Do you think about what this hard future could look like?

I don’t know what it could look like. I don’t know if we can change our behavior to adapt to it. I like the idea that something I could do could make a difference, but I think that people who care enough about it to try to make a difference are gonna be too late.

Does it weigh on your mind?

When I think about it, yeah. I don’t know that there’s a value in thinking about it. Well, no, there is a value in thinking about it. I wanna change something but I don’t know how to do it. I don’t even know who you would talk to. … I can’t picture that world and I feel like I will have to soon. 

*

The environment itself. The water, the rise of the water. The climate shifting–just the climate changing. Is that all right — do you have what you need?

*

I go to school in Ohio and we’re doing a lot with climate change out there — mostly fracking. I’m involved with the campus climate organizations and we’ve gotten them to stop using paper cups, we’re working to stop takeout containers, we got off coal, that was a big one, onto gas–which is still bad, but it’s not coal. We’ve increased local foods. We’re part of a larger coalition of schools that have organized protests in DC–I haven’t been able to go, we always had things closer to home–and we’ve gone and said hello to the OH state senate.

*

I’m not worried about RI, I’m worried about the earth. We’re supposed to be these great beings of light … We are the potential to change the world, only a few are in control and they have lied to us to get us to serve them. We all have to serve each other. 

*

Survival. Affordable housing–I’m disabled, but because I have an arrest record–all misdemeanors except one felony, that was back in 1986–I’m a good guy, I’m an accomplished cartoonist, I’m funny, I wanna be a mentor to teeenagers and tell about what happened to me. 

*

Just take the precaution! I have a son, he’s turning three in a week and I worry about what kind of life he’s gonna have. I don’t have time to put any thought into my future, I’m too busy thinking about his future … How do you not at least care not to make it worse?

 

Today’s poem:

on a local level

all levels are local

the names of the dead are known

before we turn around

before they hit the ground

the standard we use to determine

if someone has died or

if someone is inexhaustible

 

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 6!

Weather: warm and sunny, breezy, occasional sharp gusts, cooler later

Number of people: 15 stoppers, 2 walk-bys, one bike-by

Number of hecklers: 1, kinda?

Pages of notes: 13

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 4! (all-time record)

Mentions of the Industrial Revolution: 2

People who asked (and received) permission to take a picture: 2

People who did not ask permission and took a picture anyway: 2

Business cards proffered and accepted: 1, and 1 email address

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $10.49!

 

Observations:

I wrote “We have chalk today” in sidewalk chalk in front of the booth, but no takers.

Pretty much everyone who says “I’m just one person” says it in a stupid voice, mocking a hypothetical other person–this has happened multiple times and I haven’t heard anyone say it seriously.

 

Some conversations:

[These two were friends.]

Friend 1: When I’m in the sun it burns a little more. And my friend Brittany, remember? She burned her whole back. Normally I can lie in the sun at the beach and nothing happens. And all we did was just walk over here and we got burned … Everybody says like it’s too hot or it’s too cold.

Friend 2: But everybody said the winter was cold, but I thought it was warm. It snowed a lot but it was warm. I wore a sweater the whole entire winter. I wore my North Face and it was too hot.

So when you think about these changes happening, what do you do?

Friend 2: I live it up!

Friend 1: You don’t pay too much mind. Whenever the big man upstairs decides …

*

They have standards in MA. Each company is allowed to let off a certain amount of emissions, otherwise they have to pay a fine. So like everything, there’s loopholes if you look. So some companies, they were actually buying other companies’ emissions to skate around the law. It starts at the top–they get lobbyists to throw money at the law. They’re all about the bottom line.

So with that in mind, that people who are making these decisions are all about the bottom line, as you say, what do you think people like you and me can do?

Well, I think what happens is people start getting in the mindset, “I’m just one person” [stupid voice]. But if you start thinking of millions of us doing the same thing–thinking, what can I do today to prolong the life of the earth? Start thinking that overall it can do a lot. I guess it’d be little stuff, like what they’re doing with bags at Whole Foods, I like that. They can email your receipt now, there’s less paper … We are a country of waste. People would rather throw food away than give it to the needy.

So do you keep stuff like this in mind as you go about your day?

I’m starting to. I’m not gonna bullshit and say yes.

*

I own a rainwear company. I wasn’t sure if this was flip or genuine … So much of what you hear about climate has a lot of negativity, and bike riding is a positive thing. But it’s difficult to give up your car–you’re exposed to the weather. So we wanted to make rainwear that would be accessible–not accessible pricewise, unfortunately–but we hoped it would help people make that transition to get out of the car, without saying all these things. Like, “This is cool,” not, “We’re all doomed.” I work with bike advocates and they say that it’s the same with helmets–when you talk about safety, no one’s gonna do it. You can’t get people to help you. How can you make it positive? I don’t know how you do that with climate change.

*

I have a 3 1/2 year old daughter. I worry if she’s gonna be able to breathe by the time she’s 20. I had a friend who used to work with Greenpeace, she doesn’t anymore, and she said that there are these piles of plastic, 2-3 feet deep, in the ocean, the size of Maine. Fish get caught in them, animals get caught. They’re never gonna be gone, they’re never gonna be clean. The environment bothers me more than anything now, I think that’s our most pressing need. I don’t know what to do … Capitalism won’t allow less profit … People don’t want their life turned upside down.

*

What’s something a person could do on a daily basis with their worry? Something different than I’m gonna go online and donate a lot of money, or I’m gonna go through the trash and make sure there’s no foil in it?

Do you feel like it’s weird that people aren’t marching in the streets?

*

[These two were also friends, and are friends of mine.]

Friend 1: After I read the blog, I was thinking about this, and I was thinking about it from a parent’s perspective. I can imagine that change could happen slowly and humans adapt to it in ways that will become normal. Like my daughter, maybe she’ll wear a mask when she goes outside. It happens slowly–things that weren’t factors a hundred years ago are factors now. People have flood insurance. And it’s freaky, because who knows what sacrifices will have to be made.

Do you try to imagine it?

Friend 1: I do. I try to think about history, the way that we adapt–there’s a status quo that wasn’t always the status quo.

Friend 2: There are these cultural narratives that are stories but feel like truths.

Friend 1: And they’re carried through generations.

Friend 2: Are there things you notice about [your daughter’s] life in the world that seem different to you?

Friend 1: Small things, like she knows to recycle …That’s improved, that’s a better way. She’s more aware of her impact on the world…

Friend 2: When I was in high school, part of my family’s land was taken by eminent domain for a power line. It was a big emotional thing for our family. Part of it was, “We don’t want a big unsightly thing on our land,” but part of it was “This is mine and I get to decide what happens here.” And it was a turning point for me.

Friend 1: You went from what to what?

Friend 2: From a naivete, a lack of awareness–I mean, I loved the woods, I didn’t throw garbage in them–to understanding what it meant to be the steward of the land in a directed way. Something that feels really intimate to you and you have no power over. My family couldn’t even protect it with money–they tried throwing money at it, hundreds of thousands of dollars. And that makes me feel jaded and scared: what is that kind of power, how do we traction our nice conversations into something that can make a difference?

[At this point, a third person, a stranger, came up.]

New person: I got plenty of anxiety about the climate, but I doubt humans can do anything about it. I’m a defeatist about it. I don’t know if it’s the end of mankind, but …

What about the end of other things, plants, animals…

Well, that’s been happening, the sixth big species die-off is already happening. If it’s the end of mankind, maybe that’s a way of righting itself. Conservation, energy saving, those are good to some degree, but — for example, people aren’t gonna give up their cars, everyone needs a car.

Actually, lots of people don’t have cars, and not because of the environment, because they’re broke.

Maybe, but if you live in the suburbs there’s no way to get away from it. I could take the bus, but it’s completely inconvenient. And convenience will always trump–if it means going tremendously out of my way, I won’t do it.

Friend 2: What would be the right amount of incentive?

New person: I don’t know. I’d be willing to pay higher taxes–you don’t have to do anything. But if you have to go out of your way …

What about when things change, what might you be able to do to make things easier for the people around you?

The people around me … I don’t know, it depends on the situation. As far as helping other people? If it meant having days in the summer where you don’t use electricity, to conserve electricity for the neighborhood, I might do that … I think for a lot of people it’s something out there, it’s not concrete enough–it’s abstract to a certain degree.

*

[These two were also friends.]

Friend 1: We laugh every time we see your stand.

Friend 2: I started reading about orange roughy. Orange roughy live 146 years. Now they’re endangered, and we’re still raking the sea floor for them and damaging it. And they’re still thinking about whether to protect it. But there’s cachet to having orange roughy that somebody trawled for and killed.

Friend 1: How is that the climate?

Friend 2: The ocean’s not the climate?

 

Today’s poem: 

 

A luxury good of action.

Not could you but why would you.

What the because of it does/is.

In the spring woods.

Where the canes touch the ground.

Where I would fall at their feet.

Useless cunt, naive turd, stupid whore.

How could you, why would you.

All this yelling, this brutality, feels good.

Because it feels like action.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Reflections on Week 1

Part 1: _________ Anxiety

After a week, I’ve honed and adapted my explanation for people who stop: “So the thing I’m most anxious about right now is how the changing climate is gonna affect Rhode Island, because I live here and I love it here. So I wanted to find out if other people were anxious about that, or what they’re anxious about. Is there anything you’re anxious about, that’s pressing on your mind?” This seems to be the right amount of leading — some people take that opening to offer up a fear about the years to come, and some still go with something mainly personal. Multiple people, of many ages, have come up and declared, or called out while walking or driving by, “Anxiety counseling! I need that!”, seeming to not see the word at the top of the sign.

Some of the conversations I’ve had about more intimate anxieties, especially with people my age or younger, have drawn out generous, direct responses. They say talking to me has been helpful and sound like they mean it. They ask what stresses me out, what I’m worried about. They say I’m doing a good thing. Sometimes people who have things to say about the climate agree that I’m doing a good thing, but not as frequently. 

I’ve noticed that a lot of people who stop with climate anxiety have read the same articles I have, or heard the same sound bites. Some remember them clearly, some remember them in a mixed-up way, conflating poles, for example, or remembering key words but talking about them vaguely. The two climate change deniers who’ve come by–fewer than I expected–have been surprisingly sound-bite free; they were curmudgeonly and direct, and only the first was smug. I ended up having a real conversation with the second one about how to show love. I wonder if he was as surprised as I was. I wonder if he realized that we were doing what he was talking about.

 

Part 2: During the Years of Our Idyll I Cried Constantly

I fell apart on Day 4, the day I did an extra shift for Bike to Work day. I was talking to someone who’d read a pretty specific battery of articles: one about ocean acidification in, I think, the Guardian, one about insect deforestation in the New York Times. The worst-case scenarios. The doomsayers. That was the first day I cried on the site, on my first shift; after my second shift, in bruising wind and sideways rain, I came home and cried to my husband at the table, in the kitchen, on the couch.

The following two days were beautiful, warm and bright. Yesterday I bought plants at the Southside Community Land Trust Plant Sale, for the pots and beds around my beautiful house. I hung out laundry in the backyard. Today, James and I took a picnic to Roger Williams Park. I took field notes for organism cards. We saw a ruby-throated hummingbird and we were both so excited. 

Two days in a row, I recommended to two different people a strategy for handling fear: ask yourself, what if the thing I’m afraid of actually happened? Imagine how it would go if you opted to be alone, instead of spending time with someone who treats you “like a tourist town”, as one person told me. What would happen? What would you do? And what would you do after that? Imagine your way not just through but after the thing you’re afraid of, I suggested.

With these predictions, or projections, there is no “after.” There is no “through.” Imagining the worst that could happen isn’t working for me; it is beyond imagination. Thinking about being dead used to bother me a lot more; knowing that the world would go on without me seemed like a cliche or even an insult, not like a forlorn hope, the way it sometimes does now.

What do I do with these projections, or predictions? Do I believe them? As the many people of faith who’ve spoken to me at the booth could attest, believing is different than knowing–than being sure.  I think this is part of what confuses many people about global climate change and eco-catastrophe — including, possibly, the two deniers and their ilk. Scientists and others have written that using the language of belief about climate change is misleading, because people conflate “belief” and “opinion”, making it sound like it’s up for debate. When something happens to us, we switch from believing to knowing. But for something that hasn’t happened yet, we have to believe, or disbelieve, or fear, or hope, or work. 

 

(Content note for Part 3: thoughts of suicide, which I am not going to act on, so keep your hair on)

Part 3: “I Am Just Going Outside and May Be Some Time.”

Southern Polar explorer Lawrence Oates is supposed to have used that as his exit line before stepping out into the blizzard that would kill him, hoping that without having to account for his weakness and share their provisions, his companions would make it home. 

This year, I’ve thought semi-seriously about whether the world would prefer my room to my company: my carbon-laden exhalations, the fuel I burn to stay warm and get from place to place, the nonbiodegradable garbage that despite my efforts I deposit in landfills, the wastes my body adds to the water system. The damage I do. These thoughts were idle. I have no plans to take my life; I’m not even willing to change it in ways that might be more likely to “make a difference,” whatever those ways might be, whatever that difference could be. At least two people have stood at the booth and said to me, “I wish there was something I could do.” I feel like there probably is, but I don’t know what, and without knowing, all I can think of to do is this. 

Oates’s companions died nine days later (not, apparently, before noting down his last words in a diary). Accounts of his end tend to praise his stoic heroism, even though it neither saved his companions nor comforted them. I am not a hero and I’m done being stoic. I want to talk about this. I want to talk about it with you. Here’s to Week 2. 

 

Money raised so far for Environmental Justice League of RI: $21.74

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

John Curran Reservoir being deforested and polluted by state projects

The Ocean Mist

Coastal erosion in Riverside, RI

Street runoff and drainage into the ocean at Scarborough Beach

Pollution and litter in the Woonsquatucket River and the Blackstone River at Slater Mill

Flooding in Providence, Warwick and Cranston

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 5

Weather: golden, warm, delightful

Number of people: 12 stoppers, 3 walk-bys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Number of climate change deniers: 1, but see below

Number of conspiracy theorists: 2.5

Pages of notes: 8

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 4 (all-time record)

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

People who did not ask permission and took a picture anyway: 1

People who asked me what was bothering me, or what I thought was most important: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.86

 

Observations:

Saturday seems slower–my slowest day yet, if I correct for the aggressiveness of yesterday’s weather.

Some people seem inclined to deliver a mishmash of what they’ve heard in various news or news-esque ways.

 

Some conversations: 

It’s going on everywhere. The way that the weather is changing–take a look at Alaska, there’s no more glaciers. Take a look at Texas. Not only climate but environmental too. Take a look at animals that are coming out of their habitats because we’re taking everything away from them. Just this year there were snowy owls around here, because it was so cold. Our children’s children are going to end up seeing animals only in exhibits … Those windmills they want to build off Block Island–you have to dig under the water, they’re disturbing the fish.

*

I’m worried about the environment in the big picture, but I don’t have time to think about that in my own life right now. I have to hustle what I can to take care of my child and me. Recycling and what’s happening to our earth, it does bother me, but I’m not in a stable place where I can give time–what’s that called, to volunteer right now.

*

[These two came up to the booth together.]

Her: Losing the bees, definitely.

Because they pollinate things we need?

And it would be sad just not to have them. And also, is global warming actually happening–the way it’s portrayed in the media is complex. I love animals. Polar bears aren’t having their habitat. But how do you know what’s real and what’s just propaganda.

Him: Propaganda worries me.

Her: I think we need a change of consciousness from being selfish to realizing we all live on the planet as collective people. Individual choices can make a difference. But we can’t say “Well, I’m okay, I live in California and I don’t have this, or I live in Rhode Island and I don’t have this. It’s not me so I don’t care.” Keeping people separate. But it’s a smart thing to think, “What if it happens here? Maybe we could prepare.” That gets the sensitive people and the practical people.

Him: I would like to see an end to the monetary system and transition to a resource-based economy. I think if people were aware of the origins of their clothing, their products–what price others have to pay for us to live the quality of life that we have–

What do you think a resource-based economy would do?

Do you know what it is?

Yes, but I want to know what you think it would do.

 I think it would give everybody the quality of life that they deserve to have, to prosper and be happy. I

*

What stresses you out?

I think selfishness, people thinking it’s okay to hurt other people or … places … as long as they have what they want.

My recruiter talked to me about the cameraderie in the military, and I never met as many selfish people as I met in the military. A lot of people, they get sucked in with they’re not gonna get deployed–not me. It was the cameraderie. And I never met so many selfish people.

*

Climate anxiety, that’s not real. It certainly is real, I’m feeling it right now.

But climate anxiety, that’s like climate change, that’s BS.

Well, is there anything that makes you anxious?

Life.

Come on, you gotta be more specific than that. Life, life, just life.

Everything about life? Every single aspect makes you anxious, there’s nothing that you feel good about?

Not everything. You see all this negative on the news, all this negative over here–I’m not judging I’m better than them, I might be worse, I might be equal. It’s just a crazy world. We don’t understand people’s behavior. There’s no trust no more, there’s no morals.

How should people act toward each other?

They should love each other.

How do you show love?

You show concern, compassion. You just talk to someone and you can lift them up, give a key word to someone and lift them up.

Today’s poem:

There must be a plug

in the grass or how

could anything grow

in the electric park

how could there be

any unwired ground

unbusted wilderness a missed

chance to make eye contact

why can’t the grass

evolve a plug for us

in the time it has

looking down and forgetting

my DNA humming me

like it’s stuck in my head

 

*

 

Tomorrow I will not be at the booth, but I’ll be posting a reflection on the week, a count of our donation so far for the Environmental Justice League of RI, and more!

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 4 (regular shift)

Weather: Very windy, rainy in spurts

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 1 walk-by, 1 bike-by

Number of people with whom I didn’t take detailed notes because I was holding onto the umbrella: 3

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 3

Number of people who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.45

 

Observations:

I can’t counsel and cover with the umbrella at the same time, but I can keep everything pretty covered if I lash the umbrella to the fence and kind of lean it over the booth, unless the rain is blowing completely sideways, which it was.

The paint I used for the lettering is not at all waterproof. 

 

Some conversations: 

I’ve seen a TED talk about climate change and it didn’t freak me out at all. But in the past month when I saw President Obama tweet about it, it freaked me out — I ignore it, I haven’t been taking it seriously. I saw the thing about your booth in the Phoenix and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to pay closer attention.

So now that you’re thinking about it, how are you thinking about it?

Two things about me: I’m a Christian and I have a morbid sense of humor. So one part of me, the Christian side, says–because I use the Bible as a life guide–this has happened before on the planet and it’s predicted that it’s going to happen again. It’s not in our control, and by “it” I mean the end, destruction. And then with the morbid sense of humor, comedians like Adam Corolla and Louis CK, comedy has been a big relief–laughing about it, seeing the dark side in all of us … My dad and his friends, they’re not political or intellectual, and they’ll say stuff like, “Don’t move to Miami, it’s gonna be underwater.” They don’t call it climate change, they know it’s real in their subconscious … One thing that stood out from the TED talk, talking about how to not sound melodramatic–so my career is in public and community relations, and so my job is how to take big, melodramatic things and turn them into sound bites. And in this TED talk, he was saying how the ocean is going to release carbon dioxide like a Coke–and there are health-conscious folks who won’t even drink a Coke. So you make it real, you put it in their everyday reality. 

*

Traditionally the solution to the “tragedy of the commons” is to privatize it, so to have the land be privately owned and the owner protects it, but you can’t privatize the earth. And the other way is to have more structure, more organization. We were studying the problem of care for the elderly, you know, as the baby boomers get older, and we were like, “So since we know this, why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?” and our professor was like, “Basically, people don’t care until it’s too late.” So all the arguments that are like, “What kind of world will your grandchildren live in?”, people don’t care.

*

I’m not that anxious about the climate.

What are you anxious about?

North Korea. That’s scary to me–making people think you’re a god … But with the climate, that’s gonna be hard to stop, with China. 

[This person and I also talked a bit about “duck and cover” during the Cold War, and it ended up being a good conversation, but too wet to write down.]

 

Today’s poem: 

I don’t see how anyone can  be anything but harmed. I don’t see how anybody can be anything but silent. I don’t see how anyone can be anything but on the ground. When I hear about these kinds of changes happening already I am stricken. When I turn on my computer in the morning I am stricken. When I come to the late middle of the good part of my life. When no one will all admit it. I can’t see how anyone would all. I can’t become nothing yet. I don’t walk up to anyone. I don’t walk up and down all day. I can make my own blood boil. I can’t say I anymore. Or I am all I can say. Or I am feeling forsaken. Or you should stop destroying everything because it’s making me cry. 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Bike to Work Day

DAY 4, 5/16: Morning shift with Bike to Work Day

Weather: Gray, humid, cool, very windy.

Number of people: 13 stoppers, 3 walk-bys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Number of climate deniers: 1

Pages of notes: 7

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

Number of people who asked (and received) permission to take a picture: 1

Number of people who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $3.01

 

Observations:

I got my first denier today, but he didn’t make me feel as bad as the people who recognize the direness of climate change!

The booth is … not good in the wind. Some sort of redesign may be indicated.

Today was the first day I cried on my shift.

 

Some conversations:

 

Guy 1: I get anxiety because I think I’m gonna have anxiety. There’s people that do need medicine, but–

Guy 2: Riverside’s gonna be under the water. That whole beach is getting sucked into the bay. It’s the effect of global warming.

Guy 1 [gets organism card]: Oh, weeping willow! We got a lot of those in Riverside.

*

I can’t go to the beach without–I can’t walk by trash without picking it up. No matter where I go, I have to clean the whole street. I keep my car in Burrillville at my parents’ because it’s such a pain to drive and park here, I haven’t used it in three months. I work at [a men’s clothing store] and I got together with the guys I work with–suits come in these boxes and they were just throwing them away, and then when we had to ship something we had to use a new box. Now we use a new sticker on an old box. The company doesn’t care about the ecology, but we’re saving them a lot of money. 

*

On the news, the ozone layer, all the chemicals from the buildings are breaking it down. And you can definitely feel the seasons are changing. And people are getting sick. It’s not just here, it’s all around the world.

*

We had a farm in Philadelphia, but we moved up here because we figured in 20 years it’s going to be colder up here. We don’t own a car–I feel like we lose a lot socially but that’s the one big thing we do. But no matter what you do, the weather’s gonna pick anybody. It’s not going to spare the communities that do the most. Everybody’s worried but nobody’s pissed off. I think because we’re not desperate enough, we’re still comfortable. And we’re the largest source of the reason it’s happening. It’s still a question up in the air in the media–they say one out of four Americans don’t believe in climate change instead of saying three out of four do … I don’t think we have the infrastructure for what new world might happen. So much relies on fossil fuels and electricity. Clean water, sewage — if people have a plan, they’re not making it transparent to the layperson. 

*

Him: I’m worried about her health, she doesn’t get out a lot

Her: You never wanna leave the house! Don’t blame me! I guess I’m kinda worried about … this is my worry session, take a walk. [He starts to walk.] Don’t leave me!

You wanna write it?

[She writes, “I’m worried about getting depressed again.”]

*

The state of RI and the city are super into subsidizing cars, parking garages; they have these half-baked plans for a bike lane combined with a bus lane, I call it the leper lane for people who aren’t in a car. These half-baked people–they drive to work every day and they’re making policy. And the oceans are gonna acidify and kill everything.

You laugh when you say that, like it’s a joke, but do you believe it? Or what?

I believe it. I go between it’s so bad I don’t even know if I can do anything about this, and trying to put enough blinders on to do what I can. Insects and parasites moving but trees can’t move fast enough, so whole forests are just dying. We’re just done, can’t breathe. When I’m optimistic I hope people will be forced to change their ways, but when I’m pessimistic I think people with money will just keep going and people without money will be the ones who have the problems, maybe die … I sort of think the world will move on, but I don’t know if people will.

*

Worried about only having summer, only having winter — worried about the animals, it starts killing plants, then that kills the animals … The climate affects everything. Environment means everything … I wish there was something I could do.

What do you think people can do?

You have to go back in a time tunnel to the ’60s and ’70s. People banding together as a collective. In order to change something, you have to have numbers. Weekly trips to DC, people get together to buy tickets — I would be there in a heartbeat. One thing I’m good at is getting people together. Call me if you wanna try to get some people together. 

*

Check back later for notes from my normal shift and today’s poem!

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 3

Weather: Gray, humid, cool.

Number of people: 14 stoppers, 6 walk-bys, 2 drive-bys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 12

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

Number of people who asked (and received) permission to take a picture: 1

Business cards proffered and accepted: 1

Flyers for other events proffered and accepted: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $4.44

 

Observations: 

Groups of high school friends are 100% beautiful.

When someone who looks white and affluent walks by without stopping, I catch myself thinking you have no excuse.

At 4:36, four people rolled by on Segways.

 

Some conversations: 

[I could barely hear this person, who stood back, tucked inside their hoodie, and gave me a dollar.]

It’s getting harder and harder / hotter and hotter.

It’s gonna be more than we / I can bear.

*

[A woman and her two sons came up to the booth.]

Her: The economy. Jobs. I’m going to Florida because I’m living in a shelter here. My mom lives down there.

Do you get along?

Her: Yeah, as long as I can find a job down there —

[The boys are looking through the organism cards.]

Boy 2: I don’t like that one.

[I hand him the woodchuck.] Is this one good? 

Yeah. What is this? Can I have this pencil? [goes to take the dollar out of the donation jar.]

Boy 1: Do you have any good ones? Can I look at these? Do you have any sharks?

How do you feel about a spider? 

Boy 1: Yeah, a spider.

Boy 2: Do you have any other spiders?

*

[This person came by two days ago and is back.]

Did you wanna know what I’m anxious about with the environment or what I’m anxious about in my life?

Both.

I’m very concerned about the environment. I think people are ruining everything, and not really all people. I think it’s capitalists. I’m worried that my son’s not gonna have clean water.

[She gave me a flyer for a Coalition to Defend Public Education event on May 29th, 5-7 at the Elmwood Community Center.]

*

I was just reading in the paper, the ticks and Lyme disease is gonna double because of the cold winter. It was 732 and now it’s over 1400. 

*

I’m worried about the food, food production. I’m worried about extreme temperatures and flooding. I’m worried that the people who seem to have the power to make these decisions don’t. I’m worried that it’s too late to institute changes that will halt the state that we’re in, melting ice caps–how anyone can say nothing’s going on, after what happened in New York … I’m worried about places like Mumbai, where there are millions and millions of people. It’s paralyzing. The only thing I feel like I can do is be an example–the way I live is the only thing I can do to effect any kind of change. Nagging doesn’t help. I feel more efficacy when I do things that help a little bit. Simple recycling of things–trying to live a little lighter where I can. Talking to people about it that seem open to it, without being preachy and frightening. The only power we have is the way we respond to things–listening to other people, responding in a way that’s as gentle as possible. Not everyone is as blessed as I am. I have no responsibilities, I don’t have to worry about anyone else, and not everyone can do that … My I propose or just suggest that you not be too hard on yourself. You don’t need to carry it. You can share it with other people. All these things add up. When the sadness and the panic and whatever are overwhelming, look at the things you do have control over. It’s not good to be knocked over by a tidal wave of misery. I feel much more positive now than I did 10-12 years ago. What happens in life, in the world, all I can control is how I respond. I can’t be affected by all these other people’s stuff.

What if we were affected by other people’s stuff?

How much do you want to try to balance that? Do I pick up other people’s trash? Sometimes I do. All of these little decisions–I’m only one person and there are giant corporations and corrupt governments that are running the show. I join organizations, I give money to organizations. I vote. I’m not gonna take anyone on verbally unless they’re physically harming another person. Intention is everything, I think that’s kind of the way I’m rolling. I spent a lot of time just feeling bereft–you can’t really help if you’re feeling such despair. 

*

I’m trying to get a room in a sober house. What can you do when you’re not safe, when you’re in a place that’s not safe, like Kennedy Plaza, and you can’t get a place to sleep?

[Other woman who’s talking to me: Did they give you a time frame?]

No, they just said there’s a waiting list, kick rocks, kid.

*

A big wave, a tsunami. 

*

Probably the water goes inside of Rhode Island, you know?

*

I have to walk three miles each way to pick up my daughter, and I worry about getting hit by a car. I worry about student loan debt, I worry about work-life balance. It’s hard because I feel like I do good work, but then I have other things that need me.

*

I work in a boatyard. We’ve seen some damage from storms. But I know some rich people who live on Nantucket and they moved their house back 150 feet because in 10-15 years the house is gonna be in the water. All these people with waterfront property–in 10 years, who knows if the boatyard’s gonna be above water. Where’s the water all gonna go? The state’s not gonna help, the federal government’s not gonna help–120 employees, they’re not gonna do anything for that. There’s definitely something happening. The colder weather doesn’t mean anything.

*

I lost my place to live, so I’m homeless, and my girlfriend broke up with me.I’ve been clean for 95 days.

Is there anybody you can ask to stay with?

Nobody trusts me anymore because of my heroin addiction. I’m looking at jail time, I don’t want to go to jail but I’m looking at jail time because of some things I did … So what is this?

So the thing I’m worried about most is what climate change is gonna do to Rhode Island, because I live here and I love it here. So I wanted to find out if other people are worried about that, or what are other people in Rhode Island worried about.

80% of the summer days are humid now because of fluctuations in climate. If you raise the ocean a single inch it can kill thousands of species. The John Curran Reservation, you know that? I grew up in those woods. Every year it’s more garbage, more pollution, deforestation. They wanna build more cell phone towers. What I hate the most is people who say, “What is me littering gonna do?” People who say, “The earth and everything are gonna be here in my lifetime, fuck everybody else.” If you and every other person made the difference, it would make a difference. 

 

Today’s poem:

I want each person who stops to tell me how I can become something else, something that will flow like nourishment into the veins of dying leaves and their world. I want to become a transfusion, to remove all my structure and reduce to my nutrients and water. I want someone to tell me the secret of this, someone with wisdom locked in them, maybe something that isn’t even wisdom for them, but will unlock my marrow and unknit my sinews, something that will precipitate the heavy metals to the bottom, making me useful, used, undone.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 2

Weather: sunny, slight breeze, delightful; wind picked up later

Number of people:

Number of hecklers: 0!

Number of close-talkers: 1

Pages of notes: 10

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

Number of people who asked (and received) permission to take a picture: 4

Number of people who recognized and mentioned the Peanuts reference: 3

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.98. Some days you get the bear, some days the bear doesn’t have any change.

Observations:

The people I think will stop don’t always stop. On the other hand, the people I’m sure won’t stop do not, in fact, stop.

A male pigeon following another pigeon intently and puffing himself out emphatically stopped to pick at a crumb for a second, then went back to the pursuit. The other pigeon remained unimpressed.

I had a very long conversation that I didn’t transcribe, but that I’ll probably address in a separate post.

Man to duck: You’re gonna fill up on bread and die. It’s not a good thing.

 

Some conversations:

 

Climate change is worrisome. Overall, that people don’t take things like that seriously, they don’t think it’s gonna happen in their lifetime … What are you gonna do if someone says Oh, climate change, I don’t believe in that, and you get defensive?

I actually already decided about that–I’m just gonna ask, What’s worrying you the most, then, if it’s not that?

And if they say, Well, you shouldn’t be worried about it?

I guess I’ll just say that we’re not going to agree.**

 I think it’s a good thing–bringing awareness right here to our faces.

 

**Upon reflection, I don’t think this would be a good response. 

*

Do you do anxiety for people or just climate? I did a lot of bad things and now I’m trying to do everything right.

*

I’ve been having these conversations with a lot of people about evil–basically like Satan. Partly it could be because of the harsh winter, but I’ve been hearing it from people in other places–people coming to the realization that there’s some really bad stuff in the world. People feeling like it can’t happen to them because they’re so positive and good. Specifically this one friend who feels like her soul was ripped out of her–she thinks it was Satan who did that to her, through this person, and she blames herself for not trusting her instincts and letting him lead her down the wrong path.

What do you say when she says these things, or do you mostly listen?

I mostly listen. But when she says ridiculous things like she regrets everything in her life, I say that’s ridiculous. I tell her this is temporary, she’s not gonna always feel this way. She is a person, and she does exist. … . I said, once you’re done hibernating, once you’re done sitting on your mom’s couch and staring at the wall, come here, we’ll find you a place. Don’t deny how you feel. . If you’re sad, you should just let yourself be sad as long as you need. But when has it been long enough? 

*

I think it’s been a long time coming, and I blame mankind pretty much for a lot of it. All these wires under the ground and cell phones. But part of it is a natural progression of life and evolution. 

What do you think people will need to do to live in the changed world?

I don’t think people should rebuild. I grew up on the beach in Southern New Jersey, and we built dunes, but the fight to keep building is too much money, too much resources. I think coastal adaptation is important. I think the president said something too late. I don’t think anybody knows what to do. The other thing is the intense heat and storms that are coming … we need to chill out, especially with technology.

*

[This person also came by yesterday.]

How’s it going today? Any good responses? [sees skunk organism card] Oh, I love skunks! 

Me too! If you love them, you should take it. 

I will. I was thinking I’d like to send one of these to my cousin, she’s housebound with a chronic illness in Florida. I’ll send her the fish, and I’ll keep the skunk.

*

My anxiety is too big to fit on the map. Homelessness. I’m trying to get my tooth pulled. I been clean for three years, I wanted to relapse last night, the pain was so bad.

 

Today’s poem:

Stasis is data

when no one said

I don’t want to believe

it believe me I’d

rather have ecology

believe in me long

enough to be

long after me

a matter not of feeling

to keep coming back

to each spring

like a site