Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 19

Weather: Warm and pleasant, cloudy with blue sky patches; looked and felt like it might rain, but didn’t

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 1 walk-by

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

People who asked for, and received, permission to take a picture: 1

Fistbumps offered and received: 1

People who wanted a reenactment of the fistbump for a picture: 1

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 3, roughly

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $8.25



The end-in-sight effect is very strong. I feel more impatient and tired than at the beginning or middle.

Themes of the day: Pawtucket, climate change profiteers, people living in island nations vulnerable to sea level rise.


Some conversations: 

This tree’s immaculate, it’s immaculate, it’s so sexy. I’m a tree hugger from way back. 


I have two things. There’s not enough meal sites for the hungry in Pawtucket. There’s only one, and it’s open six days a week but it’s only open for a very short time, and people get utrned away. And the other thing is ticketing and arresting people who ask for money on the street. I’m a recovering addict, and I’m attempting advocacy for people who are addicts, recovering or not. I want to be a voice for those who are often reluctant to use their voice, reluctant to advocate for themselves.


[These two met at the booth and discovered that someone close to each of them died recently.]

Her: I don’t know who I am anymore. When my mother died, I went into shock. I see people I knew before she died, I’m like, I don’t know you. It’s a process.

Him: It’s new to me.

[Later, she spoke more to me about her mom’s death.]

Five and a half years I took care of her, all by myself. My mother was healthy, so when I see these things about “don’t eat this and you won’t get cancer,” that’s bullshit. I don’t know anybody that ate better than her. You see somebody weighs over 200 pounds go down to 100, your world just crashes.

Do you have anybody now to help you or anybody you can go to?

I have five kids, but when my mother died, they all went crazy, ’cause she helped to raise them. The whole family was destroyed over this. With everything you see in movies and shows and stuff, death is supposed to bring a family together, but it tore my family apart.


Just overall society. Like the way people go about treating each other — the lack of common courtesy and the acknowledgement of each other’s views and feelings.


[This group, of 2 partners and 2 friends, came up together.]

Partner 1: it seems like every few years there’s some very popular happy song, or something that insists we not worry. The culture doesn’t provide us with an opportunity or a venue or a languae for what it means to be afraid. Outside of church, which provides an opiate, or psychoanalysis–and then we have these people who are licensed to respond to anxiety with firearms. It has to do with language and availability. What’s mainly available is this consolatory or redemptive discourse, or silence. In the midst of the AIDS crisis this was very much on our minds, and even now, with soldiers who are killed, we don’t get to see their bodies. 

Partner 2: I guess I have anxiety about the fantasy of being able to reach people in power. They’ve been reached, but they don’t have incentive, or motivation, to change what they’re doing. 

Friend 1: People think global warming means warming generally, not just greater severity. But what I noticed this year is that a lot of things came into flower, popped up, then blackened and died. I used to have nightmares about that, that spring had come but everything had blackened and died. 

Do you imagine the future?

Partner 2: The future is here. I don’t have to imagine it. There are extreme environmental events right now that are happening to people I know. The flood in Boulder — cataclysmic. Nothing like that had happened during my lifetime. I think in terms of water movement, flood water, estuarial water, and what I imagine is a worsening and a picking up of tempo. It happens gradually — though less gradually — and people adapt to it. It’s not noticeable enough.

How do you imagine helping other people, sustaining other people?

Partner 2: That’s both a really specific and a really abstract question.

Partner 1: Well, on a really concrete level we would shelter people if we had to. [Hugs Friend 2.] We have a lot of room.

Partner 2: It assumes we’ll be the ones who have the shelter.

Friend 2: Well, it’s fair to assume we’ll be more likely to have it than some other people.

Partner 1: That’s true. People who are on the coast, who are on the floodplain —

Friend 2: I was thinking more of people in island nations. And I’m thinking about California. … My building would probably be fucked, but I’m on the 3rd floor. I’ll have to go in and out through the window.

Partner 2: It shouldn’t be about individuals sharing what they have, it should be about changing structures so that nobody has to rely on somebody else’s goodwill.


I have to talk about it? Auuugh! I just wanna shred things! I think the most impending one seems to be that there are a lot of people and places that could quickly be gone and nobody seems to give a shit about that. Like is this just another form of watching people die because they’re different from you. What island cultures will be gone? and people are just like, “Yup, that’s the deal.” And the other thing is seeing people talking enthusiastically about the profits to be made from water. Like, “How can we monetize this? Here’s the opportunities in this.”

What do you think people can do to sustain each other in that tough time?

Well, I feel like when people are confronted with people who are tangible, they come through. It’s when people are more distant, more dehumanized … like how things went down in Sandy, it wasn’t perfect, a lot went wrong, but people looked out for each other. 


One of the first things that comes to mind is how many issues there are. I feel so small in the whole thing that even if I work on something, how far does it go? … My mind keeps going back to the bees and their role being taken out of the equation. Nature is resilient, but if man keeps taking things away — does my little flower garden help the bees at all? Do these little steps make a difference? Because I’m one person. Does me paying attention to these little things help? I feel like it has to, like it’s slowing the inevitable maybe? I feel like I help people in the work I do on a daily basis, but what about spending more time on these larger things? All the things we do are so reactionary. You need to handle the garbage at the level of design, you need to answer all these questions at the beginning. I feel like I pay attention to what’s going on, but I don’t know where to begin. There are so many parts of the system that need attention — where would it be smartest to start? … Are you gonna gather folks for this conversation? Staying motivated to do things is hard, but I need to get it out beyond my own borders. 


Today’s poem:


What counts

what counts us down

what yarn we spin

what tongue we tie

feeling for the end

in our dreams and waking

waiting for the shift

to swell us out

from under and

to take us down

at once a real day

and a blank day

carroted and stuck

and studded with stars

and taste buds and papillae

and feelings and feelers




6 thoughts on “Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 19

  1. In1964 in 2nd grade science we learned about greenhouse gasses and how they would damage the earth’s atmosphere. I found this to be very frightening and was only comforted by the fact that it could be avoided by limiting and/or reducing the use of fossil fuels. My young self felt confident that adults in charge would do the right thing to protect the earth. That was what adults are suppose to do . But, they didn’t.
    How are children today comforted about their earth being damaged ? Can they have hope that the adults with power will do the right thing or do they know about the power of lobbyist ?

    • Hi Nora,

      Your questions are powerful and important, and I don’t have good answers for them.

      I do think it’s important for kids to understand why/how people, including grownups, do cruel or careless things, because it can help them understand that being kind or generous or fair is a choice they have to make, that there’s a difference between “the right thing” and “what I happen to feel like doing right this second, like twisting my brother’s ear.” (This matters even more, obviously, when they grow up and their actions have adult-size stakes.)

      What’s wild to me is that you were learning about this in 1964. The destructive power of greenhouse gases was common enough knowledge to be taught in 2nd grade science 50 years ago. I don’t think I knew that before.

      Thanks so much for reading and responding. Sending love to you.

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