Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 18

Weather: Very rainy, tapering off toward the end of the shift

Number of people: 4 stoppers, 6 walk-bys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Number of people who commented on the rain: 4

Pages of notes: 6, but mostly poems / reflections

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: $0.60

 

Observations:

The only thing funnier than a pigeon trying to sexually impress another pigeon is a wet pigeon trying to sexually impress another pigeon.

Theme of the day besides the rain: woodpeckers.

 

Some conversations: 

I’m a machinist. Calipers, micrometers, stuff with that. I thought Rhode Island would be a manufacturing state forever, I never thought all these jobs would leave. That’s why my parents came here from Portugal. They would put food on the table, they had a house. They passed away, my dad passed 14 years ago and my mom 8 years ago.

You mentioned a couple ways other people have helped you — how do you help other people?

I help with soup kitchens when I go there. I used to volunteer at a church, I don’t go there anymore, I left for personal reasons. Anything like that, like you feel like you’re connecting with people — it’s tough when it falls apart, especially if you feel manipulated. I don’t have anything like that right now. I tried a bunch of churches, but either you connect or you don’t connect.

*

What are you working on, what’s that one? [I show him the pileated woodpecker card.] Do you know why woodpeckers peck? One, because it’s mating season, and two, because they know that there’s these worm things inside the tree. The wildest thing — I saw an American bald eagle near Pilgrim High School. It was early in the morning, and he was going out to get his breakfast. He had an unfortunate young squirrel, stupid squirrel, in his talons, and I watched where he went — he went up into a pine tree and had his breakfast. I walked the dog by there the other day and all he left was the tail … There’s a population of herons in East Providence. Somebody I guess built them these poles and something they can make a nest on, and they come back year after year.

*

[These two came up together; I gave them the pileated woodpecker card.

Her: I hate these things! When I grew up in East Greenwich, they would always be outside my window, [makes woodpecker sound effect].

Him: Yeah but she almost had a panic attack the other day when we were down here. There were these birds that were beating up this other bird, and like trying to have sex with it and stuff and it looked like it had a broken leg, and she was freaking out. I called Animal Control and they said Animal Control don’t come for pigeons. Just like the cops don’t come to the ghetto.

 

Today’s poem:

 

The people who go

don’t come back

the things and ways

of going and taking

so immersed you thought

another day would be

available, just haunted

finding at a loss

the same site strained

though emboldened by

a man and two boys taking

beech tree shelter

you see them a drain

and yourself a drain

in the green weather

as brightened as ever

a wet leaf was

the downward wash

of all detritus

wanting what you want

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 17

Weather: Gray and muggy

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 1 walk-by

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

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

People who performed their songs for me: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.73

 

Observations:

Today was the first day I felt — not exactly scared, but like discretion was the better part of valor.

People tend to lump GMOs in the “environment” category I mentioned yesterday, with one notable exception, who pointed out that they might present an opportunity to feed a lot more people. Note that this is absolutely not the hill I want to die on — I don’t know enough about it. My point is that to me it’s a debate, something I would need to learn more about, and that made me wonder how many people are genuinely in that spot (not falsely in that spot for political expediency) about global warming itself.

Other themes today: the harsh winter, people being directly responsible for animals.

Some conversations: 

We had an unusually cold winter. The homeless problem was worse than ever — people being on the street. The state was doing a good job of giving out food and clothes. Jobs were down, they’re up now for summertime, but they’ll go back down again. RIPTA’s gone up again — it used to be 10 cents for a transfer, now it’s 50 cents. There should be some type of bracelet, I know you can get the 10 ride cards and the 15 ride cards, but there should be two free transfers or something like that, ’cause say it’s late at night and the last bus is here and you only have $1.50 and you need a dollar. You’re stuck, you could be stuck for 7 hours, especially if you have to go to Newport or something. 

*

Since having him [indicates baby], I’ve thought about the world that’s gonna outlive me. I’ve been reading all these science fiction dystopian novels, like Oryx and Crake, and there’s all this genetically modified organism stuff we’re flirting with now, and in the books that leads to chaos in individual and environmental health. And in all of these books New York, Boston, other big cities are underwater, people can’t go out in the middle of the day because it’s too hot — and they’re set not that far in the future … 80 years from now is probably beyond my scope, but he’ll still be alive, hopefully — and what are his kids gonna see? Kids put it in a longer frame. … [My husband] comes at it from a different political angle than I do, a sort of Libertarian direction. He has this survivalist edge. I put my foot down about having a gun in the house, but he’s got a water purification system, he bought gold, he bought seed starters — things he thinks will be good in these times of collapse. And I’m thinking, “Oh, the water purification system will be good for camping, the seed starters will be good for gardening.” But because of him I’ve started thinking, what would we do if there was this crazy collapse? I’ve sort of taken stock of: What would my skills be? We make beer and wine, we could trade those with people, and I’m not a big gardener but I know how to grow things. I grow tomatoes every year. Just thinking what things we could do to sustain or be part of some sort of localized trade.

Do you ever do stuff like that now? Like, do you ever trade the beer you brew?

I have done something like that. I baked a bunch of bread for someone I was taking laughter therapy classes with. And I’ve traded public speaking lessons for stuff, though I don’t know how much demand for that there’ll be in the dystopian future. And we’ve traded beer with a friend of ours who roasts coffee, not out of necessity but just like, “Hey, have some of this …” Being aware of the community around you, like, I’ll look out for my neighbor and if something’s awry, I’ll tell them so they can do the same for me.

*

Uncertainties about next year–a new city, a new job, housing. I’m anxious, but it’s exciting. I’m hoping to work in some kind of nonprofit context — my work with refugee communities here has been really important to me. Maybe a caseworker? 

*

If they could just shut down all the coal plans in the country this year — I mean, I know people would lose a lot of power. But like, Germany generates 4 times as much solar as us, and they’re a cloudy country. Why don’t we just take all of Nebraska and make it one big solar panel? I don’t really mean that, but little ones here and there, like every time you build a new house it has to have solar panels. And we’re blessed with many rivers. I know they do have some hydroelectric power. They have a pool of energy, right? If there’s more than they use, they can put it back into the grid …

[He points out the mallards that hang out in the park, and we look at them together.]

I don’t feed pigeons, I don’t feed sparrows, they’re invaders, right? From England? They drive away bluebirds, you almost never see a bluebird around here anymore. I was in a shelter once in Cranston and there were all kinds of animals there. Groundhogs, the fattest squirrel, a lot of sparrows. There are a lot of hawks near there. I saw a red-tailed hawk right outside my window, he was looking at himself in the window. 

*

My parents. My dad is 100 years old, we almost lost him 3 times. My mom is not too good either, she’s 94. They’re in a nursing home in Providence. I come from another country — Puerto Rico — and people there respect their mother and father. Here, I see kids talk back to their mother, hitting their father. In Puerto Rico that would never happen.

*

Something that I think about a lot is that — I think about larger systemic stuff too and I don’t mean to make it about me — I’ve found a community here that’s the most important thing I’ve ever had, and I feel so rooted. I want to keep living here, and I feel like I will — it would take something catastrophic to drive me out. But 3/4 of the weather here makes me miserable and holds me back from doing things I should be doing. I come from a place that’s mild, and the seasons I love are spring and fall, and I feel like those last two weeks each. Then either it’s brutally cold or wearing clothes is miserable, and I don’t want to leave the house. I’m kind of prone to hanging out by myself in my room anyway, and that’s not good for me. I need to be around people. I’ve been doing better with that, but that’s partly because the weather has been kind of a pleasant medium, and I know that’s not going to last. I thought I was doing well with winter, getting tougher, but then this last winter was so harsh.

*

Today’s poem:

 

I grow in the ground

I am written down

I find myself rooted

I’m bearded and etched

I’ve secreted my shell

some of these things are true

I rot a bird

I listen to music

I wear myself down

I scare myself out

some of these things are true

I’m a three piece suit

I make irritant oil

I’m a gift and a theft

some of these things are true

my dander is up

my voice is rough

some of these things are true

some of these things are true

 

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 16

Weather: Sunny, almost hot, breezy and cooling off later

Number of people: 16 stoppers, 3 walk-bys, 2 bike-bys

Number of dogs: 2, Dusty and Lulu

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 5 or 6, a banner day

People who asked (and received) permission to take a picture: 3

People who took a picture without asking: 2

People who mentioned the ProJo article: 2

People who mentioned the Phoenix article: 1

Media recommended to me: Gasland; The End of Suburbia; Flow; 99% Invisible

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $6.56

 

Observations: 

People often don’t distinguish between climate and environment, which, yes and no. (More about this later in the week, probably.)

Other themes of the day: public transit and getting from place to place; government control and conspiracy; putting the weight of climate anxiety on kids.

Put up booth mainly one-handed–other hand holding a Like No Udder vanilla soft-serve cone.

 

Some conversations:

[These two came up together.]

Him: I was talking to some of the folks at Clean Water Action and they told me something I didn’t know, that distressed me, which is that the Bush administration gutted the Clean Water Act and their campaign is to restore some of its protections. How could Congress approve that? How could the Democrats let that go by? And another thing, I was reading the news every day during that time, and it was not covered. It was a completely silent action.

Her: I worry about gas prices going up, that this suburban lifestyle we’ve been living —

Him: — is unsustainable.

Her: Is unsustainable. We need to change our way of living. We should consider public transit — though sometimes you do need a car. And the other thing I’m anxious about is the water problem.

*

You don’t wanna die but you don’t wanna see what’s coming. At this point I’m more like, I’m not gonna worry about that, I’m just gonna go home and feed my cat. I’m not at the stage of not buying green bananas — you know that expression? I’m still buying green bananas. I was reading all the EcoWatch articles, Food and Water Action, MoveOn. My anxiety was off the charts. I wanted to do something. Then I found out about Mercy Ecology — have you heard of them? They do environmental education and eco-spirituality. They’re all retired nuns — well, they’re still nuns, but they’re in their 70s and 80s. I went to Catholic school, I know about that nun with the habit and the ruler, but they’re not like that. They’re out in the garden, with their hands in the dirt. I’m redoing their website, so they can reach more people. 

*

I don’t have any new anxieties since last time.

*

We changed everything in the house to energy-saving. The car that I drive is half-and-half–hybrid.

What made you make those changes?

So much stuff that’s happening around the environment, even sickness. I’m very sensitive, it affects me, and it affects humanity too — how people think and react. 

*

I’m also a scuba diver, and I’ve seen those things, those plastic things–

Like for cans?

Yeah, wrapped around the neck of turtles. And I’ve taken them off them. But with fish, they get caught in the, the gills. It’s despicable. [Sees organism cards with pickerel and bluegill on them.] Oh, I’ve seen these! 

*

What bothers me about the climate is that people don’t throw their trash in the cans. They just go throw it on the ground.

Why do you think that is?

They don’t wanna take the time to throw it in the garbage can.

Is that what you think it is, a time thing, like it’s too much work to find a trash can?

Maybe there’s not trash cans where they are? I’m gonna tell my daughter about you, she’ll love this. Hopefully she will be a good advocate. That’s what I hope. 

*

I’m a little afraid of becoming a junior [in college]. I’m not afraid to grow up, but I don’t know what the future holds for me … I was just reading an article about how people use “climate change” versus “global warming”, how global warming is scarier. 

*

The government’s controlling the weather. If you know how nature works, it usually has seasons, and it didn’t this year. There were no April showers, May had all the showers. And the birds left in March, they know how it’s supposed to be. It doesn’t add up to me. The way animals are behaving — and the trees and stuff, we’re not gonna have oxygen to breathe.

*

[Both of these people know me, but didn’t know each other before.]

 

Person 1: Getting hit by cars on my bike. I almost get hit every day. Cars and potholes. And you know, in the first decades of cars, people were against them. I was just listening to this podcast at 99% Invisible about anti-car activism in the ’20s. The roads had been slow up to that point, and kids would run into the street. And these pamphlets were like, “Do mothers have to sacrifice our children to the motorcar?”

Person 2: I was just reading about how after World War II, the government could have chosen to support public transit or cars, and they chose cars. And Firestone bought up all these railway tracks and tore them out.

Person 1: Right, GM and Firestone bought up railway tracks and streetcar tracks and shut them down. That’s why the G train in Brooklyn is the way it is — there used to be streetcars [that went other places people needed to go]. LA sprawl was enabled by streetcars.

Person 2: And now a lot of cities are trying to get it back.

Person 1: Right, and they’re going to have to spend millions of dollars. 

*

[Person 1 in the conversation above is Person 2 in the conversation below. Sorry about that.]

 

Person 1: I heard a Republican minister was telling his congregation that global warming was the sign of the Second Coming of Christ.

Person 2: Like all things being made new —

Person 1: — Instead of all things being burned to a crisp. Impending glory instead of impending doom. I think the kids are the ones who really feel it. In schools, they’re exhorting kids to save the earth.

Person 2: Oh yeah, I remember — did you have that book in school, 50 Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth? It was like, “Turn the water off when you brush your teeth,” and that’s good, but it’s not gonna save the earth.

Person 1: That’s too much.  Don’t put that on them, saving the earth. Just teach them how to live right, to do the right thing because it’s right.

 

Today’s poem: 

Hope comes later locked

into the body of someone

younger like an achievement

you push it forward

your job is making

their I mean mine

I have always said

I’m sending them out

it isn’t enough

a fragment of hope

lodged in each chest

wall like shrapnel to do

something about later

the children of later

the people of

the future locked in

a molecular chain

as long as the whirlwind

and bound to itself

the need we breathe

the need we give birth

I’m thinking about it

I’m still thinking about it

here comes the lock

locking you to the future

I mean I mind

I have always said

this is a job

for someone else

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Reflections on Week 3

Part 1: Mutual Aid and Human Nature

            Early this week, a man who stopped at the booth spoke to me eagerly and passionately about the rescue of blueback herring in RI, with which he’s been involved for several years. “There’s this dam that they can’t get over,” he told me, “and we scoop them out and bring them up above the dam so they can get into the 10 Mile River and the spawning grounds above that. The Omega Pond dam is over a hundred years old, and they still come back every year to spawn, during the month of April — toward the end of March, the beginning of April, we start looking out for them. I work two jobs, and I still make time to do this. One guy’s been doing it for 40 years.” Another man had come up to the booth while the first was talking to me, and he said something like, “It weeds out the weak ones”* –which, considering that humans actually lift the fish up over the falls in laundry baskets, seemed like a loose statement–and began to make some kind of analogy to the people he saw around him in Kennedy Plaza.

            “Or,” I said when I could, “you could look at it like, the herring get to survive because another species helps them.”

            “But who’s gonna help us?” he said. And I said, realizing it as I said it, “We’re already being helped. The trees help us breathe, the water helps control our temperatures, plants and animals help us eat, birds help us not get totally destroyed by insects.”

            I hastened to add that I didn’t mean I thought they were doing it on purpose, or for us. It would be easy for this perception to go down an 18th/19th-century Christian road of humans as the pinnacle and purpose of creation, when the reality I’m describing is the opposite: we are wholly interdependent, wholly dwelling in ecologies, even ecologies we’ve disrupted. A dirty, messy house is still a house. And the most Ayn Randian, Rand Paulian, rugged individualist is wholly dependent in a thousand ways on  the respiration cycles of trees, on the reproductive organs of plants, on the muscle tissue of animals, on the filtration systems of water and soil.

             Later this week, another person used the phrase, “Only the strong will survive,” and though she qualified it later as adaptive strength in general rather than physical strength or endurance, that’s an interpretation of Darwinism that seems everpresent in the DNA of American thought. In some senses, of course, it’s true: in dangerous and destructive circumstances, physical strength and endurance and determination will help you survive; ferocity may well be of use; fragility or rigidity may be your downfall. This is the narrative of the zombie apocalypse and the doomsday prepper. But–just like humans ourselves–it’s part of the story, not the whole. Thinking and behaving assistively, mutually, interdependently, is also a strength.

            When other creatures and chemical processes go about their ordinary occasions, it reaches us as care–accidentally, contingently, but necessarily. We will die without it. It’s necessary, and it’s right, to actively return the help we have been given. In the most emotional, infantile, touchy-feely terms, it’s also okay. “You need a special permit to even touch them,” said the blueback herring man. “It’s illegal to catch them, to possess them, to sell them. But we’re allowed to touch them to save them.”

 

Part 2: Language and Action

            People often give me a thumbs-up in passing. What does it mean? I’m worried too? I want more people to be worried? I’m glad you’re talking about it so I don’t have to? I have to assume these thumbs-uppers are thumbs-upping the word “climate” and what they think it means, plus my presence here at all, but they don’t stop and ask. Someone who gave me a thumbs-up last week passes me a second time, exchanges greetings and keeps walking fast. What are you afraid I’ll take away from you? Time? How little do you think you have?

            “You’re very much not alone,” said another person at the end of a long conversation, meaning that I wasn’t alone in my fear and my grief. Judging by the conversations I’ve been having at the booth, that’s true. As I’ve described above, it’s true in a larger sense, too.

            Another question I’ve been asking a lot this week is: Who else do you talk to about this? Many of the people who talk to me, both at the booth and away from it, envision themselves as alone, as isolated, in their fear and grief and in their desire to shift or slow the advance of a grim future, of partial or total extinction. That’s one face of the “What can one person do?” question that keeps popping up, sarcastically or seriously. I wrote it at the top of a page of notes. “Q: What can one person do?” And then I wrote, “A: Be more than one person.” I don’t know what that means yet, but I hope to devote Week 4 to finding out.

*Perhaps ironically, I’ve found that it’s very difficult for me to record accurately when two people are talking at once, which happens a lot.

 

Money raised to date for the Environmental Justice League of RI: $60.07

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

Pollutants in the Ten Mile River and the Pawtuxet River

Sea level rise and pollutants in Greenwich and Narragansett Bays

Litter and garbage in Dexter Park

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 15

Weather: Sunny, near-cloudless, cool in the shade, breezy.

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 2

Packets of Small State Seeds given away: 2

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 3

People who called the booth “cute”: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.14

 

Observations:

Saturday confirmed as a low head count day.

I really like seeing graduates with their families.

I’m sure you’ll be shocked, shocked, to hear this, but people who say they’re going to show up don’t always. However, when they do show up, it’s extra nice.

It can be very hard to get people to talk about specific things they are scared to lose. That’s why, in the first conversation below, I’ve included a long song of praise for the climate of the Pacific Northwest, which I didn’t have to pry out of this person at all.

 

Some conversations: 

I don’t wake up in the morning and say, This is my main concern, but I recognize the threat that it poses. I went to the University of Washington and I studied psychology, I minored in astronomy — I’m so interested in earth and space science. That’s why I stopped. You don’t usually see that together, climate and anxiety … The first thing I think of is geological effects, as far as rising water. In Washington State, there’s a lot of things I might lose to Mother Nature. (Like what?) The city, the ferries — [the town I live in] is near a shipyard, a naval base, where they house active aircraft carriers to get repaired. … Especially there, where the ferry terminal is — it’ll be so detrimental to all the new architecture. Seattle is built on top of a city [I think he meant on top of a hill]: you go east, you’re going up, you go north, you’re going up. So I might lose 1st, 2nd, 3rd Street. It’s not like there’s a quick fix — “Oh, we’ll put a wall up” — that’s not gonna work. Everything’s mild in Washington State, springs are really wonderful — usually it’s right where you would expect the temperature to be. The fall is kinda the same as the spring, maybe a little warmer. An ideal day in the summer is the high 80s, dry heat. The air quality is the best, you can’t beat it.

*

Yeah, I would say I’m definitely anxious about global warming. It’s an interesting problem — there’s a dichotomy of being really concerned and the knowledge that the horrible things about it are probably not going to affect me, so I want to enjoy the state that the world is in now while that’s possible. I mean, according to the predictions that scientists are making — I live in the first world, so it may have dramatic but not life-threatening consequences. I’ll still be able to enjoy life in a way that most people aren’t going to be able to. I do have a fear of getting old and having a lot of things become huge problems around the time that I get old and can’t take care of myself. A fear of not being able to do anything about it — not being able to enjoy the world because you know this horrible thing is coming.

What if it was going to be sooner? You know, what if in the paper you read that instead of fifty years, it’s going to happen in thirty years or whatever?

I hate to say it, but I think that would — rather than wanting to immediately do something, I would be in the mode of trying to enjoy the world as much as possible. There’s a way to slow but not stop it, and I think a lot of people are like, “Well, fuck it.” If it did look that imminent, there are all these things I would want to do and see.

Do you really hate to say it? 

A little bit, because I think it’s a reflection on my weakness as a person, where everyone’s out to have a good life, which got us into this — why should we stop it now?

What do you see yourself doing to look out for people in this harder world? 

I think it’s going to require a radically different way of looking at resources that I don’t think anyone in the U.S. is at all used to. I’m a planner, and I try hard to live off not a lot, so that’s a skill I could maybe give to other people — like how not to use an obscene amount of water. I’ll be the jerk who’s like, You can’t take a 20 minute shower, you just can’t.

Are you that jerk now? 

No, not really. I try to be mindful of what I use, where my food’s coming from, but Americans are conditioned to not pay attention to that because we don’t have to.

*

I’ve been feeling glum about getting my work published, and then I get mad at myself for being glum, because it’s stupid. The reason I write isn’t to get published, but then I catch myself caring about this, and then I get so angry at myself for caring. My skin is so thin, and I keep waiting for it to get thicker as I get older. I should be impervious, but I’m not, and that’s what makes me so mad.

What if, like, future you could tell you that your skin is never going to be thicker, it’s not going to happen?

But then what do I do with that? I think the problem is more that I continue to need praise and positive reinforcement … I just want to know if it’s good or have it not matter.

 

Today’s poem: 

 

To live off not

a lot not to live on

what anchors and underpins

all your respirations

to remove yourself

from less and less

a thin wavelength

an extraordinary measure

before it’s needed

or as it’s needed before

in order not to need

as much to live

with that collapsed

as far away as impact

of the Andromeda Galaxy

into ours

our only one

we’d better take care of it

I forgot my shift

today was short and

so was startled

to know I’d have

to leave so soon

with so little time

to talk myself down from

a tearjerker ending

at least let me have

that guilt, that pleasure

of knowing I could

have done so much