Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market: 7/22/15

Weather: hot and bright, very pleasant when a cloud crossed the sun

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 9

Alternate Histories: 0

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $14.27!


Thanks to Rolando for the mid-session offer of a tent (rejected), to Brendan for the offer of a recently purchased peach (accepted), and to Orale Tacos and Andrew for the offer of some fried plantains (also accepted).

Overheard near beginning of shift, simultaneously: blue jay yelling, single drum tapping (recorded, over speakers), splattery motor of a weedwhacker.

I’m never sorry when I draw plants slowly.

The idea of locality, of doing things locally as inherently good, came up a lot today–maybe I noticed it more because I just read this paper by Branden Born and Mark Purcell on the “local trap.” HIGHLY recommended reading, thanks to the Surly Urbanist for bringing it to my attention.

Some conversations:

My education. Going to law school–I’m going to Harvard Law. Being successful. With being successful, you want it to happen now, but you don’t always know when it will happen, or what to do to make it happen.

What can you do to make it happen that’s under your control, and what about it might not be under your control?

I’m very self-confident, but when it comes to other people in my space, I try to get them out. I don’t like people being in my business. I’m overprotective and sometimes it gets a little bit weird.

What do you do to try to protect yourself or get people out of your space when they get in it?

I have different ways to get them out. Sometimes I have a rough way, like, “You can stop right there.” When I do it in a moderate way, it doesn’t work, they don’t respect it. When I do it in a rough way, then they’re like, He looks scary. I have to stand firm–then they back up … but they do it in a scared way that can make me look bad. Sometimes I should build bridges but I build walls. If I go to the next person, they’re gonna get in my space, so I’d rather stick with myself, I’d rather stay home and watch a movie.

I guess one question I have is, is there anybody you trust in your space, people you know won’t take advantage?

There’s a saying I heard when I was an undergraduate: I trust everybody but I don’t trust the devil in them. The inside is deeper than the outside.


I’m definitely anxious about climate change. And I believe that what happened down at the beach had something to do with climate change. I was talking to a friend who works with the DEM down there and I was like, “What happened,” and she was like, “I can’t tell you,” and I was like, “Does it have something to do…”, you know, with the climate, and she just smiled.

Do you think it has something to do with the water getting warmer, or–

It could be gases–I know they close other beaches down there sometimes. There’s that waste place right near there … I went snorkeling down there 20 years ago, and I couldn’t believe all the crap I saw down there, and I never would’ve seen it if I hadn’t looked underwater. So maybe something with the water, the buildup of gases, pollution. But we’re never gonna hear about that. They’re never gonna tell us.

It sounds like you don’t trust a lot of the information you get, and I’m wondering what would make you trust something or believe it.

I don’t believe most things, frankly. I believe it if it fits in with what I know is going on. I’ve been worried about it for years. … I’m glad I’m not gonna be around in another fifty years to see what’s gonna happen. I don’t think we’re gonna have any nice oceans. You see those garbage barges, they’re just floating around full of garbage, and eventually they’re gonna sink, and what happens then? You should just stop making plastic–make everything out of paper. The same thing with people being out of jobs. I blame computers. Computers are taking people’s jobs. You can’t talk to anybody at the call center, it’s a computer. I could go on for hours. But that’s why I’m here–I’m going to buy from local people …


The thing that bothers me the most–well, I don’t know about the most, but a lot, is when I was growing up I was told to leave a place better than I found it. Well, I’m 66, and I’m not gonna leave the earth better than I found it, and that’s a source of sadness to me. I teach a course on places from an indigenous perspective–I’ve spent most of my working life working for and with indigenous people in RI–and I look out at my class, my students, most of them are 18, 19 years old, and I think, What’s gonna happen to them? So that bothers me. And that’s connected with wanting to leave the planet better than I found it. I was reading about why you started doing this and–I’m going to paraphrase you badly–you said something about you couldn’t carry the burden, it was too big, so you were trying to [word I didn’t catch] locally, and I think I try to do that too. I want to be able to tell my students specific things they can do. They write a series of papers that develop a sense of place from all different perspectives–ecology, geology, the stars, the moon, the soil. They do research, they talk to people. I try to get them to think about doing as part of a sense of place, how what we do in a place is part of it, at the root of it, and they want to know, What can I do? It’s hard, because they leave the classroom, they have to go out and make a living and drive their cars home … We stand here and we’re talking to each other because of things people we don’t know did, and the same thing’ll be true three, four, five generations from now. It’s important to be in touch with where we come from. … The indigenous concept of Mother Earth is Disneyfied and trivialized, but it’s an important idea: the earth as a mother that feeds us, that gives us what we need. We need a change of consciousness that honors these ideas, these relationships. When I talk about this with my students, I can tell that they yearn for it, but they graduate and they’re in debt, they have to make compromises, and I cry for them.


[This person talked with me last summer.]

We still haven’t really discussed the effects of climate change on food and food systems. I’m really glad Pope Francis is bringing this to the fore. The Catholic Church has been dismissive of environmental issues in the past, and he’s rightly relating them to social issues, which

One thing I’m wondering is what it means to Catholics–like, will people with the ability to do large-scale things do something differently because the Pope says so, or will there be a groundswell of actions or of demands from Catholics–like would people talk to their bishops and be like, This is what we wanna see in our diocese, or …

My experience is that those things trickle down, like there’ll be a reading at a church service to try to rouse people up to some sort of action. You’d do that for the Bishop’s Relief Fund–you’d raise money for the poor [sic] that way. And climate change is definitely a social issue–it’s economic, it’s social, it’s environmental. And we keep on going ahead as if it doesn’t matter. I just came back from 12 days in Iceland, where energy is cheap because it’s geothermal, sheep run freely over the countryside, eating lamb is probably healthy. Education is affordable, health care is affordable, and there’s a whole different vibe … With the bad economy here, I think it’s forced people to think more about community and neighborhood, and be more compassionate to people who are suffering. I like to think it spurred community gardening, and the people who promote that tend to promote organic gardening–I may just be imagining it, but I think since the economy tanked, people are a lot more [word I didn’t catch]. A woman I met in one of the guesthouses, she was from Germany, and she was interested in nutrition, and she realized that you can hardly talk about good nutrition without getting into the politics of agribusiness. She was concerned about GMOs. I was talking to her about something Michael Pollan said, that we need to eat real food–it’s true that now, it’s getting harder and harder to find real food. I’m concerned that the agricultural belt is possibly gonna move north and we’re not prepared for it. And then the drought in California, what’s that gonna do–certainly it affects prices, but will it eventually drive prices up so far that it’s more affordable to buy imported food?


[This person spoke with me on 7/8/15 as well]

All right, so, the environment and the economy. I get that buses need to run, hospitals need to stay open, but what if we all stopped and worked on developing the soil, on planting things in an urban landscape in a way that could foster healthy ecosystems?

You know what’s funny is I just wrote about this, because a lot of people have been talking to me about this. So there’s obviously some interest in it, and I think a good question is, since there’s some interest in it, what’s getting in the way of it?

What’s in the way for me is that there are only so many hours in the day. I have a mortgage, so I have to have a job. I’m lucky because I have a job that lets me have the most possible time to myself, and I use that to work on the piece of land I have to work on, but sometimes I just get frustrated with it. It’d be nice if there was more support and camaraderie, if this was recognized as a good thing–if there was more of a cushion for me to do it and have my needs met. Municipalities could create jobs that would support this, minimum–well, no, living wage jobs. It doesn’t seem like there’s a place for that that there would need to be in order to make these jobs happen, so everybody’s scrambling for that one job opening at [ORGANIZATION]. I did talk to the city about this last fall, and you can ask the city for one of the lots around the city to landscape at your own expense. I think it’s connected to Lots of Hope … It might go under climate change or it might go under city beautification–I’m thinking of after the Great Depression, Roosevelt created all these jobs, building roads and bridges. They could be federally funded or locally funded, but they’d be for everybody who has time on their hands and needs work. We’d have to start with building up the soil–we’re not going for quick easy landscaping. Nothing’s gonna happen in a year.


The first thought that came to me was putting God back in the schools. They would have to learn about what He wants from us–being kind to your neighbor, being kind to the earth. I think that would help out a lot with children and with society in general–I feel like there’s not a lot knowing about Him, I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of people don’t know about Him.

It sounds like a big part of how you understand how you want to act comes from your faith. Is that true?

I wasn’t brought up through faith. My main value was like, Family comes first. As I grew up, life happened, and I happened to find faith and I loved it–I was like, Cool, this works, I’m gonna stick with it. It’s not easy, sometimes it’s really hard, but you stick with it ’cause you know the benefits of it and you know the value of it.

Today’s poem


First I do it in a respectful way

then I do it in a forceful way

then I do it in a nightmare way

then I do it in a lightning way

if I could impose my will

I wouldn’t let you think

I haven’t thought about it

don’t think I haven’t done it

in smaller ways for worse things

this seems so unnavigable

that it could fill me with all

my hate and fear and I’ve

considered it but like all

my other ideas if it doesn’t work

everything might be worse and that

is what fear does to not just me

but to every failure making it

the biggest least free fallout

of every lack of action

what binds me to respect but fear

and what but fear binds me to force

the sun like a continuous fist

lingering like a bad name that hits

and clings and doesn’t dissipate

if there’s anyone left to name us

if names themselves boil away

that’d be poetic but the break

is fissure by fissure sifting us

out of the bowl of existence

sharing a split language that has

in it only words for helplessness

3 thoughts on “Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market: 7/22/15

  1. Pingback: Alternate History: 7/22, 7/26 | climateanxietycounseling

  2. Pingback: Alternate History: 7/22, 8/1 | climateanxietycounseling

  3. Pingback: Alternate Histories: 7/22, 8/4 | climateanxietycounseling

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