Taking Time

Earlier this week, the city of Providence hosted the Resilient Providence Lab, inviting experts in sustainable design, city planning and urban policy to listen to Providence residents (referred to as “stakeholders”), look at the city’s streets and trees and ground and buildings, and make some recommendations to make the city more “sustainable”, “adaptable” or “resilient.” (Sorry about all the fingerquotes.) I went to a “stakeholders’ meeting” on Monday where the visiting experts served as moderators, asking people, essentially, about the city’s strengths and weaknesses in the face of climate change and its effects.

“Resilience” has limits and misdirections that I’ll talk about in another post (building on Melissa Chadburn’s and Lynda Barry’s ideas about it), but at this meeting what struck me more was the intensity and length with which the people in attendance, often there to represent a group, spoke about the thing they had come there to speak about, sometimes to the side of the moderator’s question. People sometimes challenged, or defended against, what others said; building on another person’s response was less common.

These were mainly urgent things: nourishing food and safe shelter, health and dignity and quality of life. All things that deserve time, thought, and swift response guided by both time and thought. More than one person pointed out the rarity of “a seat at the table”–the city’s table–for organizations attempting to serve and defend the Providence residents who are injured most by the city’s policies, social structures and economic systems. Experience, then, has taught them that opportunities to state what they need the city–the people in charge of the city–to hear are few,  that they must seize the moment and hold it as long as they can.

I sat in the “neighborhod/community” group the whole time, as distinct from the “buildings” group and the “infrastructure” group, so I don’t know how other people were speaking and listening to each other. One person in our group posited that in other groups, they weren’t having this conversation or stating these needs; another noted that the people who were at this table are often together, hearing each other, and that they wanted to introduce these needs into the two discussions that might be ignoring them.

Our home city had trained us well in scarcity.  As advocates, as representatives, we had learned that we were at odds with each other for the attention of those whose help (and resources, and skills) we need in order to change what needs changing. People were respectful, self-aware, restrained; we  were also fighting people who weren’t in the room, on behalf of other people who weren’t in the room, in an effort to get from one what we needed for the other. It seemed like this made it hard for us to hear each other, to note and emphasize the overlap of what we wanted, to insist together.

 

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The Alchemists at Home

I wrote about the very specific climate and environmental anxieties I have about becoming a parent, which I’m not currently in the process of doing, but would like to do, and am afraid to do.

If you click that link, you’ll see some things about me that many people choose not to share about themselves, and a couple of things that I have in the past chosen not to share about myself. I decided to share them for one of the same reasons I started the Climate Anxiety Counseling project: I wanted to know if I had company. The Toast has a particularly responsive and generous commentariat (and a rigorous commenting policy) and people wrote in with their own fears, decisions, declarations of willful avoidance or painful preoccupation, showing where they overlapped with or diverged from mine, and expressing a gratitude that I also feel towards them for putting these feelings into words.

Twitter user @eveewing asked a similar question on the last day of January. There, too, people spoke of their reasons for fearing or not fearing, for holding off or going ahead. Some were flip, some grim, some earnest; all of their responses were, unsurprisingly, informed by what they revealed of the rest of their lives. Someone who works on climate change and environmental justice wrote that they can’t help thinking about it, and pointed out how little most of us know about earth’s systems and the way they interact. An EMT wrote that they’ve “been to too many senior apartments as an EMT and have seen too many people dead alone not to want a family.”  Someone from Sri Lanka spoke of the vulnerability of their home and the ways climate change is already affecting their agriculture and their coasts. Others spoke of raising a generation to mediate these problems and take care of the world, and of talking about it with the kids they do have.

Conceivable Future frames climate change as a reproductive crisis, and interviews people about the ecological calculus of making and raising a child. There, too, people’s stories of their own decisions are moving and direct. Many of the people interviewed there so far appear to be white, but many writers, investigators and scholars have articulated environmental racism, even before it’s exacerbated by climate change, as a reproductive crisis as well: the lead-filled water in Flint, MI and Ottawa County, OK;  African-Americans ghettoized into floodplains; schools built on toxic sites in Providence and New Orleans. Without drastic, prioritized revision of physical and social structures, climate change will make things worse for people for whom things are already bad, the people whose lives are most delicate, most precarious, most tender.

I was glad, reading those comments, that people were hearing what I said; I was glad to hear their stories, and the responses to @eveewing’s question, and to see the faces and hear the voices of Conceivable Future’s interviewees. If they’re important, it’s because hearing that we’re not alone can help shape how we act together, toward each other.