Climate Anxiety Counseling: Climate Change Science in an Age of Misinformation

Weather: Warm and sunny, but I was inside, in a warm airless fluorescent-lit room.

Number of people: 4 stoppers, probably 9 or 10 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 1, kind of? Does “Of course you’re a trained professional…You get what you pay for” count?

Pages of notes: 10

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Picture-takers with permission: 4

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.05

 

Observations:

This was a conference, with speakers, so most of the time I was set up people were sitting and listening to someone else. People could only really talk to me in between things. I took notes on the speeches, but I’m not going to post any of them here. I also noticed that the conference setup seems to bring out a lot of self-justification and defensiveness in people, including me.

I hate doing the booth indoors. It’s too echoey and I feel cut off from the outside air and light.

Theme of the day: the idea of “doing what I can,” which is a very tricky one for me; worrying about the world that one’s kids or grandkids will have to live in. Relatedly, I’m very out of practice at probing people’s assumptions without putting them on the defensive.

Spotted: a URI student retwisting her twist-out while listening to a speaker. (This was, however, quite a white crowd generally.)

 

Some conversations:

 

I’m anxious about Gina Raimondo and Sheldon Whitehouse not speaking out against the proposed power plant in Burrillville . Escaped methane doesn’t know about borders … I’m upset. It’s discouraging, and there’s some hypocrisy–“We’re doing something about the environment,” but they’re supporting this huge plant that encourages fracking. Methane is 100 times more deadly than the emissions from coal.

Why do you think they’re supporting it, knowing that?

It’s political, it’s a “jobs program.” I’m a union person, but I’m not in favor of a jobs program that will ultimately be unemploying a lot of people because of loss of land, rising tides and so forth. … I’ve been at demonstrations, my friends have been arrested–Lisa was arrested a couple of days ago  … We’re all in this together. The biggest motivating factor is my grandkids–or their children, I really, really worry. It’s frightening.

Have you noticed the climate changing in your own lifetime?

 Oh yeah. When it rains, it really rains. When those storms come, with the extraordinary high tides, I’ve never seem that kind of flooding. I’m not so much here [at the conference] to educate myself but to be in solidarity–I mean, there’s always something to learn–but I’m here to bring up the plant. I hope that they would put pressure on the political people on the stage today. The representatives from Burrillville came out against it because of pressure from the organizations and the people in that town–they were just inundated by the people. …You can see how difficult it is for politicians to be [in favor of] something that’s perceived to be a job loss. It takes courage and if people don’t have that, you have to apply pressure.

*

I just think it’s great that someone’s keeping in mind that the trauma that’s gonna come with the change in weather is gonna need some kind of response

What are some of the things you expect will come along with that trauma?

Trauma rewires the brains of young children–if we don’t set them up adequately, it affects them for their entire lifetime. That’s for children. And for everybody else, stress and anxiety makes mental and physical health problems worse.

So this more chaotic, more uncertain time is coming–how can we take care of each other in this time?

We need better infrastructure for the health care system writ large. We need to build enough sense of community so that we do continue to care for each other, so that people won’t be left helpless and alone [in the face of] coastal flooding, fires… I think as academics we get somewhat siloed. We know a lot about how to help people change their behavior, but without policies that support climate [action]…

Let’s say someone came to you, as a psychologist, and said, “I’m feeling this anxiety about the future, how do I deal with it?” What would you tell them?

I’d probably try to find out if there’s anything going on personally that’s feeding it.

But this is personal, it’s affecting people personally.

But it’s not acute, it’s not happening right now. When people are freaking out about it they’re not being effective, they’re not separating what can be done from what is a fear–separating the fear and the reality.

*

[This person came up while another person was telling me they work for the Rhode Island Sea Grant; they stood by while this person was talking to me.]

I have four kids, between 18 and 26, and I worry about the kind of world they’re going to have. For the first time it’s made me almost wish I hadn’t brought kids into the world. I go back and forth between thinking there’s a reason to be hopeful and thinking there’s reasons to not be optimistic. I keep telling them, Your generation has to figure this out, because mine really messed it up.

People often talk about it like that, but you know, you’re still here and you’re going to be around for a while.

But I’m almost 55, and I feel like the politicians who are now in office who are around my age are not being responsible, and it’s going to take the next generation to come in and make change … These days it’s just really scary. On the one hand I think it’ll be okay, everything’ll work out, but then you see what some of these people post on Facebook. I can walk on the beach and it seems so far away–

[The listening person]: There’s a lot of things happening on the beach.

What do your kids say when you say that to them?

They’re like, Thanks a lot … Hopefully they’ll all contribute. I feel like I’m doing what I can to raise good citizens. I don’t want o be super anxious and make them worry–they think I worry too much, but then I wonder if that’s just youth, when you’re not responsible for anyone other than yourself.

 

Do they feel responsible for each other?

 

I think they do feel responsibility for each other. [The 18-year-old] wants to make a difference. In your own little corner of the world you can make a difference, or you can actually get involved, you can try to make change. You can be a Senator Whitehouse. I guess it’s maybe a matter of coming to terms with what you’re actually in control of.

 

*

 

 

Tipping points. Deforestation tipping points. Tipping points of rising seas, tipping points with ice melt.

 

What scares you about that?

 

Every species will eventually come to an end, whether it’s when the universe ends or the sun turns into a red giant. The human condition will come to an end, but we’re doing so much to make it happen faster.

 

What do you do when you feel like that, or think about that?

 

I keep reading books, I always have an environmental book going. Or I go to lectures or conferences like this. I study it, I study it, I study it. I try to be an example to people, but I do not tell people I know what to do. …I try and avoid conversations [with climate change deniers], but if I have to have them, I say, This is what I think, it’s my point of view, but it’s based on research. I explain the scientific method. I ask them where their information’s coming from. And I have seen people come up to me and ask a question. I pick up books for people–I’ll just give them a copy.

 

 

Today’s poem

 

It’s not acute, it’s not happening right now

it is acute, it’s happening right now

in the here of our woods

in the where of where you were

liable to go for predictive suprise

of news that comes from elsewhere

if you’re actually acute

if you’re here it’s not news

where you’ve lived for years

for thousands of years

in your own self-interest

of painful action

if you’re already alive

if you’re asking for hurt

it’s a demonstration

if all of us are right

to be roared through horribly

before it’s not news

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2 thoughts on “Climate Anxiety Counseling: Climate Change Science in an Age of Misinformation

  1. Pingback: Alternate Histories: 4/22, 4/29 | climateanxietycounseling

  2. Pingback: Alternate Histories: 4/22, 5/5 | climateanxietycounseling

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