Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/29/16

Weather: Hot, but okay in the shade, even breezy and cool there at times.

Number of people: 13 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 6

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1, indirectly (see below)

People known to me, and I to them, from previous sessions:1

Pictures taken with permission: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.07, plus one Hershey’s Miniature Special Dark with Peanuts



Sunday was Brown University’s graduation day, so there were a lot of families walking by carrying commencement programs. Almost none of these stopped, though.

I know people smoke weed in the park, but this is the first day I’ve actually been able to smell it, pretty strongly.

Lots of stories today that I and my interlocutors didn’t frame in the specific context of counseling, but that were great; I did note them after the fact but wasn’t able to get the specific wording, so I haven’t posted them here.

Today I spoke with someone whose spouse was translating for them, and it was definitely not an ideal setup–for example, if their spouse had been the source of their anxiety, they couldn’t have talked about it. It made me appreciate my students who have become medical interpreters.

In future, if someone who wants to talk to me is using a cane, I will offer them the stool I use to sit on.


Some conversations:

I think people make their own anxiety. I think people over-worry.

Do you have ways that you keep yourself from worrying?

I always put a check mark, like, “That’s gonna get taken care of.” I do it in my mind and I just keep moving forward from that. I don’t look back, I just keep going … When you have a plan, you worry less. Anxiety’s a disgusting disease, but some people do cause it themselves. They don’t want to focus on other things … They haven’t learned coping skills.

How did you learn yours?

Through treatment. The advice that I have, I learned from somebody else. I took it in.


[These two are friends who came up together]

Person 1: It’s hot out, it’s the first time it’s all of a sudden felt so hot. I spent the night at my parents’ house, and it was too hot to sleep without the air conditioner, so I went and got it from the attic at one in the morning…I meant to put it on in power-save mode, but it stayed on all night and it made the room freezing. Even the measures we take to control our own temperature control us. You can’t escape from the air, it’s the medium we all travel through. You can go to places, you can plan your life, like “I’m going to move to Alaska,” but there’s only so many things you can do to get away from the heat. In winter you can add more clothes to get warmer, but in summer there’s only so much you can take off.

Person 2: Unless you rip your own skin off.

[To Person 2] Do you have any anxieties of your own?

Person 2: Mostly what we’re doing to the animals kinda worries me a shit-ton. It’s like we’re invaders here on earth. We’re messing everything up for the animals that live here, and its their space, everything that’s happening with global warming and with the atmosphere. Everything, like their behavior’s falling apart and not enough people are worrying about it.


Person 1: I’ve been TA-ing again this year at [MIDDLE SCHOOL], and we just did a lesson about ecology, talking about bees as a keystone species, pollinating food–not just the food chain but a giant food web. And I’m worrying again about colony collapse disorder–there’s only 60%, 70% of the bees there were in the ’50s and ’60s*, and it’s because of these giant mass farming techniques, where they move the hives around. Whole colonies are dissipating because they don’t have a sense of place. We’re so used to transporting things, but what else is collapsing because it has no sense of home? How much of a solution is moving to a place when your climate gets destroyed?


I feel like a lot of talk about “environmentalism” or whatever focuses on not doing things, but I wanted to ask you guys to think about, how can we actively give back to the systems that we depend on, or nourish them? Like that sense of place?


Person 1: I want to go back to the not-doing-things: I went to temple for the first time in a while with my friend, and the rabbi [was talking about] Shabbat and relating it to a sabbatical–you rest, you give the land a rest and let it lie fallow. But it’s been corrupted by the weekend and the professional sabbatical, where you’re supposed to be more productive during your vacations, answering emails at night. Taking an actual rest, not doing anything, productivity in stopping.


*Doctor’s Note: I haven’t fact-checked this.




A man with a cane, who gets impatient with me: I can’t really understand him, except “My life. It sucks.”






I’ve just been diagnosed with COPD, and I’m really feeling it. I need to quit smoking but I don’t see it happening. There’s no cure for it. It’s like I’ve been given a time clock–I haven’t looked that far into it so I don’t know [how long I have].





I’m part of an advisory [committee? didn’t catch the word] for the EPA. It’s challenging. How to keep folks safe in their environments, especially indigenous communities, with the contamination in tribal territories and burial sites. We’re trying to … decrease a war from happening between civil society and the government, to work toward world peace collectively, by using tribal healing mechanisms, but we need help from the EPA and from state and federal agencies, and building relationships is challenging. But I think the government is ready as well. They see the stats and they see how their budgets will be affected, so we try to show them how it won’t be, but there’s gonna have to be some give and take.






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