Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market TODAY (8/31)!

Today the booth and I will be at the Sankofa World Market outside the Knight Memorial Library on Elmwood Avenue, 2-6pm, with a listening ear and pictures to give away of some of the cicadas you’ve probably been hearing around Rhode Island.

This will be my last appearance at this particular market, so come and visit me, and get a bitter melon or an eggplant or a bag of beans.

(I will also be at the Armory farmers’ market tomorrow with the booth, but I’ll make a separate post about that.)

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Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza opposes fracked-gas processing plant

“Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is opposing National Grid’s proposal to build a natural gas liquefaction facility at Field’s Point in Providence.”

Other mayors of other towns and cities, please take note: this is the correct move.

Let’s work toward a version of history where we leave behind the methods of fueling our endeavors that also damage us and everything around us. Maybe that means alternative methods. Maybe it means fewer, or different, endeavors. At minimum, refusing this LNG plant is one of many ways to take care of this city’s people. Thank you, Mayor Elorza, for doing that.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market: 8/24/16

Weather: Hot and bright with occasional breezes. Remembered to bring water this time.

Number of people: 3 stoppers, 2 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 4

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island: $3.90

 

Observations:

Kind of a sparse day–there were quite a few people at the market, but a lot of them were listening to/watching a Michael Jackson impersonator who was very energetic but also weirdly heteronormative/toxically-masculine in his patter, like jokes about how if he came home doing the Michael Jackson voice his wife would kick him out of the house.

What one interlocutor called, in slight fingerquotes, the “paralysis of the left”, was a big theme today, what with one thing and another.

There was also someone painting faces, and watching kids run around showing off their face paint was pretty great.

 

Some conversations:

[These two were friends, and came up together.]

Person 1: I was just in Ecuador. [One of the people I was there with] grew up in an indigenous community there, and the oil companies have gone in and done pretty terrible things there … They seem to have kind of taken a divide and conquer approach: they give motors [for working boats] to some groups but not to others. Or they install drills, they hire indigenous people to do the work, and people are psyched about it, because they get money–and then they get involved in the money economy, and when the drills start to go dry there’s no more work, and they haven’t been keeping up with their agricultural work. And that’s the oil that we [U.S. people] use. I’m uncomfortable with how complacent I become in this: the problem seemed so intractable when I was there, but it’s easy to come back to Providence and ignore it, to travel to places and do things that leave a big carbon footprint and are contingent upon this exploitation.

Is this something you’ve talked about with people since you’ve been back?

It’s not something I’ve talked about. I’ve had some conversations with comrades, but I feel defeated–Chevron’s still gonna exist, Texaco’s gonna exist. There was just one successful class action, but the oil companies haven’t paid up … It feels so big and so intractable. Even though [the person she was working with] knows how to build solar panels or knows how to negotiate, none of that works! The government [of Ecuador] has screwed over people while giving them some concessions. Government corruption is part of the problem, but the government is who has the most money and potential to change things.

What do you do when you feel this anxiety and this frustration?

When I was really little–7, 8, 9–I remember waking up crying and my mom came in and asked me what was wrong, I was reading a lot of National Geographic and they were just starting to talk about climate change, global warming, and they were like, “Oh, hurricanes, oh, sea level rise,” and I was terrified that a hurricane would kill me and my family. Very me-centered. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to compartmentalize the anxiety and not feel it as intensely, and kind of move about my days without being overwhelmed by crippling anxiety, but my ability to shut it down concerns me. I wish there was like a “CONSEQUENCES” button I could press when I got in my car, like “this is the impact of you driving.” It’s hard to feel the impact of our choices on a gut level without the immediacy of knowing the consequences–and I don’t, I don’t know the consequences, I don’t know what the world is gonna be like.

Person 2: I think people also have a distrust of their own agency in the political system. On an individual level, we feel helpless. I’ve been thinking about the political education I received, or didn’t receive–I was never taught about local government, or even really national government, or government in other countries, in a way that was like, “What is my role and relationship to this government if something’s hurting me or hurting my community?” I don’t know many kids or even adults who think like that, who think in terms of participatory democracy.

Person 1: If we were to really think about systems to organize people in different ways politically, anarchist non-hierarchical modeling–but if I say, “I don’t know if it’s possible,” I sound like people who don’t want to think in these transformative ways about our political system. It’s impossible to ignore the extent of of environmental destruction and also social inequality that’s so tied up in how capitalism works best. But I don’t know where I should sit on the spectrum of people buying into a system that might be uncomfortable and difficult to wrap our heads around because it hasn’t been done in the U.S.

Person 2: What if the norm for who plays roles in current systems changes? I was talking to a friend who’s an economist, and asking her to explain what she does, and she was like, “What people should know is that it’s not about money. I study it because when you when you have that knowledge, it gives you a seat at the table where not a lot of people who believe what I believe are sitting.” Maybe it’s not that the systems don’t work but that the people in a lot of these authoritative spots have been the same people for a long time.

Person 1: I feel like the ideals [of this country/participatory democracy] are noble and worth fighting for, I’m just not sure the tools are sharp enough. If we really want international environmental organization to go forward, why has diplomacy been replaced by U.S. military force? Is that how we want to be welcoming people to the table? If there are things that nobody should really have, how do we even start those conversations?

This is really provisional and I think would only work if you were talking to another person, not a government or something, but I think you could ask, “What would have to change about the world in order for you to be willing to make these changes, or give this thing up? And how does that world sound to you?”

That sounds like some of the same language people use to talk about getting over addiction, like what I ask myself about some of my own habits and what I ask my friends who are struggling with addictions. What is the world in which we no longer feel the need for these behaviors? With environmental issues, capitalism has fed the crisis, it depends on inequality and on people living in shitty conditions. But I think anarchism alienates a lot of people. What political systems can people imagine, and imagine themselves participating in?

*

I’m anxious about inter-organizational and interpersonal relationships related to campaigning against the National Grid LNG plant in the Port of Providence. We’ve got people who are focused on outcome, who just want something to happen, and we’ve got people who are focused on process, who are trying to put in place a system of organizing the right way so that we have that even if we don’t make anything happen this time. I guess it’s what they call the “paralysis of the left”.

From how you’re talking about it, you’re more of a process person.

Yeah, I guess so, but I’ve put myself in a position where I’m surrounded by outcome people.

What do you do when you feel the stress and the frustration?

I bought a bike. And I joined a friend with a quahogging boat–we’re going out maybe this weekend, definitely next week. And I have kids. Sometimes that adds to your anxiety, sometimes it distracts from it.

Do your kids know what you do?

They’re pretty little. My son knows. My daughter–she was with me when we marched against the Burrillville power plant, but I think for her it was more like, “Oh, there’s a dinosaur float.” You’d have to break it down so simply that it wouldn’t be effective. I also run a business, so I take time out of that to do this work, and it’s not like I begrudge the time but when it becomes more complicated, it takes more time than I planned. And it’s tough to get anything done when you’re arguing about it.

 

 

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY at the Sankofa World Market, 2-5pm!

I have to leave a little early today because my brilliant Frequency/Book City students are reading their incredible poems from their beautiful books at 5:30pm at the Providence Public Library (come to that, seriously, they’re so good, we have such good writers and smart people growing up in this city and state), but I will be at the Sankofa World Market outside the Knight Memorial Library today, from 2 to a little before 5, ready to hear your climate and other anxieties. Maybe today will be the day you buy a bitter melon!

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market: 8/17/16

Weather: Hot, sunny and bright

Number of people: 9 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of climate change deniers/trivializers: 3

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 9

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.60, plus one stick of gum

 

Observations:

 

A lot of people wanted to have arguments today. I try not to have arguments at the booth, but not arguing is exhausting in its own way..

There were puffballs in the grass behind the booth and two kinds of oak gall in the little oak tree that was shading the booth, and I spotted a monarch butterfly, the second this summer.

If you are a person of faith, using “like a religion” as a disparaging comparison doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Today I had the second ever climate anxiety counseling session facilitated by a translator! I would really like to offer this more often, and am talking with someone about helping out, but if anyone else is comfortable translating between English and another language widely spoken in RI (Spanish and Khmer, for two) let me know.

 

Some conversations:

What is there to be anxious about climate change? The people who are worried, they have three meals a day, they’re driving around. It’s all marketing.

If it’s marketing, someone must think they can gain something from it. Who gains something from it?

That’s a good question. Political structures–they’re sold on belief in the system. It benefits liberals and secularists: if you don’t believe [sic], there must be something wrong with you. It affects elections, it affects what you buy and consume, what you think, just like a religion. We’re told to be afraid. When I was a kid, you had a bad storm and you ate whatever was in the house and then you went on with your life–now there’s a bad storm and you can’t get into the supermarket.

So it’s not something that troubles you.

Not at all, ’cause I don’t believe the hype.

So what are the things that worry you, that press on your mind?

Not having enough money to take care of my wife and my daughter. I’m going to leave this earth and the sun’s going to rise and set like it has for the past hundreds of thousands of years since God created it. And He is in control of everything, even though man [sic] thinks that number one, he can destroy the earth and number two, that he can save it–I think the latter is the craziest.

See, I don’t separate humans and the earth like that.

Are you saying there’s no difference between me and a snail, or me and the rocks and the mountains?

No, I’m saying all those things are part of the creation. I don’t think we’re arguing. I’m not talking about equivalency, I’m talking about all being part of something.

Part of something, yes. But everything here has been created for our purposes, and we’re supposed to be grateful.

*

I don’t think people pay enough attention, or if they do, they don’t care. “Well, I don’t care if the climate changes, if it’s 85 degrees on February 1st I’m gonna love it, I’ll go golfing.”

*

[This person and I had this conversation with the help of a translator.]

I’m gonna tell you what we should do: put less chemicals in the air. Less deforestation. Produce more organic foods, with less chemicals. Take care of our water. Not overfish–fish help oxygenate the water. We shouldn’t be damaging the ozone layer because God created the world perfect–we are the predators that have damaged the vast majority of it.

[I give him a card with a house spider on it.]

In the Dominican Republic, we have these, but they’re much bigger and they eat cockroaches. They’re called “donduna” because they make that sound at night … I’m a beekeeper, and anyone who works with bees has to work with nature, because nature is an extension.

*

My first reaction is always denial. My uncle from Virginia comes up to visit every summer, and he says, “Every time I come up here it’s hotter,” and my reaction is, “Oh, you’re being ridiculous.” I do think about it. I grew up in Newport and my parents still live there, and if you look at the projection maps of the flood zone, their house is literally on the other side of the street from the flood zone–oceanfront property! [Laughs] It’s beyond our control–to be really honest, the of all the ills of the world, the problem is capitalism and I don’t know what to do about that. Some measure of economic return being the bottom line–we need a major societal value shift. I don’t know how we as a society can address a lot of things without that. But economics is not a natural force like physics–that’s a system we set up. It’s just buying somebody’s story, we can change the story.

*

More of the pollution aspect. The air that we breathe affects us internally–it leads to illnesses, it gets into our bodies, it affects the food we eat, it’s all connected. We can be over here, over here, but eventually it all connects. … If you can encourage people to read independently, to be curious without feeling forced…[they can see how] it’s an issue that affects them. You alone start to ask questions. And there are things like local reps should be involved–education I guess is a big piece…. Start in school.

Is that your son over there? Do you guys talk about this together?

Not really, no. I read things and I file it away until he can talk about it.

*

I would like to not live out my retirement underwater. I don’t have any children or grandchildren, but I have friends and cousins who do, and I feel bad when I think about when they think about their future–we will pass and they will live to experience this.

Do you imagine what they’re gonna experience?

I imagine them having to build walls around New York City, to keep the water out. And Florida, I imagine Florida changing shape completely. The hunger–they say that’s gonna be the worst of it, is people starving. You can walk away from water, but droughts and floods–it’s not gonna be pretty. They’re gonna starve to death over much of the world.

*

[These two came up together]

Person 1: I don’t need to be afraid, because [life] exists so many years. It still exists and is still getting better and better. All the technology and all the people! It’s not my business, all the other things–I can do the best I can. I don’t know they will stop it or not, I don’t know what happened. In my point of view, it’s getting much better. I’m choosing to see it getting much better.

Person 2: In the Jewish tradition, everyone starts with the self. You cannot change the world, but you can change yourself.

Person 1: It’s not a Jewish tradition, it’s a point of view that people can have.

The way we change ourselves is partly by talking with other people, right? By observing the world and by listening to other people around us?

Person 1: The more we connect with people.

Person 2: Not to isolate ourselves. But do you need a doctor or do we need a doctor? Propagating fear of climate problems is very strange–if you have anxiety about climate change, you don’t buy leather, you don’t use plastic, but it’s really a basic thing in economics that you have scarcity: if a certain percentage of people don’t use plastic or leather, that will make it so other people can use them.

Just to be sure I understand you, you’re saying that there will always be people who want these things and use them, no matter if other people avoid them.

Person 2: Yes.

Person 1: Not to do business with the big idea, but to do with the small idea. If I see something on the ground I can pick it, because I want to contribute to a clean environment–it’s not because I’m working for somebody else.

Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY: Sankofa World Market, 2-6pm

The Climate Anxiety Counseling booth will be at the Sankofa World Market (outside the Knight Memorial Library on Elmwood Avenue) today, Wednesday August 17th, 2-6pm. Come share your climate-change-related anxieties with me, take home a drawing of a Rhode Island organism, donate to the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island. Learn about Interdependence Days.Or just come keep me company.

You can also buy some vegetables and, in some cases, have a beautiful in-depth conversation about the virtues of those vegetables with the people who grew them. I didn’t know bitter melon was good for diabetes, or that you can eat it raw.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market: 8/10/16

Weather: Gray, lowering and muggy, rain just tapering off, gusts of wind.

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 0 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.20

 

Observations:

The farmers at the stand to my left sell bitter melon, and the drama of the bitter melon is ongoing: the conversation about what it’s like, when you should buy it, how you can eat it, what it’s good for, and the fact that they already ran out of it and you should come earlier next time basically never stops. Speaking as a bitter melon fan, I think all of this is great.

I didn’t eat lunch because I was counting on the food guys from last time to be there. They were not there! I ate a sample of eggplant dip that the SNAP tablers were handing out, thought about going across the road for an empanada, didn’t, sulked.

The “climate change is somewhere else” effect was strong today.

Don’t know yet if this is a good idea or a bad idea, but when people bring up climate change denial as their fear/anxiety, I’ve started pushing them a little bit, like, “What are you afraid will happen if people don’t recognize this reality?”

 

 

Some conversations:

[Talking about cranberry beans] They don’t grow good this year. They don’t grow together. Some of them still green, some of them small, still have flowers on the top.

*

I do, it’s obviously a problem. Did you see the opening ceremony [for the Olympics]? They did it on climate change, they had this simulation of ice caps melting and the rising water level. Seeing it visually was more significant than just hearing about it. The visual simulation was definitely intense … you looked at Florida and you saw how much will be underwater. Long Island–my cousins live there, I’m there all the time–that’s basically ground zero.

*

 

When do I get anxious?–when I’m on the roads, highways or even like streets, when cars come closer. When I was riding my bike when I was younger, I crashed into a moving car. I tense up and look down, I tend to look down whenever this happens.

 

Does that help?

 

It helps me to see that the car isn’t trying to come towards me. I was abroad with my family and I noticed that the cars are going on the left. That helped a little bit because I wasn’t paying attention to the roads–I was mesmerized by other stuff.

 

*

 

 

I’m most worried about people. About people being their own worst enemies. The [U.S.] conservative party is the only party in the entire world that doesn’t acknowledge the science and causes of climate change, and they don’t seem to be too bothered by the fact that they are. I worry about people’s inability to be self-critical … when you’ve got mountains of evidence from scientists from across the globe, it takes humungous balls to say, “That may be so but I’m still right.” It’s the lack of self-reflection that could possibly be major in our inability to address climate change in any serious and urgent fashion. The really sad part is that it’s going to affect us, a wealthy country, less than not a wealthy country.* … Sea level rise or drought or a combination thereof is going to cause a displacement of people that has previously been unseen. I’m worried about other people’s lives. It makes me really sad–this is gonna sound bad–it makes me really sad that the conservative people are not gonna be the ones who suffer. I think we affect other people’s lives much more than we think we do. The smallest change in a community can affect a community on the other side of the world. Thinking that we’re isolated is part of the problem.

 

How did you learn that we aren’t isolated–like, how did you get like that?

 

 

I like birds. I just–like birds. As I grow older, I wanna read articles about birds, and eventually there’s gonna be an article about birds that refers to their habitats. I like birds, I like sea turtles, or I wanna eat this bluefin tuna or I like to eat a cookie–you read a series of things in a row and at the end you’ll be thinking about it and you just start making deductions on your own … My first memories are watching nature documentaries with my grandfather, but I don’t think it has to be something like that.

 

*Doctor’s note: This isn’t exactly true, but it probably depends on your definition of “affect” and I didn’t push this person for theirs.

*

 

 

We don’t have a winter … The heat is because the planet is in a fever, and we’re the parasite. This planet gave us a little gravitational pull to keep us here, a little air, plants, it made us communal animals, and then the fact that the planet’s showing some sickness disrupts everything.

 

It sounds like this is something you’ve thought about a lot.

 

‘Cause we live here! Where else do we fit at? If this don’t work out, where we gonna go? … We all got a debt to repay, right, to Mother Earth? We all gotta go back at some point.

 

*

 

 

I’m anxious that we have a bunch of knuckleheads running this country who don’t care. They just don’t care. I’m mad all the time. I’m in a perpetual state of outrage and fury. I’m running for state rep for this district, from where Elmwood and Broad meet all the way to the park, it’s a big triangle … The whole campaign is “11 for 11”, 11 things the state should do in the district. It’s pretty shocking how many abandoned houses there are in the neighborhood–I live here, my house is down at the other end of the street. This is my last stand, I’m not gonna go anywhere. … People are poor, you can’t make a living at $9.60 an hour, so we start with that.

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market, 8/2/16

Weather: Sunny and hot, a small breeze, nice in the shade but I didn’t have it the whole time.

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Picture-takers with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.55

 

 

Observations:

 

This was my first booth session since I had to abandon one halfway through in June, and I’m definitely out of practice, both in booth-wrangling and in getting into “doctor” mode. For example…

 

… I got “that’s-alrighted” by someone near the beginning of my shift, and I really had to make a conscious effort to dissipate my rage. (It worked in the sense that I did not yell at her or make a horrible face.)

 

On the other hand, sometimes people have a really lovely and unusual way of putting things that shows up in almost everything they say, and I talked to such a person today.

 

A few people–vendors and market organizers–told me that the market’s been slower this summer than it was last summer. Today it seemed about the same to me–sparse, but not, like, desolate.

 

 

Some conversations:

 

 

 

 

[These two were friends]

 

PERSON 1: I’m kinda overwhelmed with climate anxieties. I’m in environmental studies and we say our department should have our own climate therapist.

 

What makes you the most anxious, what knowledge is the most burdensome?

 

People are resistant to hearing the truth. They’re set in their ways, they can’t change. It inhibits action–it feels like a roadblock you can’t work through. It’s not promising.

 

For what?

 For climate change in general. Even to acknowledge that it’s anthropogenic*–if that’s not recognized … we’ll keep exploiting natural resources and sending more greenhouse gases into the air. Agriculture will be threatened–there won’t be enough to eat, to drink, to use water for agriculture. Contaminants, pollutants–

 

PERSON 2: People have trouble seeing that climate change issues are also issues of social justice. Environmental racism, public health, what neighborhoods are safe to live in.

 

PERSON 1: I talk a lot about food access and the intersection of food access, public health and sustainability–local and global food supply. We all eat, so it’s not this far off “climate change [is] somewhere in the future.”

 

What’s it like to be the person who talks about this when other people don’t want to talk about it?

 Isolating. I have a good community of people who [didn’t catch the word] to do some actions, spread some knowledge. But I’m from Florida, and it’s illegal there to say “climate change” in school.

 

What happens to you if you do it?

 

It’s only if an administrator or someone from the county is in the room, there aren’t cameras or anything. But it’s a three strikes thing–first you get a warning, then it goes on your record, then it’s some offense–you go to court? In my AP Environmental Science class, never once was there a mention of climate change. I learned calculus through “disproving” climate change, disproving that it was caused by humans … In Miami, people wear rainboots to work because if it rains at all, there’s so much sea level rise and flooding, people are gonna need an extra pair of shoes. People recognize that there’s change, they just don’t think humans are causing it.

*human-made/human-caused

 

*

 

 

What makes you anxious, what sets it off?

 

When people don’t do what they say they’re gonna do. I can’t take it out of my head. If I don’t let them know about it I get even more anxious. I can talk to everybody but unless I talk to the person, I stay anxious. … I been fighting it since I was a child. I came through a crisis when I was pregnant with her [indicates younger daughter], like an existential crisis. I don’t wish it upon anybody. I learned that I need to take some people out of my life, and I don’t need anybody’s approval. I think anxiety comes through life with a message: you need to change the way you think about your beliefs. I’ve learned a lot, it’s been a rollercoaster–I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness anymore. They were always looking for perfection and we’re not even close to that. I think everybody has an inner voice that tells you exactly what you need to change, but it takes more effort to change than to stay the same.

 

*

 

 

Everybody’s gonna have to move north. [Areas that are warm now] are gonna be barely habitable. North is not really north anymore–it’s just gonna never be cool. Yes, it does bother me that southern Florida’s gonna disappear. It’s not that critical to me personally, but where are those people gonna go?

 

 

*

 

 

[To one of their companions] You know that’s one of my biggest worries. [To me] If everybody was to spend a little more time maintaining and keeping the planet a little more clean, we might be able to last a little bit longer–not only for us but for future generations. Especially our waters, especially our grounds. And if companies would spend a little more effort–it’s not based on the money, it’s based on health. What’s the use to have money if you can’t have health? You can’t eat dollars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa Market!

I’ll be offering Climate Anxiety Counseling sessions every Wednesday in August at the Sankofa Market, outside the Knight Memorial Library on Elmwood Avenue, 2-6pm. You can also buy vegetables there! Or get a library book!

Come and tell me what’s pressing on your mind, get a small piece of art featuring one of your nonhuman Rhode Island neighbors, donate to the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island, learn more about Interdependence Days. Let’s figure out a way to think about the unthinkable and talk about the unspeakable, together.