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



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.






2 thoughts on “Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market: 8/24/16

  1. Pingback: Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market: 8/31/16 | climateanxietycounseling

  2. Pingback: Climate Madness 7 | wryheat

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