Climate Anxiety Counseling: PVD Fest, 6/3/17

Weather: Sun and clouds and sun and clouds, cool but with underlying (or superimposed?) heat

Number of people: 16 stoppers, 3 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10.5

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 0.5 (they said “Peppermint Patty” instead of “Lucy”)

Pictures taken with permission: 5

Pictures taken without permission: 11

Number of people who mentioned the Paris Agreement: 4

Dogs seen: I forgot to keep track at the beginning! After I started keeping track, 10.

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $19.70

 

Observations:

I was there as part of a long-lasting, outdoor, recreational event, with food (costing money) and music (free) and stuff for kids to do (also free), so it’s not representative of how an ordinary booth session would go.

A lot of talk about powerlessness, not much about power. Another theme was the notion of anger as a cover or secondary emotion—for sadness, for fear—which I have heard before and noticed.

A lot of people are also worried about defoliating caterpillars and the idea of leaving behind a better or worse world.

 

Some conversations:

I mostly feel anger. I think anger is covering up my anxiety right now. We were screaming about it in the car on the way down. It’s scary. When the anger calms down, the fear comes up—the anxiety is just this chronic anxiety that’s always there. … Before this, I was anxious about climate change but it would go in and out, I was zoning out about it. Now I feel like this administration is waking a lot of people up. Part of me feels powerless even though I know I’m not. There’s so much I feel worried about with this administration—health care, immigration, the fate of the U.S. … We have to live our lives, so we push down the parts that are too hard to feel. But it breaks my heart. I feel like my heart is broken. There’s so much going on that breaks my heart, it makes it hard to feel hopeful. And also, I feel disgusted. It’s hard to live your life feeling disgusted.

*

My anxieties is just the fear of the unknown. The air that we’re breathing is what could kill us tomorrow. Nuclear bombs could go off tomorrow … War is more at the forefront than it was back then. So many different ways to pollute the earth that you don’t know where it’s coming from. Money factors, living factors, kid factors, health conditions– “I can’t afford my drugs to be able to care for myself.”

*

What worries me most is—what I worry about—what upsets—concerns me, more than all the most pragmatic concerns, is just the lack of compassion and empathy. It’s so systemic. We aren’t encouraged to think that way, and our circle of empathy is shrinking more and more. It comes out in people’s climate concerns. People don’t think enough about the consequences of what we’re doing, in space or in time: “If we can have a breakwater in our city, we’re okay.” Or “It’s not going to hit us for another one or two generations.”

How did you get to that point, where you could look beyond?

I think interaction is one of the most essential things. And meeting people where they are. What social mechanisms make people receptive? How can you make it concrete and refelctive of their experience?

I was wondering about you specifically, how you got to that point.

That’s so tough and I don’t know that it had anything to do with climate justice. Through family and friends who taught me to be thinking outside of my circle of influence? That’s hard to try to pin down. My mom’s a teacher, and she’s always talking and thinking about the way that people live in different spheres of life … Trying to walk that line in a way that’s careful and sometimes quiet. To open up the possibility of a meaningful exchange, not fully on their terms but sort of. If you apply that systematically…

What feels resistant, to you, about doing that? What’s hard for you about it?

I’m really angry, that makes it hard. Really I’m sad and that comes through in anger. We all have our own defenses up … You just see so much anger. I saw on TV, in West Virginia, environmental activists yelling at coal miners, and then the coal miners yelled back at the activists—that’s not getting anywhere. Not even the seed of a conversation can come out of that. To see a person as a walking ideology—no one is.

*

Everything just feels like it’s falling apart … My parents keep apologizing to me and my sister. They keep saying, “This is what we brought you, this is what you’re gonna inherit. I’m sorry this is how the world is right now.” It feels really rough. Compared to other kids I know, my parents are older, so I’m also worried about losing them. It’s hard to figure out. There are the small differences that you can make that everybody can do, recycling and not wasting water, using too much electricity or gas. But with recent events, the Paris Accords, it’s overwhelming … Obviously I want the world to live on, I want creatures and human beings to live on. But sometimes I try to forget.

What do you do to sustain the creatures around you, especially the nonhuman ones?

If I see trash outside of trashcans I try to throw it away. If I see it, it becomes my responsibility. It sticks in my mind. I”m trying to see if there are bigger things I can do—that’s just one street on one block.

*

 

Why is it raining in June? It seems like a rainier—just everything. It’s like we’re adopting the Floridian weather. It should be sunny right now, 70, 75 and sunny, but instead it feels like you’re in London, England. When it’s sunny I’m in a better mood. When it’s time for the sun to be out and I see it’s not out, it upsets me. This weather should’ve happened in April and it didn’t.

*

 

My mom should talk to you—she has a lot of climate anxieties. She know’s it’s gonna affect me more than her, and she knows it’s gonna affect low-income people and people of color more than her or me. She’s been an educator her whole life, and she’s always wanted to leave a better world behind her when she’s gone. It’s painful to think about.

*

I’m worried about the world ending.

What about the world are you worried about losing?

Nature, animals, fresh air. We just want to see this President gone.

Do you imagine the world you’re afraid of?

No. I remember all kinds of dire predictions back in the ’70s, horrible pictures, everybody with gas masks. It didn’t help.

*

For ethnic minorities, discrimination is more of a concern. The way they’ve targeted ethnic minorities—everything about this presidency. The fact that he pulled out of the Paris Accords. And it seems like everyone’s accepted whatever’s happening. There’s no more big protests. We’re all just waiting to see what happens next.

*

 

The roads are really bad around where I live, the South Side. They fix them, but it’s just like a layer over. People just get a little discouraged anyway—they say they’ll fix them and they take all year.

*

G*psy moths. I see them at school and I saw them way more this year than last year.

Do you talk to anybody about this?

Yeah, my friend _______.

They notice them too? Do you guys squish them?

Yeah.

*

I just read that Providence has the worst air quality of any city in New England. [My daughter] always wants to play at India Point Park and I’m like, “Only if you don’t breathe.”

*

The apathy and wanting to be ignorant of the issues. I hope the mentality can be changed before it’s too late. I don’t want the world to be worse for my kids than it was for me. Everyone feels like they’re powerless and if you feel that way, you are.

 

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