Climate Anxiety Counseling: World Oceans Day Eco Fest, 6/8/17

Weather: Cool and gray

Number of people: 9 stoppers, 0 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 1

Conversations between people who didn’t already know each other: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 0

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Money raised for the Environmental Justice League of RI: $9.84

 

Observations:

I expected attendance at this event to skew fairly white, and it did, but my interlocutors were from a range of apparent demographics.

The theme of this event was the ocean and marine pollution, and I did get a higher percentage of people with climate/environmental anxieties than I usually get on a normal downtown day.

When I can, I connect people with local efforts to fight climate change and sustain ecosystems. I brought the No LNG in PVD campaign to a couple of people’s attention during this session. If you attended (or wanted to attend) this event and are concerned with the amount of plastic in the supply chain in particular, you might want to come to this action about reducing plastics production on June 19th in Newport.

I also really wanted to argue—you’ll see who with—but I successfully refrained. This is in line with the terms of the counseling booth, but I’m not sure it’s in line with my principles at large. (This is also probably the point where I remind you that I don’t post the things that people tell me because I agree with them or think they’re accurate, but because I’m trying to create a portrait of what people in Rhode Island think—at least the ones who are willing to talk with me.)

 

Some conversations:

I get freaked out about what you can really do if the government isn’t helping. I feel good about the things that I do, but I’d like the macrocosm to feel good. We live on the fuckin’ water! I can’t believe we’re not the bar. I feel embarrassed by our government.

When you try to go beyond the things that you do yourself, where do you hit the wall?

I hit the wall close, with my own father, people really close to me of certain generations. They trust the government—with recycling, he was like, “Why would I do that,” but if someone else says you gotta put the can in front of the thing he just does it. I start at home, but there’s just so much resistance there. I do things—I reuse containers, I turn out the lights, I make it myself—but I get pissed off about politics. I do my vote, but it’s like, You guys gotta say something! We gotta put it in a way they understand, like, You’re gonna lose money this way. And we gotta do more in communities of color. There’s not enough outreach. They’re not getting that information, and this affects them the most.

*

I have anxiety about the place where I collect all my amazing trash for my art. There’s all these really special objects, and it’s being redeveloped—there’s a big driveway where they want to bring trucks in to develop it, and it’s locked up. I have to boat around from Bolt Point Park to get to it. Anytime they could start developing that land, and then the shoreline will actually be dirty—right now all the trash is washed from being in the water. This started 7, 8 months ago, but I’ve been going there since 2002.

What do you find there?

Lots of plastic, tons of bottles out there. I found a lot of my performance objects there—a blowup doll face, I found an American flag from a ship. I call it my free store.

What have you learned about it in the time that you’ve been going there?

It’s a totally amazing space. I learned that it was built in the ’70s, artificial land built up, like a football field of flat land, by the Providence-Worcester Railroad. They wanted to use it as a shipping place but East Providence shut it down, and it’s been abandoned since the ’70s. It’s just a big rectangle that sticks out into the bay, so it’s like a sieve on three sides for trash—it collects and keeps it. And it’s all grown really beautifully with plants—there’s bunnies, there’s cats, you see predator birds … I contacted the Providence-Worcester Railroad about buying it, but they wouldn’t even get back to me because of how much it probably is worth—but so what, I feel like I could get the money. It’s not sold yet, but the other side is developed, Tockwotton is developed, so this is the only place left undeveloped that close to the city.

Who else loves it besides you?

A lot of different artists. Friends have gone with me to canoe there. I tried a couple years ago to get a grant to turn it into an art space. I’d really like to turn it into a giant sculpture park, with large-scale sculptures. But now that I’ve gotten a firm no from the company, it seems like I’ll have to let it go.

*

I’m entirely wrapped up in the fact of the United States being on the verge of terminal decline. We can no longer trust elections, and there’s a very large minority of the population unwilling to consider a different point of view in the face of obvious facts. We have a group that understands one thing, and that is winning elections. For me, climate is a symptom of that rather than the main concern—more outcome than cause. Nothing is going to matter if the US becomes a bystander nation. …. Russia’s trying to effectively destroy the Baltic countries and Montenegro, aided by Mr. Trump who has turned NATO into a dead letter. It won’t be long before that’s true of nations that used to shelter behind American might … I don’t think we’re going to have any allies at this rate. The United States has been a shining star to the world, even when people within the American bubble have been unaware of that. And now, we’re acting like we don’t give a flying you-know-what. [We’re becoming] just another country full of hypocritical views and nonsense.

How does it feel to be from just another country?

Well, I’ve lived in other countries that were just other countries.

Maybe “a citizen of”, then.

It doesn’t particularly bother me. But if miscreants were happy with the way things were going then I wouldn’t be terribly surprised. The United States created the architecture for trade, for settling disputes, for promoting various ideals. The impact has been to push lots of countries in the right kind of direction.

Why does Russia frighten you?

Well, let’s say they move beyond killing dissidents abroad to kiling editors of newspapers—let’s say a British editor, to give an extreme situation. Then Britain has to be terrified. Freedom of speech dies, freedom of expression is gone. I can’t think of anything more [didn’t catch the word] than Russia having a veto on politics.

*

It’s alarming, there’s no doubt about that. I just think I have a lot of faith in humanity. For people to wake up to values—I think there’s a natural purging that leads to a coming into awareness as a problem gets worse. It’s like a fever means your body’s working, unless it’s really serious. At the end of the day, the heart’s more powerful than the mind. If you don’t address a person’s anxiety, find out how to connect it with your rationale—how can you acknowledge their anxiety and shift them towards action? When I hear, “It doesn’t matter,”–okay, I get that—now what do we do? Sit down? Go to the party? What little small thing can I do today?

*

We’re killing all the fish with all the products that we’re creating. My anxiety comes from seeing animals suffer for our ignorance. I was at an event the other night and one of the servers was like, Can I take your plate? And I was like, Is it reusable, and he was like, No, it’s styrafoam. I’m not able to not see it anymore. My next project is about plastics in the ocean. I’m flying to Florida and kayaking to Rhode Island from Florida to raise awareness and funds for cleanup projects. I want to do something ridiculous to hopefully start a conversation.

*

(These two came up together.)

 

Person 1 (putting money in the jar): The environment gives so much to me, I can’t even pay it! I love kids, and I wanna have kids but I’m so worried about my kids’ future. What’s the world gonna look like when they’re my age? It’s already bad now.

How do you feel when you think about not having kids?

Empty. Without a purpose.

You’re not a parent yet—what gives your life purpose now?

Working with kids, and doing some stuff for the environment.

And if you found out that you couldn’t have kids, or did decide not to have them?

I would adopt. I would help the kids that are here. I just really love giving back what I was given—people in my life have been so helpful, they’ve helped me find purpose and confidence.

Person 2: Having kids is something you feel like you need to do. With me, I’m not good with kids. I’m not patient … I know the world is pretty much collapsing. There’s lots of things going on with climate change, people not being aware of the impact and how we’re all connected. I’m a fashion designer and I’m learning how messed up the industry can be. It’s one of the biggest contributors to waste. Sometimes I feel guilty—well, everybody feels guilty in a way. But I can’t clutter everything up just because of the environment. But [clothing] doesn’t really end up being recycled—I mean, it can go to the Salvation Army, Savers, but you can only use it so many times, and what happens then? They haven’t figured out a good way of recycling fiber.

Person 1: I’m so happy that you’re—not the guilt, but that you’re taking this into account for what you do.

Person 2: I enjoy buying stuff. And fast fashion is horrible, but it’s cute stuff. If [they make it] and nobody buys it, it’s gonna go to waste anyway, unless everybody stops buying it.

Person 1: As an economist, I studied economics, I can tell you that when information is given to people, that changes people’s decisions. You’re gonna be a pioneer and innovator at that time.

Person 2: Obviously one person can change the world, but there’s levels to it. I don’t have the money right now to make my own company. But just bringing awareness, knowing we’re moving somewhere. Like some companies, instead of buying a new one, you can bring it in and they’ll fix it for you.

*

My mother-in-law’s in hospice. She’s on morphine, heavy morphine. [My wife’s] been down there a lot, and I’m left holding the fort here. She’s got the harder work, but changes are hard, finding a new equilibrium is hard. And then the world—so it feels like there’s a lot of transition, both personally and in a larger way … You put on the armor and there’ll be a moment, right, where you can grieve. And [my mother-in-law’s] in pain, so there’s that, and there’s mourning difficult relationships, what could’ve been and wasn’t. The way we handle death in this culture is awful. People wanna keep it hidden. But we were able to get her home, she’s gonna die at home. So that’s—good? As good as it could be … I don’t think she knows it’s the end. And denial means you’re not living in the same space, you’re not agreeing on what’s the reality.

That perfunctory “I’m fine”–at what point do you acknowledge that you’re not fine? People shy away from discomfort, nobody likes vulnerability.

*

I am afraid that our democratic institutions are under attack, and that Congress is not going to do what it’s supposed to do, acting as a check against unfettered executive power. I am afraid that [Donald Trump] is going to be dismantling the administrative structures of government. Departments like the EPA are being unfunded or dismantled. They’ve already got permission to dump coal sludge into rivers. I’m afraid of no healthcare for anybody except wealthy people—I can see that starting to happen to me and my friends.

What do you do when you feel this fear?

I’ve painted my living room and I have painted my kitchen. I’ve been scraping and spackling and sanding and caulking. Making myself exhausted so I can sleep at night. I’m basically a fairly optimistic person. I’ve been calling my reps, I’ve been calling other people’s reps, I go to town hall meetings and demonstrations. That makes me feel like I’m doing something. I’m pushing hardest on impeachment—getting rid of that man as soon as possible—and on the 2018 election.

*

In 2025 there’ll be more plastic in the ocean than wildlife, by weight. The permafrost fields becoming no longer permafrosted and release methane. Ocean currents stopping because of the warming of the oceans, and how that’s going to cause massive disruptions in human society and nonhumans. We’re killing ourselves, which I’m kind of okay with, but we’re taking out so many incredible creatures that do nothing wrong.

Do you talk to people about this? How do you talk about it?

I’m still figuring it out. Mostly I try to present positives, suggest things that could be done. But it’s hard to think about changing lightbulbs when all these [environmental] protections are being stripped away. I’m a physician, and I try to incorporate this into muy day job—I haven’t been trying for very long, but there are a couple of good organizations, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Healthcare Without Harm. I work for Lifespan and they really don’t do anything. The amount of waste they generate every day—if you close a cut, you fill a garbage can. It’s heartbreaking. And they’re going more toward that because it’s cheaper and easier and it reduces the risk of contamination. But there are other risks we don’t talk about.

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