I’ll be in Burnside Park, just inside the central Washington St. entrance, 2-6pm today (Wednesday, 6/21) through Saturday. Come and share your climate change anxieties with me, or your other anxieties, mark a place you love and would like to protect on the map of Rhode Island, and get a picture of a Rhode Island organism to take home with you.
Weather: Light drizzle increasing to pouring, steady rain
Number of people: 4 stoppers, 0 walkbys
Number of hecklers: 0!
Pages of notes: 6.5
People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 1
Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.35
Unsurprisingly, very few people stopped to talk to me when it was pouring. There was room under the umbrella—it’s a big umbrella—but the lie of the land had a little muddy stream running down right in front of the booth where they’d have to stand. I rigged the umbrella by bungee-ing it to the handtruck, which worked fine only because there was very little wind.
The stream behaved like a stream, with patterns of currents that were revealed by patterns of pebbles and silt, even though it was tiny and temporary. That was cool to me.
People’s rain behaviors—especially, the way they covered themselves, and their walks—were very lovely. I spotted at least two people using plastic store bags as rain shields for their hair, some hood-stretching and jacket-ducking, and lots of variations of scuttling, determined striding, hunching, and plain old running.
Themes of the day: farming, convenience, reasons why people do or don’t do things.
I started getting anxious about it around the time that An Inconvenient Truth was released. Before that I was like, Eh, you know, it’ll happen sometime soon, and that was like, Nope, it’s happening now. I started looking into little actions I could do, but it’s difficult to keep from having a sense of despair. Every once in a while—I own a house in Providence and it’s 150 feet above sea level, but this area right here is 10 feet above sea level. Half the economy of Providence is 10 feet above sea level.
Can we go back to—you used the word “despair”, which is a really deep-down word. What do you despair of?
That people are willing to make difficult decisions to do something about it. It’s a long-term problem, it’s been building and building, and each year it gets incrementally worse …. You can see it right now. It’s been sort of real—with Hurricane Katrina, it was like, It could have been made worse by climate change but we don’t know, and with glaciers it was like, Well, glaciers come and go. But the moment when I was like, This is it, right now, was the March heat wave we had in I think 2012. It was in the high 70s for a week, 10 days, and people were like, Oh, it’s so mild and pleasant! And I was like, No, this is 20 degrees out of normal. This shouldn’t happen, it’s such an unusual—Oh, we’re screwed.
…I got rid of my car. I was completely vegetarian for a few years, now I eat meat maybe once a week, or less. But at one point I was like, Fuck it, I’m gonna do whatever the hell I want because it doesn’t matter anymore. I didn’t want to say completely fuck it, get the biggest car I can and live in the suburbs, I had a week of saying fuck it and then I went back to doing what I normally do. I like my bike for transportation. It’s cheaper—I save $1000 a year just by not renting a parking place, and I think something like $8000 a year by not having a car at all. And it’s fun, I like riding my bike, it’s fun to do. Same with the mostly vegetarian diet: It feels better, it’s easier to cook, you don’t have to worry as much, it’s cheaper. I could spend thousands of dollars to make my house more efficient, but I haven’t looked into it.
… I follow the Audubon webcam with the falcons. It’s like a streaming media service for me. I’m always happy to see the hawks. I ride out into Scituate and Gloucester—and that’s another thing, you can really see the g*psy moth boom. You can hear it, it sounds like rain. Last August, it felt like April—the trees were mostly bare with just a little green, but it wasn’t because they were budding, it was because they were eaten. When I was in the fuck-it state, I was thinking about how I buy produce from the farmers’ market, and it’s two times as expensive: why am I paying two times as much? But I like to ride my bike in Foster, and I’d rather ride my bike by a farm than by an exurban development. If I want there to be a farm, I need to buy that produce.
I think about icebergs. I think about the extinction of some of our wildlife—and the human race, too. I’m a chef, so I think about plants. I think about the ocean. I’m not too knowledgeable about climate change, but I know that one of the problems is going to be a very serious lack of water … Last summer I couldn’t get butternut squash, I couldn’t get golden zucchini. Oysters come from the ocean. It’s pretty big. But I don’t see it, I hear about it through word of mouth, from news broadcasts—it’s not the same.
… I try to teach my five-year-old to be environmentally friendly, but I can’t be environmentally friendly. Coke, Sprite and everything, they give you this recyclable bottle, but do you see any recycling cans down here? So it’s the city, it’s everything… I can’t just go into the 7-11 and ask for a cup of water, or a spigot, because you can’t trust the water in your city. No matter how much you wanna be environmentally friendly, unless you’re a millionaire, unless you can afford to live that lifestyle you can’t live it… I argue with my brother all the time—he says organic this and free range that, but “free range” just means they spend one hour in the field, the rest of the time they’re stacked up in cages, thousands and thousands, they’re still in the cage unless you’re spending like $9.99. What exactly is free range, what exactly is “support your local community”?
…But I don’t have anxiety about it because it’s not directly affecting me. But I do have a five-year-old son, and I worry about what he’ll be dealing with , and his kids.
What would make it feel like it was directly affecting you?
The extinction of a lot of ocean animals. We live in the [food chain], you need the orca to eat the dolphin, the dolphin to eat the shrimp, the shrimp to eat the algae. … There goes my striped bass, if I want that striped bass, if I want that tuna—we’re the ocean state, but they’re just gonna migrate, I’m not gonna be able to just go to my usual spot. So then it costs more for gas, fuel for buses. But I wouldn’t say I’m anxious about climate change because I’m getting everything that I want. Everyone turns a blind eye if it’s not affecting them.
You talked about your son, and being worried about the future for him—do you show him how to care about things that aren’t affecting him directly?
Oh, yeah. For him, yeah. I’m a victim of society. I’m set in my ways—I’m 33. But we watched [Garbage Island] together and I’m like, This is important. Now he doesn’t wanna go in the ocean because he thinks it’s dirty, but we’re working on it, we’re getting back in the water. The other cool thing about the ocean too is there’s so many animals we haven’t even discovered—oh! and that’s kinda sad, right?
Weather: Hot, bright, breezy. Later, cold enough in the shade that my thumbs started to go numb.
Number of people: 5 stoppers, 5 walkbys
Number of hecklers: 0!
Pages of notes: 7
People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 2
People who knew me from previous sessions: 4
Dogs seen: 1
Dogs pet: 0
Money raised for the Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.22
Started 15 minutes late today because I was walking with a friend and that seemed more important.
The food truck parked near my spot is very loud, grinding and constant. No one came up to talk with me while it was there, but that could just be correlation.
Three cops walked through Kennedy Plaza at 3:17, I don’t know why.
I always appreciate a good, genuine double take.
When someone not only didn’t want to have a session but didn’t want a card, I felt a stab of real anger.
One of the people who talked with me also showed me pictures they took of the plants in the grounds of the nursing home where their father is staying.
[These two came up together and I later found out they’re a couple.]
Person 1: The Global Seed Vault in Svalbard just flooded … There’s no damage to the seeds but–
Person 2: But because of global warming, this is not a semipermanent solution to saving biodiversity.
Person 1: When it was being planned, things were not as dire.
Person 2: It’s like a museum for seeds. We sequester diversity in museums—we make it inaccessible by preserving it. And relying on them to do it is like—it’s really vulnerable to what it’s trying to prevent. They made the Seed Vault to perpetuate and be sure to save seeds, but the mission and the problem are getting on top of each other and messing each other up.
Person 1: I’m much more in favor of dispersing things and letting people use them, not this thing that you rely on [to preserve them]. And who are the people working in that facility?
Person 2: These aren’t just antiquities, this is something that potentially carries life. Some seeds need specific ways of being planted and being cared for. Lack of knowledge could make them useless. Disseminating knowledge and how to care for them makes more sense than separating them.
Not like I stay awake thinking about it, but it’s more like when I am awake. I was on a bus yesterday, in a sea of cars and trucks backed up—we need better public transportation that doesn’t have a stigma. When I tell people I ride RIPTA, they get so snobbish, like, Why would you do that? Why don’t you drive? I’ve been driving all my life, but I prefer public transportation. We need it to make things better for our kids. We can’t do anything about us, right this minute, but I have grandchildren, and who knows what their world’s gonna be like. I think we need to—what’s the phrase? Crash and burn before we do anything about it. One thing is good: there are a lot of people who care, leaders, and at least they’re doing something.
What do you think about our own political leadership?
Mixed. It’s mixed. I think they’re more afraid if they’re aiming to go up for political advancement. But I think they have kids and grandkids, so they care.
Weather: Hot, bright, breezy
Number of people: 11 stoppers, 4 walkbys, 1 bikeby
Number of hecklers: A man tried to get me to admire his (clothed) butt?
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: 2
Pictures taken without permission: 0
Money raised for the Environmental Justice League of RI: $4.71
This was my first non-event booth day of the year—nothing particular to draw people to the park except what usually draws them there.
Because of food trucks and municipal plantings, I’m now inside the park fence (I used to be outside the fence at the entrance). People waiting for buses and I can’t see each other as well as we used to.
A few of the stoppers didn’t talk about anxieties at all—just wanted to chat. Others did talk about anxieties, but I wasn’t able to get permission to share them here (or didn’t feel like the person was in a state to give that permission).
One cop walked through the park at 2:27. There were emergency vehicles on the far side of the bus station at 2:53 and a cop car at the Dorrance St. end of the bus station at 4:25.
My dry-erase map invites people to mark places in Rhode Island they’d like to protect. One person today said, to me, “Shouldn’t it be the whole globe?” Another person said, in passing to their friend, “Like to protect, I’d like to send Rhode Island to fucking hell.”
I mashed a defoliating caterpillar that was crawling on my sign.
There’s this big yellow snowflake in Washington.
Are he and his administration the source of your biggest anxieties?
For climate, yeah. It’s not what they’re doing, it’s the lack of it. And I guess they’re selling off land to all the big companies that drill and mine. But that’s good for all of us, right?
Does the sarcasm help?
Do you talk about this with people?
On Facebook. Sometimes in person—I got a brother-in-law who’s a complete Trumpkin, or Trumpette, he doesn’t think it’s caused by humans. “Oh, a volcano adds more to the atmosphere…” I don’t think I’ll ever get through to him—he kind of just talks and talks …
… I biked here from West Warwick.
[I give him a card with a hickory tree on it]
You might see this on your ride.
I see ginseng all the time. In late August, there’s this cluster of red berries between the leaves, and that’s the root that holds all the power. The trouble with finding that particular one is that it’s associated with poison ivy and wild roses.
It’s probably protecting itself! I know it grows here but I’ve never seen it.
It’s all through the woods in Rhode Island. Get on the bike path and go west.
[These two came up together.]
Person 1: Tyring to quit smoking. I’ve been trying to quit on and off for ten years—but recently, I haven’t smoked since yesterday morning.
What do you do when you really want a cigarette?
Run, walk, hug her, kiss her—anything physical that keeps my mind going.
What about when you smoke when you’re trying not to, how do you talk to yourself about it?
After an hour or two of being pretty upset at myself, disappointed in myself for not following through, I can usually move on.
Person 2: When I was trying to quit—I have depression and anxiety, so sometimes I would go a few weeks or a month and then I would start back up, but I would be like, “Tomorrow is another day.”
Person 1: We tried quitting together but it didn’t work out.
Person 2: When you’re both on edge, it’s not so easy. I had a panic attack earlier today. I have a fear of being out in public in a closed-off area. It just hit me out of nowhere—my heart just dropped, I was having trouble breathing. … And the other thing is I have a fear of death itself: Last year I suffered the loss of someone very important to me … and now my mind just runs. Sometimes it’s hard to stop. I have this indescribable need to try to understand why certain things happen, not to prevent them but to try to slow them down. And then I think this isn’t a normal thing for a twenty-one-year-old to worry about, and that makes me worry even more.
What do you do when your mind is running like that?
I do a lot of artwork, try to sing, take a walk, call him (indicating Person 1). But it’s hard to focus on doing what I wanna do. I’ve flipped out on him, I’ve yelled at him. I get really angry—normally I try to be calm and composed. I was raised around being calm, and when I feel like I’m doing the opposite, I feel like there’s something wrong with me and I try to fix it right away. I try to read about what I’m diagnosed with, and if I catch myself it’s easier to handle myself. But the only time I have complete peace is when I’m sleeping.
… I do kinda punish myself when I do something like that [getting angry]. But I feel like I’ve gained acceptance of the suffering, and when I go through it it’s just part of the process, an everyday part of the solution. Trying to find the right medication is very difficult. My dad used to tell me I didn’t need medication, I could do it myself. So when I start taking it I never finish it, I don’t see the change and I just stop taking it. And a lot of the time I can do it myself—I think that not taking it is part of the reason I have the control that I do.
The money. People who actually need it aren’t getting it, and people who don’t need it have too much of it. I work in retail, and when we get a quality assessment, even if it’s positive, we don’t get the bonus, the top heads will get the bonus. Not the people who’s actually doing the work—they don’t get credit for it … Every company’s owned by a family, and they have the people who they’ll pay and then minions, let’s say minions, to do all their work. And then if you’re trying to sell something, let’s say you want to sell something out of your house, you need a license, you gotta pay for a license, you gotta follow their criteria if you wanna try to go legit. I was making these little bikes, repairing people’s bikes, I don’t have a shop so I was doing it out of my house. And they said, “Oh, you need a license.” ‘Cause they don’t get a cut.
The fact that it’s getting so hot at a time of year when it shouldn’t be so hot means that the world is probably falling apart, and it also means that there are a ton of pantry moths in my house.
Come and visit the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth in Burnside Park today (or tomorrow, or Friday), 2-6pm. Tell me what’s pressing most on your mind, whether it’s to do with climate change or with some other aspect of your life and the world. With your permission, I’ll take notes on our conversation and post them here, and give you a little piece of art to keep.
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
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.)
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.
A few things by me/with me in them and relevant to this project appeared online this week, so I thought I’d share them here.
I wrote about climate and political change, having or not having kids, and record-keeping for the present at Catapult.
Kate Colby and I talked about mattering, meaning, and ecology at Ploughshares.
And Jonah-Sutton Morse talked about stories, transformation, attention and Annihilation at Cabbages and Kings.
The Climate Anxiety Counseling booth will be outside the Cable Car Cinema in Providence today at 5pm as part of the World Oceans Day Eco Fest. Come see the documentary A Plastic Ocean, hear live music and poetry, see things that people have made out of garbage, and learn ways to tend and sustain the waters that tend and sustain you.
It costs money to get into the show, but not to talk with me and the other people outside.
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
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.
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?
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.
…or it will be back this Saturday, in Burnside Park, as part of PVD Fest, and on Wednesday-Saturday afternoons throughout the month of June (with a couple gaps).
This Saturday, I’ll be there 12-12:30 and 3:30-6 to hear, discuss and write down your climate change and other anxieties, and give you a little piece of art (featuring one of your fellow Rhode Island organisms) to keep.
Between 1 and 3pm I’ll be walking and posing throughout the festival with the Portable Floodline 2100 to show, on buildings and streets, how high the sea is predicted to rise. Bring your snorkeling gear and take a photo with us!