Climate Anxiety Counseling at AS220’s Foo Fest, 8/12/17

Weather: Heavy, humid, cool but with underlying warmth

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 6 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1 video!

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 7

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $20.20

 

Observations:

I did the booth at Foo Fest a couple of years ago, and I was inside the perimeter (where you have to pay to get in, and where other activities and the bands are). I talked with 23 people. This year, I asked to be outside because I don’t like to do it in places that people have to pay to get into—part of the point of the booth is to keep access to it very easy (even the 5-cent donation fee is optional). I only had 11 conversations. My (totally unscientific and untested) hypothesis: that people who are paying for an experience (e.g. an arts fair) are more likely to stop and see me if they understand me as part of the event they’re paying for.

Possibly relatedly, I always make a ton more money for the EJ League when I do the booth at an arts event or an event labeled “green”, as opposed to doing it on the street or at a market.

Also relatedly, I moved from one side of the gate to the other about an hour in, so that I’d be more visible and so that there wouldn’t be a police officer standing behind me.

A bunch of sweet friends had a drawing session with me to make RI organism cards to give out, and that evening felt amazing to me and made me recognize my love for and rootedness in my city. Also, one friend and her daughter and sister stopped by and brought me a container of tiny tomatoes, and another friend shared her cucumbers with me.

 

Some conversations:

I’m troubled by the fact that we’re moving closer and closer to a point of no return, where we’re not able to reverse the damage that we’ve done to this planet. Everyone has the right to have a family. An amazing and vital part of our humanity is to have children. But it’s sucking up resources. The population is growing large enough that it’s not sustainable. Plenty of people try to live in an environmentally unharmful and neutral way, but regardless of that there are just too many people on the planet. I don’t see education about how to live more sustainably—people are still eating beef, for example.

Do you talk with people about this?

Not in any activist type of way. It comes across in conversations with friends, like, “Oh shit, what are we gonna do, what can we do, what’s the point”–those conversations don’t necessarily lead anywhere productive. I guess it reinforces my commitment to how I live, how I teach my children. … We all have the right and we all have the instinct to reproduce. It’s very difficult to say. There are many reasons why people choose the size of family that they choose. I know in China they have ordinances around the number of children—that doesn’t feel right.. I don’t have daughters, I have sons, and I teach them about birth control … I think all you can do is live as mindfully as you can and support efforts and shore up people’s energy for making efforts to do right by the earth.

*

How often do you have to do this to feel better?

*

We won’t be able to change things fast enough to have a bicycle-based society in time—to change our infrastructure. Even in my own habits and where I live—how am I going to get to work? How to enjoy relaxing without using a car? My parents live in Little Compton, and when I go out there I try to stay for two nights—I’m not zipping all over the place—but still.

How could you be involved in making some of these changes?

I would need to start going more to city planning events. In DC, I think, they have a tax on nonpermeable infrastructure, for any new structures. But as the the climate’s getting wacky, I worry about people not having reliable access to food … It’s a limited world with limited resources, and we have a culture operating as if it was still a frontier with the potential for unlimited growth. If you’re a person with me, with low productivity, you can work less, drive less. But I have no retirement savings. … If I felt like I had less wealth and resources in my social network, I wouldn’t be so comfortable with it.

*

[These two came up together and had similar fashions.]

Person 1: Donald Trump is worrying me.

What about him?

That he exists! That he represents 30% of a once hidden population, so that now you know just how much you are hated. And behind him, you have a theocrat who wants to dismantle the [US] Constitution, saying there’s no such thing as global warming because there’s no such thing as science. “Don’t drive your car, don’t go to the doctor.” They’re cutting arts funding—and art and design come into all of that.

Person 2: What do you recommend for someone who feels hopeless in the face of all of this? When you do what you can, you go to marches, you sign things, but you feel like it’s just not gonna do any good?

Person 1: [Those events are] preaching to the choir.

Person 2: They have absolutely no effect at all. I feel like I’m just biding my time till something changes.

Can I ask what else you’ve tried?

Person 1: I’ve signed every petition there is. Senators aren’t gonna listen to me, the governor isn’t gonna listen to me … If you see someone who you think might be targeted, it’s a good thing to smile at them. You don’t let people around you be abusive in words or actions. You don’t add to somebody’s burden.

Person 2: If I can’t do anything to alter what’s going on in DC, you can be civil and generous to people in your environment.

*

I’m really worried that humanity, even though it knows what’s going on, just loves its creature comforts better than giving up one or two things. I see it in myself … Maybe a huge marketing campaign, but if that’s what it takes for the human course to shift, maybe we’re doomed, if truth and information and knowledge isn’t enough in itself. It has to get packaged up and delivered. Maybe it’s always been that way. There’s always been wars, there’s always been people becoming parents. Maybe the marketing thing is more the positive, the love, and war is more like the fear. We have the concept of the planet as our other parent—we’re inside of it, but there’s not that much connection today. Maybe we need another psychology, where the planet is the child.

*

I see the LNG trucks down on the water there. I live in Olneyville, and I remember when Merino Park was just a brownfield. Now people have a place to take their kids and ride their bikes. I’m afraid that they’ll just dump it. One of the things about that park is that it was given to the neighborhood without gentrifying the neighborhood. So many times, they just kick everyone out—why don’t you just do it for the people who are already there?

*

The fact that we all die. And also that we’re destroying our planet, and that future generations will look back on us like, “They had so much and did so little.”

Do you imagine what it’s going to be like?

It’s hard for anyone to put their imagination to exactly what the world would look like. I tend to go towards the apocalyptic. And a regression of the life that we enjoy, of the plenty we enjoy in US consumerism. We feel guilty, but we still do it.

So is it that you’re worried about not being able to get hold of things you need?

Every leisure activity I do is casual consumption. I use products that are made to be thrown away. … I just don’t have the willpower or mindfulness to go against society. I don’t necessarily believe that society will make choices for the greater good. Buying things is an easy way to feel better. My joy comes from my family and my friends, from creating things, writing, reading—but when I’m lonely and there’s no one around—I think if resources are available people will go toward them. Our best hope is the expansion of technology and the ability to create solutions.

*

I’m worried that I’m part of the problem. Everyone plays their part, but I could do a better job of fixing my carbon footprint. I used to really care about what I ate and how it affected the environment. But I had an eating disorder, and not being vegan is part of my treatment. It’s just difficult to go between being hardcore vegan and not, and I get worried that I’m not doing enough.

*

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: Finding clean water sources. And saltwater intrusion.

Are you from Florida?

I lived in Florida for five years. I struggle a lot with the whole climate change idea in general. Most people think climate change is just warming—they don’t realize that it’s killing the oceans. It’s a lot bigger than people think it is.

Person 2: A lot of people in this country are very isolated. They know, but they don’t want to know so they can keep living their lives.

Have you ever had to make a big change in your life? You don’t have to say what it was, but what was it like?

Yeah, I made an impulsive decision that then I had to live with. I don’t know how to put it into words. … I think it’s gonna take something drastic.

Drastic things have happened.

Yeah, but then they pay scientists to say it’s bullshit.

How do you handle it when you have these feelings?

I kinda go into the abyss of my brain.

Person 1: We’ve had some discussions and I still think people can work together to solve the problem.

Person 2: I’m a little more pessimistic about human nature.

Person 1: I think that if we can get over our petty squabbles and unite as a [species]–if we put your faith in solving this problem and not destroying the earth–

Person 2: But people have different priorities. If we don’t fix this in the next 5-10 years–

Person 1: As a species, we’ve solved every problem we’ve ever encountered. I guess I just hope we can solve this one.

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