Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/30/18

Weather: Warm and bright, some breeze

Number of people: 5 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 4.5

Pictures taken without permission: 1, but I got a thumbs-up

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.30

 

Observations:

I started half an hour late today, and I only got permission to share one conversation, but it was a really illuminating one for me.

It seemed like a lot more people were coming from the river side (eastward) than the highway side (westward). Of late I’ve faced the booth westward; maybe tomorrow I’ll change it. I did get some nice lookbacks and smiles.

Two food trucks today, both on the western side of the park entrance.

Say it to myself at the beginning of every conversation: This is not about how much I know.

 

A conversation: 

It’s my first time in Rhode Island. My son is six, and we live in Nevada, northern Nevada near Lake Tahoe. He’s really concerned about [invasive] flora and fauna in Lake Tahoe, which on a larger scale comes back to people not understanding how to be vigilant. And the four-year-old is just really upset about people littering in general. They’re both pretty good about that kind of stuff.

Is that something that you emphasize a lot with them, or do they get it at school, or what?

Yeah, when they dropped something on the ground my husband and I would say, “That’s hurting the earth.” And my husband and I were both raised that way. He’s from the high desert, and I’m from Florida, so ocean life is important to me, and keeping the water safe. It’s interesting in Nevada because water rights are such a big deal there, because it’s such a dry area, so keeping water pure there is important to everyone. Any new pollution or any attempt to bury any sort of waste out there, there’s a big outcry. There was a leukemia outbreak in Fallon, Nevada, about ten years ago, and they never found anything conclusive about what caused it, but there was a suspicion that it was from a waste leak.

So the water is something that people are very alert to out there.

Yeah, more out there than growing up in Florida. There it was more like people took advantage of the idea that the water was always gonna be there … If people aren’t taught it in school, they don’t understand it, and if they don’t understand it they don’t wanna talk about it.

Do you talk about it with people?

Well, I work with the military full time, and we do talk about it quite a bit. It’s not as much of a partisan issue in the military as it is in other places. We mostly talk about different solutions we can bring to the table … It’s a much easier area for [men and women] to collaborate on.

Compared to what?

Any sort of lines of security when it comes to war, or to terrorism. When you talk about gender—it’s less threatening in a context of natural disaster, where people will have different perspectives on a war zone, for example. But with a natural disaster, people tend to want the same things, food and shelter, to get back in place.

You mentioned that there’s less party politics to it in the military than elsewhere. Why do you think that is?

Maybe because it’s solutions-based. I’ve worked on national security in the Pacific and the South Pacific, and it’s really a long-term endeavor, so you have to have consistency, and partisan politics tends to fracture that consistency. Also in corporate America there’s maybe more of a difference between the haves and the have-nots, and in the military we’re all aligned with the same cause. … I could see there being dissension if a particular weapons set or technology created greenhouse gases and we had to figure out how to balance out their collateral effects—but there again, it’s the difference between short- and long-sightedness. It’s most acutely felt in the South Pacific—you’re talking to people whose homes are gonna be underwater in the next two, three decades.

How do you talk with them?

What’s tougher for us is if you’re not the person whose home is gonna be underwater. It’s a lot harder to explain to them why they should care. Sometimes you can use human interest, sometimes it’s leveraging. If they’re not in immediate threat, you can ask them where they think they’ll be in ten, twenty years. But a lot of people are just making it day to day, and so for them, you have to make those people more secure, with infrastructure within the community. But the average American above the poverty line, who wants the next generation to have a clean and safe environment—you mostly just have to include educating them and offer solutions.

 

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TODAY: No LNG in PVD, 10am, 35 Terminal Rd, Providence

Join No LNG in PVD at 10am TODAY at 35 Terminal Road to tell elected officials that renewable energy infrastructure MUST go hand in hand with environmental justice and ending fossil fuels.

Governor Raimondo, Representative Cicilline and other elected officials are holding a press conference to announce plans for a new offshore wind farm. Which is great! But it’s pointless unless we also stop poisoning the people of the Southside of Providence and building new climate-warming infrastructure.

No LNG in PVD is a coalition of organizations & residents fighting a toxic fossil fuel project on the Southside of Providence. All you have to do today is show up, with or without a sign that says “No LNG in PVD.” There’s another action next week if you can’t make this one.

(This may make me a little late to today’s Climate Anxiety Counseling session, but that’s okay because this is more important. )

NO Climate Anxiety Counseling today (5/29)

Hi all,

I’m not going to offer Climate Anxiety Counseling today in Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park as planned because I’m not feeling all that emotionally well myself, and I don’t think I’d be able to have good conversations with other people.

Part of my distress comes from reading this story about David Buckel, who set himself on fire in New York City: “My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves,” the article quotes him as writing in his last email.

Part of it comes from knowing that I really flubbed a conversation, and I want to think (and write some, maybe here) about how I could be a better participant and guide in similar conversations, and what the topics of that conversation can show me about what I need to do at the booth and elsewhere.

I plan to be downtown tomorrow (Wednesday, 5/30), 11am-2pm, as well as Thursday and Friday. Saturday I’ll be at the Sankofa Market’s collaboration with Sowing Place at the Southside Cultural Center. Come visit me on one of those days, at one of those places.

If you’re itching to do something related to caring for each other today, Hope’s Harvest RI, the gleaning and food recovery program that my friend is starting, is looking for volunteers–sign up to learn about their progress and the role you might play.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/26/18

Weather: Hot and bright with occasional help from clouds, light wind

Number of people: 9 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5.5

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.25

 

Observations:

The part I played in a conversation today was epically bad, in many ways the opposite of what I want to be doing with Climate Anxiety Counseling. It was a conversation I didn’t get permission to take notes on, but I’ll post a reflection on it, and what was wrong with it, and what I could have done instead and would like to do next time, soon.

Much quieter today, emptier of human passersby. No food trucks, though the Del’s guy was out.

In general, I got permission to write down almost no conversations today.

I need to remember to invite people to add to the map.

Today, I saw the usual display of one pigeon puffing up his neck and chest in order to sexually impress another pigeon who increased their pace whenever he got near. But I also saw what looked very much like pigeon flirtation—one pigeon getting a little ahead, but then waiting for the other to catch up.

 

Some conversations:

 

Mansion Beach is the end of the sandy part of the northeast side [of Block Island]. Probably the best waves for bodysurfing—it’s nice and open. I’ve been working out there in the summers since the ’70s, and I lived there year-round for ten years. But I lost my housing and I was sleeping outside, so I got kicked off the island. Climate change out there will probably cut that into two islands—you know, there’s just that narrow stretch in the middle, road and beach and a little marshy area on one side and the Great Salt Pond on the other. During Hurricane Bob, the waves reached up on the road, and the north end got evacuated. I been reading a lot about global warming. In the past 30 years, there’s a lot less shoreline than there used to be.

*

Walking by the river and seeing how dirty it is, knowing that the kids have to see it, how bad it is. I feel sorry for the ducks. We recorded a video by the water in the summer, four months later we come back and it’s even worse. They only clean in up when the waterfront* happens. It doesn’t bother us, but we do see it—we only see it ’cause we’re walking by.

*I think this person was talking about Waterfire, but I didn’t double-check.

 

map 5-26a-18

Description: This (somewhat impressionistic) map of the state of Rhode Island says, “Put your worries on the map,” at the top, and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” at the bottom.

I wrote, “No LNG Plant on Southside” to get things started.

Someone drew the river, wrote “river waterfront” and “help keep clean.”

The rest of the writings and drawings are by a group of kids. I was assured by the artist that the drawing in the middle is her “favorite mushroom,” but her cousins weren’t convinced.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/25/18

Weather: Hot and getting hotter, little restless breeze

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 0

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 3

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.20

 

Observations:

A cop car drove by at 11:10.

I “seeded” the map with “The air in WP/Southside.”

I remembered my sunscreen and wore auntie pants for the heat, but forgot water .

A couple of people were napping on the grass. One of them woke up, and it looked to me like the park ranger asked her to leave, but let the still-sleeping one sleep.

 

Some conversations:

Trump—that’s all you need to know. Scott Pruitt. I don’t think what some states, like what California is doing, will be sufficient. I’ve seriously cut back on my news. I used to be a news junkie. Now I ration the news feed—it’s probably down to about 1/3 of what it used to be.

What’s included?

BBC, Reuters, Washington Post, New York Times, NPR.

What happens when you listen or read too much?

I can feel my blood pressure rising.

What do you do then?

If possible, I turn off all sound and I listen to the birds in the backyard.

Who do you have back there?

Ruby-throated hummingbirds, nesting robins, a flicker. Downy woodpeckers, of course. Purple finches, goldfinches. My backyard is state land, so nothing will ever be built there.

*

 

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: I’ve noticed an odd change in the weather pattern.

Person 2: It went from 70 to 30 in three hours. I don’t know what to wear. The people in the office all make the same complaints about the weather.

[I hand them a card and explain the things on it, including No LNG in PVD.]

Person 1: The state just approved a wind farm. It’s stupid [to use more fossil fuels], we should be moving in the opposite direction.

*

 

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: I’m from halfway across the world, so this heat is normal to me.

Where exactly?

Mumbai.

Have you noticed climate change having any effects there?

The monsoon is getting worse. When the monsoon hits, the roads flood.

Person 2: Summers are hotter, winters are colder.

*

Climate change confuses me because I don’t know what to believe. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Both sides seem to have an agenda.

One thing you might want to look for is what interest the person has in having what they’re saying be true, like what they get out of it. Do you have a science background?

Yeah, I do. And that’s another thing, I saw someone referencing a study, but you can’t see the actual study without paying $20.

 

*

My sister would be proud of you, and you’d be proud of her. Look, this is what she does. Straws are another thing, just trying to get rid of plastic straws. My lips work fine! We’ve made some progress. Ken’s Ramen has plastic cups out so you can get your own water, but when I asked, they gave me a reusable cup. … I’m president of [A BEACH ASSOCIATION] in [SOUTH COUNTY], and we hire kids to pick up garbage on the beach and send it back to Proctor and Gamble—they call it “storied plastics.” But then they said we weren’t collecting enough. There’s a board meeting tomorrow and I’m going to propose covering the cost of the shipments.

 

map 5-26-18

Description: This (somewhat impressionistic) map of the state of Rhode Island says, “Put your worries on the map,” at the top, and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” at the bottom. On the map I wrote “the air in WP/Southside,” and another person has put dots all over to indicate that they’d like to protect the land and water.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/24/18

Weather: Bright, hot sun, stiff cool breeze

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 3 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 4

Pictures taken without permission: 1

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 3

Dogs seen: 5 (4 tiny, 1 big)

Dogs pet: 0

Narcan shared: 1

 

Observations:

The park ranger and the parking meter enforcer hang out together.

Nonhuman organisms in the park: yellowjacket, starlings, hairy defoliating caterpillars.

Today I had lots of conversations with people that I didn’t get permission to write down. Sometimes this was because I asked and they didn’t give it; sometimes because they were in full flood of speaking and I didn’t have a chance to ask.

One such person had a blue jay feather tucked behind their ear, and I showed them the one I keep in the RI Organism card box.

People often ask me about trends from year to year. I’ve already noticed a slight uptick this year in anti-immigrant rhetoric, and I need to figure out how I want to respond to that (haven’t been satisfied with the ways I’ve handled it so far).

 

Some conversations:

I moved up here from Florida in ’86. Thirty years ago we never needed air conditioning. Now we need to put it in every summer, usually by May. Winter [used to start] in October. Everybody who says it isn’t happening has their head in the sand.

 

*

Well, I did read about Greenland. There was a huge article in the New Yorker—I felt almost traumatized. It’s just coming unglued. There are huge crevasses, it’s melting at such a rapid rate, and ice reflects sunlight but water absorbs it. It’s such a rapid pace that they can’t even [measure?] the rate of melt. It was a very powerful experience reading the piece. These people that have dedicated their lives to being on the front lines of global awareness of climate change—it just kind of blows me away …

Boston flooded, there were like, floating cars, and it was vastly underreported. I didn’t see it in the national news. I try not to be a huge conspiracy theorist, but I felt like it was deliberate. [The Greenland article] really woke me up—I was really aware of it before, but not feeling it personally. I think we’re going to see rapid changes coming down the pike in the next five years. I think people are gonna be up to their waists in water, I think people are in denial.

What do you think people would do if they recognized this reality? 

I’m moving inland. I’m visiting a friend in New Mexico, Santa Fe, and I’ll see what happens. I feel like I kind of go over better west of the Mississippi. My daughters have moved away, Lucy [the dog] finally died a few months ago—I’ve had a lot of loss and a lot of completion …

Have you talked to your daughters about it?

I haven’t talked to them about this. They think I’m nuts anyway. My friend who’s moving to Oregon, she’ll say, “If there’s a tsunami, I’ll just hop in the car.” If there’s a tsunami, you’re not getting in any car! I think it is hard to grasp, I don’t know. … If you love where you are and you have a good life, you wanna stay where you are. I think people are like, “Well, the weather certainly has been erratic,” and older people remember very different weather patterns, but people just think it’s weather. I remember these really cold winters, my boots getting full of ice. …

How does it feel, when you think about it?

It’s awful. I have a friend who’s a master of permaculture. She’s got a self-sustaining quarter-acre, where she can grow enough food to feed herself and her family—it’s like two backyard lots, and we’ve talked a lot about issues of food scarcity. She was pretty dire. Her feeling is that we’ve just really gone too far. And I kind of had to not have that conversation. I honestly don’t know much good it would do to have a garden if people around you were suffering from a shortage of food. … Sometimes there are things that are just too painful to discuss, too huge to wrap my brain around. There are times in the day that I’m more open to confront difficult things.

*

 

[I know both of these people, and have spoken to them at the climate booth before, but they don’t know each other. They came up to me one at a time, but also spoke to each other.]

Person 1: I guess I’ve been thinking about water. I was watching the weather on TV, which is not something I normally do, and they were talking about El Niño and La Niña, and I learned how the moisture that the soil absorbs in spring affects how rainy the season will be—the rainier a spring is, the more likely thunderstorms are, and that’s weird to think about.  A lot of things come and go—human matter is the same carbon that’s been around forever but it’s in different forms—but water doesn’t decompose, it’s the same water, and we only have so much of the water we have—I mean, we have so much and so much of it is not usable, a fraction of one percent of it is actually usable.  The rest of it, we can’t use it or it’s hard to use it. I don’t know how to turn that into an anxiety—well, it is an anxiety that—what if we don’t have water someday?

Maybe my anxiety is that I feel a little fatalist. Growing up as a child of global warming, I recognize that the Earth is dying and I want to make changes, but people who really know what’s going on are like, “We’re fucked.” Ten, twenty, thirty years—I think in thirty years we’re not gonna have energy. You have to put energy into getting energy: people talk about solar and wind power but it takes a massive amount of energy to make a metal turbine. Solar panels are made with all these rare materials.

… I tell my sister, she’s talking about what she wants to be doing thirty years from now, and I’m like, “Do you really think things are gonna be the same in thirty years?” Or people are like, “Our children’s children,” and I’m like, “I don’t know if there are gonna be ‘our children’–or they’re not gonna live like this.” We can take steps to preserve some things, but other things have already been lost. It doesn’t make me want to destroy—it makes me want to liberate things in the short term. I don’t think I would be as radical as I am [without the knowledge of climate change], and I think a lot of people have been radicalized. Soon, even the capitalists will suffer. Desperate times call for desperate measures. But I think it also has made me numb … Sometimes, I feel like I’m not doing anything, or I’m just working on my own things because I feel like it’s all gonna be gone in 20 years.

[Person 2 came up around this point.]

You can be delusional and think things can keep going the way they are, or keep going with just a few minor changes, but we’ll be transformed by this, so we can either be radicalized and work really hard, or take the sad way and just be passive.

One thing I’ve been thinking of is—people do things, or one of the reasons people do things is because they feel good, not just because they’re trying to avoid feeling bad, so in a time like this, how do you move toward joy?

Person 2: I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing. I feel like there’s no future right now, but I’m just gonna keep producing plays, keep writing the things that I want to see in the world.

Person 1: I feel like that a lot. Does it feel worthwhile to you?

Person 2: What feels worthwhile is that I find my tribe. People who I relate to and I relate to them.

Person 1: I think about how much fun I had on the night Trump was elected. We were all like, “I don’t know, fuck it, let’s get drunk in Worcester,” just breaking things and being like, “Nothing matters.”

Person 2: These days, I’m waiting for a cop to talk to me. That’s when I’m gonna be like, “Nothing matters.”

Person 1: Does it scare you?

Person 2: No, I’ve had ’em. I’ll have more. The more I learn about policing and social justice, the more I find if we can grow out of slavery we can grow out of guns. That’s the other thing that feels worthwhile, connecting with the youth and teaching classes—my art doesn’t exist without that. That’s how I move toward joy. I just applied for a grant, but if I don’t get it, I’m teaching this class anyway. Art through social justice—I get excited about that stuff.

Person 1: I don’t think people realize the mental health toll of living in the world where nothing is certain.

I was wondering if people who—you know, the more marginalized you are, the more likely you are to face upheaval every day, and I was wondering if people who have had to face that might have wisdom for those who haven’t.

Person 2: I wish. This is a cultural issue. I remember during the stock market crash, and black people were like, “Just another day. You’re stressed out over something that we’ve been living.” Most black people will tell you, “Welcome to my world.” You make the move when where you’re at is so uncomfortable that you can no longer bear it. You either think we’re crazy, or you join in.

map 5-25-18

Description: This (somewhat impressionistic) map of the state of Rhode Island says, “Put your worries on the map,” at the top, and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” at the bottom. Someone has drawn a circle around the entire state.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/23/18

Weather: Hot, breezy, bright, big moving clouds

Number of people: 12 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 9

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 2

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 0

Conversations between people who didn’t know each other before: 1

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 1, but I didn’t recognize them at first

Money raised for the Environmental Justice League of RI: $9.30

 

Observations:

This day was my first in Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park this season. I didn’t know what to expect from the new time (11-2 instead of 3-6) or the presence of the food trucks. So far, what it’s come down to is that a higher percentage of strangers talking to me are people who have food truck money. The noise of the motors doesn’t seem to be a problem; I can hear everyone.

One person who spoke with me also shared her fries with me. I ate about half of them and then shared the rest with a guy who did not have food truck money. (I only touched the ones I ate.)

You need a permit to be a vendor in the park. The ranger came up to me near the beginning of my session and said, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you know what I’m gonna say, don’t you?” (I have a permit; I showed it to him.)

Next time I need to come out with water and more finished organism cards.

This seems like a good moment to reiterate that I don’t agree with everyone whose conversations I post!

Some conversations:

The housing situation. We’re constantly having to move. We’ve had three houses sold out from underneath our feet, and the place we were just in got condemned for no apparent reason. Someone called the fire marshal and they were like, “Oh, you gotta update to the new fire codes,” this impossible renovation, so they misplaced families, they put us in a hotel. The landlord is depressed, his hair turned white in a week. This house has been in his family for generations. My children are straight-A students, but every time this happens it’s affected their grades, their attendance at school, they’re tardy—they should not have to deal with this.

I think they’re picking on him for renting to Black people. The fire department, when they saw it, 48 hours later they shut us all out. Changing the code—it’s like the police stopping a car, like, “This is a bus now. Everybody gotta get off, and you gotta get a bus license. If you don’t get a bus license, you gotta get off the road.”

*

It’s a really big issue. The current leadership of this country has me the most anxious. I can’t even listen to the radio anymore. I used to listen to NPR all the time, but now every time I hear the so-called President—I can’t even say his name—I have to change the station. I have a violent reaction—I want to yell, to drown out his voice. If they mention his name, I have to turn it off. Now I just listen to WCRB, just music, the classical station.

Where do you get your information now?

News apps and online—the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC. I’m interested more in a global perspective. This way it’s in my control if I choose to see his face, or read or hear what he said. He makes me want to do violence to myself or others—mostly others, mostly him.

What do you do when you feel that anger?

I drink alcohol. I joined a gym, I want to be more physically fit.

Have you been involved with any political stuff here in the state?

I haven’t. I used to be active in another state, around the 2004 election. I’ve been voting my whole life, and at first I registered independent, until I found out that in my state you had to be in a party to vote in the primary. I’ve since become disillusioned. I’m not a member of a party—I’m more progressive and left-leaning than most Democrats. There is a woman running for Congress in my district, but I haven’t signed up to volunteer. I think we need more women in positions of power.

What would smooth your path to volunteering?

If I had a sense that it would be time well spent. But if that was what it took, nobody would donate, nobody would volunteer. It’s difficult to fit in with my own personal business, but I’d probably feel better.

*

My wife and I noticed in East Providence, on Massasoit Avenue, there are these abandoned gas tanks, Getty tanks, and someone is building houses there. Who’s gonna want to live there? God knows what’s in the ground there.

*

Global warming trends. Weather patterns seem strange lately. I have some anxiety about cell phones and wireless—what long-term effects of that are there gonna be? Because it’s pretty pervasive.

What does the anxiety feel like, do you feel it physically?

I get a tension in my head, a tightness in my chest.

And what do you usually do after you feel it?

I try to distract myself with reading, doing work or chores around the house. I try to be conscientious, but I have anxiety about some of the things I have around the house that are going into the landfill system.

*

I heard 11 feet by the year 2100.

Where’d you hear it?

Some progressive politics meeting. That’s a good chunk of Rhode Island! I’m filled with anxiety, but it’s not present enough, I have to consciously think of it, and I think that’s why action doesn’t happen. There’s no immediate sign of it that you feel—it’s not like an asteroid heading towards Earth. But it’s gonna have really scary consequences that we haven’t really understood yet. The ecosystem is incredibly elegantly balanced, and because of climate change—I think the Lyme disease outbreak is a consequence of climate change. There’s sea level, there’s stupid simple things that we can picture, but we don’t picture how the rain falling over the wheat is gonna start falling over the Pacific. I’ve decided that this is the issue. Other political issues are just moving deck chairs on the Titanic—what does it matter about income inequality if the planet doesn’t work? I think people feel a bit of helplessness, like, “What can I do”– or they’re like, “Oh, I drive a Prius, I’ve done what I can.” Maybe it’s because I live in a liberal bubble, but I haven’t bumped into that many people who don’t think it’s a real thing, I guess that’s good.

*

I think it’s stressful how much we are consuming and [at the same time] talking about the natural world breaking. I don’t think I can imagine it. So much of my day-to-day life is relying on the Earth. We have this human saturation—not the amount of people but what we’re doing. That’s my new band name, Human Saturation.

What would they sound like?

Maybe really harsh noise. It feels like something down the road. We don’t want to think about it until we inevitably have to deal with it, and we pretend we’re not going to have to. … To have this huge thing that’s happening to everyone, to not acknowledge it is damaging, literally damaging. It’s hard to find one single answer. It has to happen on a huge level—I don’t think a few people biking to work every day is gonna cause change

*

 

I’m coming from a place of statistics. Overpopulation—more people means more waste, more use of natural resources, higher [carbon dioxide] levels. … It’s one of many things that’s gonna happen. Maybe the ice caps melt and we all drown. Maybe we die in a fuckin’ fiery mass of nuclear fallout. It could be a bunch of different things. Massive volcanic eruptions, the sun being blotted out by ash clouds. Who knows how long we have? We all could be living on fuckin’ boats. A massive Atlantis is what I see. There are people who live on water already. Or maybe [carbon dioxide] levels rise and our planet burns to a crisp and we’ll all go live on galactic space stations. Everything has its cycle—part of time is essentially death. … When you work out, you’re breaking your muscles. It takes death to incite growth. We’re all just figments of imagination, we’re specks of dust, a million atomic particles with the capabilities for love. If we pass—you can’t create or destroy energy. Our bodies die but the energy continues. You could wipe all the information off the face of the earth, science will still be science. We’ll be absorbed back into the Creator. Love is my higher power. It’s one way of sort of honoring God, God presents himself to me through the love of other people. … If you show love and be kind, you will be blessed by God. I’ve been clean for a couple of months. I was an addict for 10 years, and what I lacked was love—recognizing and applying love and living by it. Being an addict tends to absorb everything you love, all your interests, all your pleasures. A guy in recovery told me you can trade one thing for everything in your life or you can trade everything in your life for one thing. I’m blessed to have two beautiful children and it’s my duty to make sure that they love themselves first and foremost, but more importantly, that they’re accepting love from others.

map 5-23-18

Description: This (somewhat impressionistic) map of the state of Rhode Island says, “Put your worries on the map,” at the top, and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” at the bottom. People have written:

Woonsocket

The box of Eddie St

Coventry

Massasoit Ave

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sustain PVD Fair, 5/19/18

Weather: Gray, warmish and drizzly; the event was inside

Number of people: 17 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 11.5

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 3

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 3

Photos taken with permission: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $6.33

 

Observations:

Because this was a sustainability event convened by the city, many/most of the people there both as visitors and as presenters had an existing preoccupation with a livable future. This can sometimes give an event the feeling of preaching to the choir, but if you’re in a choir, you might as well sing together. (I said this on Twitter also, but I thought it was good so I’m saying it here as well.)

Possibly related to the above, especially at the beginning of the day, a lot of people wanted to talk about the booth but not have a session.

I’m redacting things like where people live and the organizations they work for, to keep them anonymous, but it also means I miss chances to spread the word about an organization or to let people know that someone else cares about what’s happening to their mutual home.

People often ask me if I’ve noticed changes over the 4+ years I’ve been doing the booth. This season so far, people seem to be talking a lot about a futureless world, a futureless life. Other themes: electoral politics and the connection between “lifestyle” and identity. It’s also worth noting that so far, people imagine their houses being broken into in a time of (for example) extreme food scarcity—but they never imagine that they’d be the ones breaking in.

 

Some conversations:

Roadway flooding with sea level rise. I’m a civil engineer, and I live close to the Providence River down at [REDACTED]. You can visibly see the change, even just when the tide comes in and out. It’s easy to imagine it. Because of the industry I’m in, I hear about it a lot. At the ASCE conference, they announced that their initiative for the next fifteen years is focused on resiliency, a switch to resiliency. So it’s in the forefront of my mind.

At a conference like that, how do people talk about climate change?

There’d be a workshop on a project that’s innovative in terms of climate change resiliency, one on how to get stakeholders on board. That can be tough, because stakeholders will be like, “Why are you talking about this thing that’s not happening when we need to patch this pavement? That’s crazy talk.”

How do you and your colleagues respond to that?

We try to be understanding, put ourselves in their shoes. It’s important to have a good moderator. I’m strictly an engineer, I don’t deal with policy, but you try to get everyone coming to the table and talking about the approach before the projects even start. You don’t hear about resiliency hardly at all right now, especially in the public sphere. I was on a climate resiliency panel for this climate and transportation seminar with Prep RI, trying to just educate our members who are various transportation people in Rhode Island. How is this going to affect traffic signals, roadways, bridges? What is the state doing, what is Boston doing?–these water-adjacent cities

*

The whole economy needs to focus on long-term health and climate change—not just ‘corporate responsibility.’ But I don’t think we’re going to see that kind of mindset unless [something drastic] comes … Are we doing the right approach by only focusing on development plans? … I think we need to focus more on education. I work on policy and development, and it’s an intrinsic thing to be able to think long-term. What we try to do is develop policies [for] cities and states to have more aggressive plans, so that they will be forced to change their behavior to some degree.

What do you think keeps people from changing what they do?

The idea of the good life. People want to enjoy their life, so it’s hard for them to admit that climate change is a problem, because they would have to change their life. We need something that’s really able to show the impacts in a very strong way—make them touch it. Or else—I think people at this age are very set, so they need something to open them up. I do yoga, and it opens you up as a person, it makes you think and feel differently… So you either do it by fear or you do it by sensitivity. I see my friends, they just want to have a good life, but they do care about their kids. But unless a big thing happens somewhere and they realize, like, it will come to you—Some people feel like they’re just immune. I spend a lot of time with people who think about it the way I do, but I also have friends who are in the oil and gas sector.

How do you talk with them about it?

I try to be unbiased, I try to talk mainly factually. I see everyone as a human being. If something doesn’t make sense, I will tell them.

*

I’m glad I’m as old as I am, ’cause I don’t like the way things are going. A lot of people my age feel that same way. My wife does too.

*

From such a young age I didn’t want to have kids. I first found out about global warming through An Inconvenient Truth … Nature is really in danger, and I want to spend all my time protecting it. But it’s hard to get a job doing that—there’s not a lot of funding. I’m working full time and then 20 hours a week with [ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANIZATION], and I’m wondering if what I’m doing is even having an effect. It feels defeating. Politicians aren’t protecting the environment the way that they should. I went to [LOCAL CANDIDATE’S] barnstorm and I’m gonna host a party for his campaign, but I’m having mixed feelings about it because I don’t trust politicians. I’m doing it because I want to be like, “I’m here, holding you accountable!”

What are the things you want to hold him accountable about?

Fields Point cannot happen, the power plant [in Burrillville] cannot happen—and the privatization of water.

This is so pressing, so urgent, I feel it in my bones. The things I connected with people over, I almost feel this disconnect from now. They’re like, “Oh, these conversations are depressing. We’re fine.” But we’re not fine. I want to not just talk about the problems, I wanna talk about the solutions, but people are like, “I have my own things to protect.”

What do you think they’re trying to protect?

I think it’s their leisure—relaxing, and peace of mind. They’re kind of all part of the same music scene, they identify with this concert scene, that’s where they get their sense of pride. That’s supposed to be about coming together. Music is for people to relax, but what are you relaxing from? What work did you do?

… In the back of my head, nothing is good enough. We need such strong action. We’re not there yet, but every step toward it is a victory. We’re crawling, but the more we have people crawling, the stronger the movement’s gonna be. In my head it’s a struggle. I want to tell people, “It makes me happy that you wanna help, but that’s not enough,” but if I talk to someone who doesn’t understand, they’re like, “This is why I didn’t want to get involved.”

*

Convincing suburbanites. I’m retired, and I got a fairly good situation, but I can’t seem to get people in that environment to take this seriously. I talk to people, they’ll recognize that it’s important to—oh, to not litter, or not pollute. But the use of fossil fuels, they really don’t want to hear it. “Oh, I won’t be able to drive my car, I won’t be able to take an airplane to Florida.” As bigger storms happen, as there’s more environmental impact, then it’s gonna be, “Oh yeah, I guess I’m gonna have to be thoughtful about my use of plastics.” People get takeout food from restaurants, all kinds of plastic containers. I know they’re trying to do a ban on plastic bags.

The Sierra Club is terrific, but they’re not a political or an electoral group. Whitehouse and Reed won’t talk about it. The corporations own the Democratic Party. I have a grandchild, a couple of kids, they’re adults now, and I worry about the future for them. I call it brinksmanship—push the problem right up to the breaking point. In the suburbs you can ignore it … But we live five or ten miles away from where they want to build that power plant.

 

*

You gotta have a talk with Mother Nature. She’s been—she doesn’t even know whether she wants to stay hot or cold … I noticed this year we’ve already had a few of those high heat days and here it is the beginning of the season. I went to a five pm service for Christmas and all I had on was a thin sweater. It’s not supposed to do that in December. You got people saying it was a terrible winter, but how could it be a terrible winter? When I was younger we had winter. Poeple have adjusted to the climate.

Do you feel like it affects you in your everyday life?

I don’t know what to wear. I’m thinking, Okay, I leave the house with two layers on and carry another one. I’ve added stuff to my CNA bags—I have bags where I keep a box of gloves, wipes, an extra uniform—and now I should put in a heavier sweater? Maybe better put an umbrella in there? We’re trained to be prepared.

Do you think it could also cause problems for your clients? Like getting to your clients?

The very worst was back in the mall flooding. I live in [REDACTED], I have a client in West Warwick, an 8-10 client. I’m coming out of the client’s house at 10 and I’m noticing that downpour, and the sewer drain is actually lifting. I remember getting home half an hour later and seeing on the news that the mall had flooded. I had to call another CNA who lived on that side to take my client in the morning.

*

All the construction that I’m seeing, particularly on the East Side, but all over Providence. There used to be empty spaces and now they’re being filled with these enormous glass buildings—there’s no empty space anymore between buildings. On Charles St., there’s no space between the sightline from the state house to the park. I’m claustrophobic to begin with, and this is adding to a grander claustrophobia. And all this construction is ignoring the fact that this is still stolen land, so the historical stuff that was there was already an aberration because it was built without any collaboration or blessing from the people whose land this is. All these new homes—everything that’s housing—is being built for people with giant incomes. The housing I’m in is toxic on so many levels, but I can’t afford to get out of it, and so many people can’t afford to get in it, to get placement in a toxic place like I’m living in … and they’re filling up every available space with colonizer steel, concrete and gas.

*

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: I’m worried that buying a house in Rhode Island was a terrible idea because of sea level rise. People close to the coast will have to migrate.

Person 2: I checked and our house is 75-80 feet above sea level.

Person 1: But what about all the people who aren’t 75-80 feet above sea level? You can’t live in a world where your neighbors are flooded out and you’re fine. And then am I gonna have people breaking in because they’re starving? We can’t survive unless all of us survive.

What are some things that we can put in place right now to set up a different path?

We’ve been planting food in our yard. The solution to scarcity is to offer freely, so you have to become a producer and have something to offer. I can’t feed everybody, but maybe I can feed people enough to keep someone from hurting me.

*

My beaches are disappearing. The last time I went sailing–I sail on the coastal waterways and down past the Great Dismal Swamp, where enslaved people used to hide when they escaped. There are all these little islands, beautiful little pine forests. Last time I went there, all dead.

It’s wild how a dead tree is its own gravestone.

Yeah, you can’t hide it.

*

Do you have any anxieties about climate change?

Well, I’m sure we all do. Not the Trump crowd. My family itself are a bunch of right-wingers.

Do you talk about this stuff with them?

I avoid it to some degree and get into it to some degree. When it comes up, I speak my mind. I’ll say, “The glaciers are melting the world.” They try to be more politically correct and say climate change. Not just glaciers but droughts, floods—there’s flooding in Miami, but by the time it gets bad it’s gonna be too late. They’re saying 2040 is gonna be catastrophic. I have a sister in North Kingstown, one in East Greenwich, one in Florida. Our dad was a big right-winger, and I was the only one who was a rebel. Even my mother was like that. [SISTER] is the only one who doesn’t like Trump, but she still goes along.

*

My Maine is gone, it’s there but it’s gone.

*

I don’t think I have that. But my son, he’s seventeen years old, and he’ll say, “You see the weather? That’s because the world’s gonna end.” He just blurts it out, he’s so casual. He may be anxious but I’m not detecting it. You gotta think about it at some point—I don’t know what part of the day he starts thinking about that. He might get a rise out of telling you, but if you ask him he’s not gonna bring it up.

… Death is a part of life. My [vision] is to live out to 100 or whatever in peace and harmony. That was always my vision from when I was a little girl.

*

My climate anxieties are the same as they were last year and the year before and I already talked to you about them.

map 5-19-18

Description: This (somewhat impressionistic) map of the state of Rhode Island says, “Put your worries on the map,” at the top, and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” at the bottom. People have written:

power plant 😦

RADON

State parks

RIVER ROAD + SMALL FOREST

West End Bucklin Park

Rocky Point

Beach erosion

Climate Anxiety Counseling in Burnside Park/Kennedy Plaza!

I’ve finally figured out the schedule for my Climate Anxiety Counseling shifts in Burnside Park, opposite Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence–the original site of the booth and one of my favorite places to do it.

Come talk to me 11am-2pm* on…

May 23-26

May 29-June 1

June 5-6

June 8-9

June 12-16

I’ll also be there on June 7, but the time may be different because of other things that are happening that day.

Thanks as always to Jen Smith and the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy for hosting me here. I walked into Jen’s office like, “So I have this idea,” four years ago and she’s been solidly supportive of it ever since.

*This is unusual and inconvenient, I know. It’s because I watch my friend’s kid on Tuesday/Thursday afternoons now. If you can never make it at that time of day, come see me on Wednesdays 2-6 at the Sankofa Market, starting on June 20th!

Climate Anxiety Counseling TOMORROW at the Sustain PVD Fair!

I’m offering Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sustain PVD Fair tomorrow, 10-12 and 2-4. It’s at the Southside Cultural Center, 393 Broad St., in Providence.

Before or after you talk with me, you can sign up for a solar evaluation, learn how to make a building more energy efficient, hear from the Racial & Environmental Justice Committee about Providence’s plan to be carbon-neutral by 2050. All of that is free; talking to me costs 5 cents; the composting workshop and rain barrel workshop have fees in the $30-$35 range. (If you want to do these and can’t afford them, please get in touch with me at my gmail address, publiclycomplex, or in the comment section, or just come talk to me at the counseling booth tomorrow.)

Another good reason to come to this is that it’s a way to meet other humans who want to work toward a livable human presence in our ecosystem. One of the things that often frustrates me about Climate Anxiety Counseling is the one-on-one-ness of its interactions: people aren’t using the booth to meet each other or explore the possibilities of working together. Coming to Sustain PVD may help to set you on that road.