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

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One thought on “Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sustain PVD Fair, 5/19/18

  1. Pingback: Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/24/18 | climateanxietycounseling

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