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.

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