Climate Anxiety Counseling: Miantonomi Park, 8/5/19

Weather: Warm and bright

Number of people: 4 stoppers

Number of hecklers: 0!

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

Dogs seen: 5

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $1.00

Observations:

I had Elizabeth Malloy of Living on Earth, with me, listening and recording (with permission), to see if there’s a story in all of our stories. She also asked some questions, so if you see italicized text starting with E:, that’s her. (Italics with no initial are me, regular text is people who stopped at the booth.) Elizabeth will be with me at the booth for the rest of the season, at both the Providence and Newport sites, so come along if you’d like to be on the radio.

Sorry about all the [brackets] and …, I had a lot of fast-talking people today!

Nonhuman animal presences: seagull, ant on booth, monarch butterfly, red admiral??? butterfly, pigeons. Elizabeth saw a hawk.

Some conversations:

I was having that discussion with some people [at a recent music festival] and it was really interesting.

What was interesting about it?

For one, because some people were there who had kind of the same outlook as me, and then there were some people there who didn’t have the same outlook. I think it helped us us understand—well, it helped them understand the situation and it helped us understand where they were coming from. But it seemed like what they were saying was mostly from what they heard, not from what they experienced, where I’m talking from experience. I think it’s really because they’re not really doing their research—they’re just going by what they’re hearing. I try to pride myself on just having conversations, not believing everything I hear.

What were some of the things they had heard?

That there’s no such thing as global warming. Maybe they don’t even really think about it to try to figure it out, or maybe they don’t even care because they’re not gonna be around…I want to learn more because it takes so long to say anything. Some people who were part of this conversation knew a lot, and they were answering questions that I might’ve had too. I’m worried about what’s going on. I have a son. I live in Newport, we’re right near the water. I need to start learning, because I live near the water, and the tide might come up, and I might go under.

*

[This person, who works with the Newport Health Equity Zone, has taken on the assignment of asking market vendors and shoppers a different question about disaster each day.]

So my question of the day is: If the bridges were shut down both ways and you only had two days of food, how would you survive?

What have people been saying?

People have been saying they’d fish, grow gardens, trade stuff—a lot of trading. A lot of people said stealing, taking stuff. One little girl I aasked, she’s eleven, she said she’d look to her mom—she can’t really do stuff by herself so she’d look to her mom to carry her. [We’re trying to] find out what people know, maybe do a little class on survival. People don’t all have the resources they should or know everything they should. But the idea is, this is serious, climate change is serious, so what are you gonna do to prepare for it?

Do you have ideas about how you’d deal with it if it brings up new fears for people?

I would let them know that before this time period, people got through cold winters and they got through hot summers. There was a past [where people got through harsh conditions] and we can get through it, and you can get through it. There’s older people I’ve talked to and they’ve gone through it, they’re eighty years old.

How are you feeling about climate change yourself?

I don’t know. I’m personally scared. I’m not gonna lie, I just this year found out what climate change was. Now that I’m seeing it I don’t even know a lot of the things we’re using and we’re doing, but I feel like we’re making it worse. I’m really scared. I can say that.

People are scared to leave the island. You have everything you need here. But with climate change, we live on an island, so if all of downtown gets flooded, there’s not enough room for everyone to live up here. Would I be homeless? I’m scared of that. What if I’m a person who’s afraid of leaving? I mean, I’ve been places, but only for a week. This is where I’ve grown up, it’s where I was born, I went to elementary, middle and high school here. I’ve never had to go anywhere to work for a job, I’ve always found work here. You can leave, but why would you want to? I don’t know life outside of Newport—everything is here, all the resources I need are here, even though there are some resources that could be more.

What do you do when you feel those feelings that you just described?

I ignore it, I’m not gonna lie. And I feel like that’s the issue.

What do you think might make people more willing to not ignore it?

Knowing how to survive. If I knew how people work, how things work with electronics…But with things like washing close with your hands—I’m so impatient. I have a dishwasher, why would I spend time and wash each dish by hand?

E: It seems like for you, climate change correlates a lot with survival.

Yeah, like losing what you need to survive. Are you worried about losing other stuff?

… So like speaking for my future … I wanna help people with substance abuse, and it seems like with climate change that problem would get way bigger. No one would want to use that resource [of healing from addiction] because there would be nothing to live for. My Pop, my grandpa was in I think the Vietnam War, and he was getting high because the tragedy from it was so terrible. It’s like you’re not trying to be there, when you really need to be there.

Would you be willing to let go of some stuff before you had to?

At this point, honestly I would. Having these conversations [from the daily questions] really started to get me thinking about it. If it’s gonna give me a few years of time…

*

[This person started by reading the map of worries, which says, among other things, “Too many hotels and not enough parking.”]

Too many hotels and not enough housing. We do have homeless people [in Newport]. I think as a native Newporter, they care more about the tourists than they do about us.

The city?

The city, and the tourists too. It’s just expensive to live here.

Is it getting worse?

My rent goes up, my income doesn’t. … But I’m glad I got a roof over my head. I’m not really complaining, I’m just feeling for some people who don’t have that. I have a friend that just sold her house and she’s looking for a place, but every place has a waiting list. I pay almost $300 a month for Blue Cross. This is the richest country, we should have [affordable health care].

. Why do you think we don’t?

We’re probably spending too much money on—maybe we could bring down Congress’s salary. They’re not doing anything. Republicans right now, excuse my language, are sucking up to Donald Trump.

[Talking about mass shootings] What’s sad right now is you’re scared to go anywhere. I remember in ’77, they were talking about nuclear war–I don’t remember if we had to get under the desk.

Are people here afraid?

I don’t know anybody here that’s afraid, but I’m sure they are. This is happening because people are having problems—they have no job, they have no place to live. I worked for the government for twenty years in [CITY], and then on the base for a while, and when you work for the government you realize how much waste there is. Whatever money you have for supplies, you gotta spend it or spend less next year. So you’d see people paying $40 for a hammer.

[Candidates say] “I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that,” but they can’t do what they wanna do. When I was younger, we picketed the Housing Authority … I talk to a lot of young people and they don’t vote. They don’t care.

Do you know why? Do you talk to them about it?

I do talk to them about it. I even have a couple of grandkids who don’t vote.

…People don’t believe in global warming. I watch Planet Earth and a lot of things like that. Look at the polar bears, they don’t have enough ice. … It concerns me, but I don’t worry about it. There’s nothing I can do. I think it’s a bigger problem than I can solve. I mean, I can talk to people about it, which I do. I’m at the senior center a lot, they see stuff on the news—well, they mostly watch soap operas.

*

I have a strong and long scientific background [that has given me] a sense of inevitability and the fact that humans don’t like to face change until we have to. It’s not anxiety anymore. I do have some [anxiety] that people get fixated on the weather, rather than on vectors in the viral sense, effects on monocrop systems—those things are more of a risk to my children.

… I’m a [MILITARY] officer and I try to lead people, and it’s so incredibly difficult to change someone’s mind through a direct, almost attacking approach… [It works better to be able] to say, “This is what I do.” Do as I do, not as I say … I wish it were facts and logic, but it’s not, and even feelings aren’t going to do it. Your values are indicated by what you’re going to do. But I understand the futility of it.

How does change work in [your branch of the military?]

We’re usually faced with evolutionary change rather than revolutionary change. Part of the problem with [this branch of the service] is that we’re so technologically tied—we can’t separate our intellects from the technology we use…

The Navy and the Department of Defense understand [climate change] as an existential threat to our economic systems and our health as a country. [The Armed Forces] fundamentally do not do politics. Our strategic goal is to maintain the freedom of shipping and communications. No sailors or soldiers are fighting for a political statement. … They’re massively invested [in preparation]–every Department of Defense housing facility is mandated to have solar. Upgrades to systems…We’ve got bases in places that are going to be wiped out really quick. [When something bad happens], we have all these things we’re gonna be able to do, but until the bad thing happens to the right people …

Who decides who the right people are?

[The military] is subjugated to the will of the people, which is the civilian authority. … The problem is too big for people to think they can do anything about.

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