What I wish I’d said

The REJC very kindly gave me a chance at the mic at the resilience celebration and presentation of Providence’s new Climate Justice Plan (Spanish / English). What I said was okay–climate change can stress us out and can add to the stresses we already have, if our kids are sick with asthma, if we don’t have enough work or if our jobs are killing us; while we’re fighting to remove those stresses, it’s better if we can also take care of and support our mental well-being; talking about what we’re feeling can help us practice talking to each other, which is necessary for working together.

But there’s also some stuff I wish I’d said, because it’s true, and here it is:

I wish I’d also said how grateful I was to be there, and how much strength I saw when I looked out at everybody who was there, sitting in folding chairs and leaning on picnic tables and watching the kids on the playground.

I wish I’d also said that mental health is a zone of justice and equity, both in the sense of, “Who gets care? Who gets to feel well?” and in the sense that landlords and bosses and power hoarders of all kinds want us isolated and lonely and tongue-tied and depleted, with nothing left over for each other.

I wish I’d also said that sometimes we don’t call what feels wrong “mental illness,” or even “sadness” or “anger” or “shame.” Sometimes it’s a stomachache, tight shoulders, a perma-clenched jaw, tiredness. Sometimes it shows up in a rejection of practical help, or abandoning a sustaining friendship, or giving up on trying to change something because we’re scared it won’t work.

I wish I’d also said that talking and listening can be part of healing if we do it carefully, and that it can help us know what we can do and should do. I wish I’d said that the city government had made a good choice in listening to the knowledge and experience of the city’s people, those most affected by racial and environmental injustice.

I wish I’d said again how glad and grateful I was to be there with everyone, in this time, in this place.

Resilience Celebration and Climate Justice Report for Providence

Today, join Providence’s Racial and Environmental Justice Committee in celebrating our city’s resilience and sharing the Climate Justice Report for Providence. Providence residents have worked with the REJC and the city’s Office of Sustainability to put together a plan that doesn’t treat any place like a sacrifice zone, or anyone as disposable, but makes the well-being of our city’s people a priority.

If you have questions about what the plan will mean for you, your family or your neighborhood, or how you can participate in carrying it out, this is a great place to ask them! If you don’t know the people of your city that well, this is a great place to meet them.

12-3pm, Davey Lopes Recreation Complex (227 Dudley St), Providence. Spanish-English interpretation will be available, as will food for the first 100 people. I’ll be there with the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth.

There’ll be music (live and DJed) and stuff for kids too. Please join us.

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Stop Cricket Valley: November 16

Last month I held Climate Anxiety Counseling in Millerton, NY, where I talked with a lot of people my parents know. Many of them, and some of the people I didn’t know, said they were worried, angry and frustrated about the Cricket Valley Energy Center. On November 16, residents and activists are rallying against it.

No photo description available.

This fracked-gas power plant is scheduled to receive out-of-state fracked gas through the Iroquois Gas Transmission System, a pipeline project co-owned by TransCanada and the Virginia-based Dominion Resources. Advanced Power, a private Swiss energy company, would own and operate the plant. Here’s a little more background, including some of the project’s investors and other ties.

I grew up about half an hour from where those companies want to build this plant, and my parents live there still. Dover Plains could use some jobs, but this won’t bring them; it’ll bring asthma and other environmental illnesses, weaken a vibrant but struggling ecosystem, and haste climate change.

If you live nearby and can go to 2241 Rte 22 on November 16th at 11am, please go. Sign up here. The Facebook event is a good place to ask about the specifics of support roles. There’s also picketing this Saturday.

Racial Justice and the Climate Movement: an opportunity for learning

As more and more people recognize the need to respond to climate change with multiple forms of action and transformation, we need more tools for working together in a way that doesn’t replicate unjust power structures, but undoes them within as well as outside our activities. If you live in Rhode Island or can easily get here, here is a way to start doing that! It requires some time but is free in money. I’m going to do it and maybe you would like to do it also, especially if you’re part of an environmental or climate organization whose members are mostly white! Sign up here by September 19th for the dialogues described below.

“Join White Noise Collective, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) RI, No LNG in PVD and the FANG Collective for a dialogue series on understanding racism in the climate movement. This 5-part dialogue series is designed to support white climate justice activists and other white co-conspirators in the Rhode Island area in making connections between climate justice and racial justice and how to incorporate anti-oppression into our movements and organizations. Participants will commit to 4 three-hour sessions and will be guided through readings, exercises, and dialogue to reflect on the ways that white supremacy and other forms of oppression show up in our culture, organizations, relationships and within ourselves.

Some of the topics discussed will include: white supremacy culture and how it impacts our organizations, how non-native people can show up in solidarity with indigenous movements and leadership, accountability with front-line communities, Jemez Principles, Green New Deal, and strategies for shifting organizing culture to address oppression when it shows up.

We use these dialogue spaces to develop greater self-awareness, literacy, and accountability in order to show up with more integrity to the movement work in which each of us is involved. We also investigate larger patterns and systems of racism including white supremacy culture, intersections of race, class, and gender, and practices of allyship.”

Again, registration is here, along with dates and locations, descriptions of the organizations leading the dialogues, some core values, and some opportunities to request particular topics of discussion.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Seasonal Total for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective

This season, I asked Climate Anxiety Counseling booth interlocutors to donate their nickels (often, in practice, more–as much as $20.00 from some people) to the Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective. Their commitment to healing and nourishing work as a key part of fighting oppressive forces and enacting a livable, possible world is powerful and necessary, and I wanted to support it. I thank you all for supporting it too.

I’m pleased to report that the people who spoke with me at the booth shared a total of $116.85 (rounded up to $117.00 because GoFundMe doesn’t do decimals). If I do any rogue booth sessions this fall, I will add to the total.

You can read a little more about Tooth and Nail’s principles and projects at the above link, and if you didn’t get a chance to stop by the booth this summer but would like to support their work, I encourage you to do so.

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[IMAGE: Hands digging in brown leaf mulch, mostly oak leaves, a few beech leaves.]

The Tooth and Nail farm also has work days; after I post this, I’m going to put my shoes on and head out there.

Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY, 2-6pm, Sankofa World Market! Last session of the season CANCELED

I was going to be at the Sankofa World Market (275 Elmwood Avenue, Providence) between 2 and 6pm today, August 28, but it is now Too Wet, and I have bailed. I did have a nice visit with this person, who asked me to take their picture.

[IMAGE: A small child with beaded braids running out over the grass and into the rain, carrying a blue and white umbrella.]

The market itself continues through October! Please buy some vegetables from local, hardworking farmers and vendors.

I visited this tidepool when I went to Block Island a few days ago. Tidepools are among my favorite ecological phenomena and one of the places where I feel the weight of climate change, and my love of the living world, the most.

[IMAGE: A shallow tidepool with sand, small rocks and large algae-covered rocks, some submerged and some emerging.]

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Ungallery/Millerton Farmers’ Market, 8/17/19

Weather: Coolish, gray, muggy

Number of people: 14 stoppers

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 11

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 16

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $43.50!

Observations:

I was here with my parents, who are here most weeks (my dad sharing art buttons, my mom selling pottery), and many of the people who stopped for conversations were people my parents know. Some of them also know me—in a couple cases, have known me since I was very small.

Most of the people who spoke with me were also in a similar, fairly narrow demographic—comparatively well off, politically liberal, white, “professional” or recently retired from being so. This doesn’t reflect the demographic of people attending the market, which had a little more range in all categories.

Many people spoke about the Cricket Valley Energy Center, the fracked-gas power plant scheduled to go online this fall about 20 minutes down the road from the market site. There was a fundraising event for the fight scheduled for later that day.

Overall, what these conversations emphasized for me (and thank you to my dad and sister for helping me think through this) is how much capitalism and its narratives deliberately and destructively limit our imagination of how we can participate constructively, lovingly and sustainingly in the world, even when we have the material ability to do so.

Nonhuman animal presences: Big butterfly, little butterfly, tiny ant, pigeons, big grasshopper on my pant leg.

Some conversations:

I’m not gonna be around much longer, but my kids are. You know where I’m going after this? Cricket Valley. I’ve got signs in my car. That’s my big political concern.

How does it feel to think about it?

Oh my God. I feel helpless, I feel anxious. But I also feel—not hopeful, but I feel angry. The anger has always kept me going. But the anger is hiding the fear. Whatever I can do, I’ll do.

…The thing about Cricket Valley is that there’s supposedly ammonia on site, more than there’s supposed to be. The high school’s three-quarters of a mile away. I can walk to the high school from the plant. I protested outside the high school

How did the kids take it?

Some gave me the finger, and some looked. Supposedly the people running [Cricket Valley] are providing story hours, they’re providing scholarships. I talked to a woman who lived next to the plant, I asked her, “Aren’t you afraid?” She said no, and I said, “Well, I’m afraid for you. Do you have kids? I’m afraid for them too.”

*

Several years ago, when I was educating myself more about more about climate derangement and getting more and more despondent about the future of earth and all of its beings, I read something that you guys were doing in Providence that changed the way I started thinking—you were making plans to deal with the certainty of the river rising, and you were actually making plans to deal with the effects of climate change.* So that gave me a different way of looking at this huge issue. And it’s had many effects, one of which is that in our wills we have essentially left all our money to organizations that we feel will be important in meeting the world as a changed world. I have to say how thankful I was to run across that. One of the things I thought was going to be important is how to provide health care, health services…**

How are you feeling now about it?

I feel personally that I have made as much of a contribution as I’m going to figure out how to be able to make. My thinking about it is that the world and humanity are going to be sorely tested.

*Possibly they were talking about this?

**If you’re going to go the donation/financial support route, I usually recommend going with organizations or efforts that are local or semi-local so you can see what they’re doing. If you’re going to go big, look for sources besides their own material that compare their claims to their effects! This article on climate change philanthropy provides a little more context.

*

Hi. I’m really anxious. I think it’s contributing to my dizziness and my gut rumblings and my general discontent and anger at Mr. Trump. I’m very concerned about what he’s doing with the EPA. I’ve traveled quite a bit in the world and I’ve seen poverty—people are going to be in big trouble.

What do you do when you feel the way you just described?

I give money to the Nature Conservancy and the EDF. I try to breathe deeply. … I work in the garden—that helps a lot. There’s a group of friends that I have, we have a code word, “beagle beagle”–it means, “don’t talk about it right now.” There are certain people I trust not to take it too far and not get into rage. But sometimes you have to let it out.

How do you direct that anger?

I physically can’t do what [the first person who stopped] does, going to the Cricket [Valley] protests. I go on doing my art and just being conscious of my gratitude.

*

I have dystopian fantasies about where we’re headed. Earth isn’t gonna be able to sustain its existing population. Climate catastrophe, migration—and what’s gonna happen to the next generation, and how are they gonna deal with that? I think it’s the number one problem in the world. It’s terrifying.

How often do you think about it?

Probably every day. Particularly because our political system is so frozen. I feel paralyzed by the magnitude of the problem. … All of a sudden I woke up this winter and I was like, “Oh my God, this is a crisis.”

*

I think I’m more worried rather than anxious. It’s pushing me to see what I can do about it. Changing from a gasoline powered car to an electric car. Asking what I can do in my town. It started with the election of Trump—I would go to town board meetings just to know what was going on. And I started going to planning meetings for zoning changes for solar energy and wind energy, and I got myself on the planning board. It’s an eye-opener. A lot of people on the planning board are very into, “Let’s develop.” I keep asking the questions [that challenge that], but I haven’t been involved in any actual decisions yet. Maybe it’ll happen, or maybe we’ll agree. But I do worry that at some point it’s gonna be our turn … Things have been happening all over the globe. What’s our turn?

What are some things that you could see the planning board doing that would make “our turn” less destructive?

That’s more of a town board thing than a planning board thing. The planning board is more like okaying or turning down new projects. The ones that are really egregious—those are the ones to stop. I spent half a year going to these town board meetings, and sometimes I was the only person there.

Why do you think that is?

Where I am, I’m kind of blessed. People who are struggling, it’s like the struggle takes everything they have.

*

This is what’s not fair. This is really unconscionable. We can pollute the water, the air, the ground, but what about the animals? What about their rights to have clean water and air? I read that in North Carolina, Duke University polluted about thirty miles of river. What about the fish and the wildlife? It’s so cruel. I can filter the water, but the deer can’t, the raccoons and the beavers and the fish can’t. We seem to be so callous to the environment. We live here. Who put that trash there? It’s the number one issue facing us today. There’s no tomorrow, there’s no “wait till next year.”

…I’m seeing our [CT] reps Monday night. I want to know where Jahana Hayes stands on impeachment. … One impetus for immigration is the environment. They can’t survive, they can’t grow enough food. Yet we’re standing idly by. … Especially when I look at what’s happening to this administration–I am, I am upset. We can’t have this rapacious appetite when it comes to resources. I actually think we’re on the path to extinction.

*

The thing that gets me is personally I’m very sensitive to weather and have been my whole life. What I notice now is more extremes that last longer and are more powerful. It doesn’t just rain, it’s a deluge. … Or the heat—it’s cold until May and then it’s hot. Two months ago we were underwater, now we’re in a serious drought. The pond behind my house—I had to [let some of the water out]. Now you can see the backs of the fish rippling the water because it’s too shallow. I don’t even want to think about what’s gonna happen in a couple more weeks. I feel disappointed and disgusted by my race.

What’s it like to carry that feeling around?

It’s actually becoming part of my identity. Because even though I’m doing what I can … The feeling for me is that there’s some awareness but [we’re] swimming upstream, swimming against the tide. Until I’m not throwing anything away anymore–

*

[Person 2 is the adult child of Person 1.]

Person 1: What’s gonna become of us? There’s really a constant cloud, because I know that the world as we know it—even already it’s not the world as we knew it, and I despair for the future. And I truthfully, even though I would love the hell out of them, I’m not sorry I’m not having grandchildren. I would welcome them if they were to appear.

Person 2: You liked reading dystopian novels, but now—

Person 1: Now it’s become too real. Every other month the magazine I work for comes out, and there are more and more stories [about terrible futures].

How does it feel to imagine how bad it can get?

Person 1: For my lifetime, I’m not likely to be impacted. Except for my kids, who are in their thirties and forties. Unfortunately, there are so many crazy issues right now. This and income inequality are my two biggest issues.

Person 2: We don’t talk about the climate, we talk about politics.

Person 1: Because the climate is so overwhelming.

Person 2: And we’re on the same page about that. I don’t eat meat, I live in the city so I live in an aprtment, I don’t use as much gas. But it all feels futile.

What would feel less futile?

Person 2: Stopping the Koch brothers? I don’t know. I just feel like everything is tied together.

*

Right now I’m concerned about the birds. The Arctic is getting warmer and the summers are getting hotter, so the birds are going to have to adapt—or not adapt.

[This person also emailed me the following, later:]

Loved visiting you all today in Millerton. Anything that takes the impersonal and makes it a part of personal consciousness helps the cause. My concerns for migrating birds moving from melting northern climes to the overheated southern climes and back involves so many unknowns. Who knows how the migrating birds will be able to adapt. We’ll have to find out, while paying attention as best we can the the disrupted climates and the effect on birds, much less other flora, fauna and humans.

*

I saw an article in a magazine about climate scientists and their battle with their emotional state—they know too much, they know what’s gonna happen. I can completely relate to these people. I’ve been an activist now for twenty, maybe twenty-five years. … I got run out of college my first year for drinking and drugging, and I went to Washington DC, and this PIRG approached me to come work to help clean the oceans. So I went door to door. My rock is activism, my rock is change.

Is there a campaign you’ve been part of that you’re really proud of?

Silo Ridge. Over in Amenia, they wanted to put up a walled compound for the 1%, keep everyone else out. I was hired by the next door neighbors, who were the gun club. They were just bullies and I don’t like bullies. I put in probably 7000 hours and I made $7000.00. But I proved to some very wealthy people that if they would have been on my side from the beginning–

…I work with people on a sporadic basis. For a massive project—I’ve got to get better at that.

*

It’s scary. I feel really frightened for my grandchildren. I think you have to maintain hope in the next generation, because our generation really screwed it up.

*

My feelings are all over the place, but I’d say the incline—feeling it’s been on a steep incline, and that makes me feel terrible … Do you know know that poem “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith? I often had that feeling when my kids were growing up. Right now I’m trying to sell myself the world. They’re in their twenties and they know everything is kind of an exquisite mess.

What is the world? I mean, in this scenario?

I don’t need to sell myself many things in the world. If I’m walking or just taking in the world, I am there. It’s really when I hear about just a lot of the materialism and the way Trump’s whole scam for bringing out the worst in people and their tendencies.

What’s the relationship for you between enjoying and despairing?

Enjoying lives here in a circle with ten other people enjoying. And once I enlarge the circle more and more, that’s when I head toward despair.

*

I’m a journalist from a long time ago, and I recently retired from a job in PR for the UN. I went to a forum at Columbia last spring … on journalism and climate change—how to get climate change covered properly. I thought it would be something to get my head away from the deep Trump depression. But in the end it just doubled my depression because I started paying more attention. I’ve been aware of climate change for more than 30 years. Since I retired, it’s been more about how we’re allowing ourselves to be driven off this cliff. People aren’t stopping the Kochs and the Trumps. I can be pessimistic—I have a science background, and when I see science being ignored—I have a hard time looking for the hopeful side of this.

More specific is how I relate to how you live your life. When I get off the train in Wassaic, I see a hundred cars waiting there and they’re mostly SUVs, and they’re getting ready to drive to their second homes. That’s who I am, I’m a privileged second homer. I have a large footprint. I’m guilty, and I’m angry about the inadequacy, and I’m pissed off at how we tolerate this culture of inequality. I live in Chelsea, where they just built these new multimillion dollar apartments. When we do get people aware of climate change, it seems like the only action that we’re allowing for is individual.

*

Here is a picture of my mom, me, and my dad, as well as a stopper and a very small passerby.

[IMAGE: Three people are stationed on an expanse of grass, two people are standing/walking. The leftmost seated person, a white woman in her 70s, is sitting behind a table of pottery for sale and a sign that says “Freedom of speech / Freedom of worship / Freedom from fear / Freedom from want.” The middle person, a white woman in her 40s, is sitting behind a booth that says “Climate Anxiety Counseling 5 cents / Here to listen,” and a gray-haired white person with their back to the camera is talking to her. The rightmost person, a white man in his 70s, is sitting at a small table with a box of art buttons that says “You are free to take one.” A small white child with a blonde ponytail is walking past, looking at all of them.]

Climate Anxiety Counseling at Miantonomi Park TODAY, 2-5pm!

Today is my last day this season at the farmer’s market in Miantonomi Park, in Newport’s North End. Come and share your climate anxieties and other anxieties with me and, if you wish, with Elizabeth Malloy of Living on Earth (you can choose whether or not to be recorded).

[IMAGE: Close-up of a recording device with a gray furry sound muffler over the microphone part, balanced on a person’s knee as she sits cross-legged on the ground. Her knee is on sidewalk, her hand leaning on grass.]

About the Amazon

When people say that climate change is what you get when your starting points are capitalism, exploitation, colonization and genocide, the burning of the Amazon is the kind of thing they’re talking about. This is the destruction of a world. It could mean the destruction of all the worlds we know.

If you have never been driven from your home by violence or disaster, I ask you to imagine the fire–fire set by human hands–taking not just your dwelling, but all your landmarks, your houses of worship, your sources of food and of meaning, driving you and your relatives apart, flattening and poisoning everything that made you who you are.

People are doing this to other people, right now, in what used to be the forest, in order to punish them for existing and to profit from that punishment. If you are neither the destroyers nor the people they’re trying to destroy, what can you do?

Climate and culture writer Nylah Burton has laid out a well-sourced and compassionate explanation of why boycotting beef is a worthwhile response to this murder and desecration if enough people do it. Remember that the purpose of a boycott is to starve an industry or a practice of profit–clearing your conscience is a side effect. (That thread includes a few actions and choices beyond your own eating habits as well.)

Europe and Asia are presently the main markets for Brazilian beef and soy, so if you don’t live in those places but know people there, please strongly and lovingly recommend this to them. People living in EU countries can also write to or call the office of your MEP (UK residents can do it here) and demand that they block the Mercosur trade deal if it includes no protections for the Amazon (a little background).

Improving tree and plant cover and soil health where you live is not enough to counter the wholesale destruction, but is good practice and may offer some relief, especially if it becomes more widespread. If you use Twitter, @BuildSoil is a good person to follow for suggestions and instructions on how to do this. Local conservation, restoration, permaculture, and food sovereignty/food justice initiatives already often have a body of expertise and effort that you can add your weight to–if you’re not already involved with them, use those terms to search for some near you.

Here is an alternate history about the end of resource extraction. Here’s another one about the Amazon and transforming grief into action and healing. Let’s open our imaginations, recognize our connections, and let both of those inform our choices and actions: it’s true that destruction or life in the Amazon can destroy life elsewhere, just as what happens there when the fires aren’t burning can nourish life elsewhere. It’s also true that what we do on the ground we’re on, in the web of life we’re in, reverberates in places we will never touch or see.