Climate Anxiety Counseling/Call to the Dead TODAY, and Call to Action

Today is the last Sankofa World Market. I’ll be there starting at 3pm and going till sunset. Come and share your climate-change-related anxieties and other anxieties with me.

At the end of my stint I’ll lead a brief ritual honoring all the humans and nonhumans who have already died because of climate change and its effects, and inviting them to speak to the people who have knowingly caused the worst damage.

In the wake of FERC’s decision to allow the LNG plant in Providence to go forward, the FANG Collective is calling for people to participate in a range of direct actions to stop both this and the fracked-gas Invenergy plant in Burrillville, RI. Please read this pledge and see if there’s anything on it that you are willing to commit to; if you want to talk that decision through with me today, I will try to help.

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[Image: a Black girl in a parka, drawing on the Rhode Island map of worries, next to the Providence Community Library sign for Knight Memorial Library.]

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Guest Post! Climate Anxiety Counseling with Julie Beman: City Wide Open Studios, New Haven, CT, 10/14/28

[Note from Kate: Julie Beman held her first ever Climate Anxiety Counseling session last week in New Haven, on the sidewalk next to Violet Harlow‘s studio sale and across from Edgewood Park Farmer’s Market. Here is her account of the day.]

 

Weather: Sunny and cool

Number of people: 7 stoppers (3 sitters) and many walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0

 Pages of notes: 0

 Dogs seen: many

 Dogs pet: 2 goldendoodles

 

 

Some conversation recollections:

 

1. Oh my god, I can’t believe you’re here! I need to talk to someone like you! I just bought this painting of a whale, I’m upset about the report that came out, I use so many plastic pens and I saw all those animals with stomachs full of plastic and there are so many plastic pens in my office…

I was thinking about the pens and remembering that I have fountain pens from my father and grandfather and I’m going to have them cleaned up and give them to younger people in my family and say “here’s a gift from your ancestors.”

(Then we talked about how ancestors don’t have to be from ancient times. Just a generation or two ago people didn’t use plastic, cooked at home, tried not to waste food, used hankies…)

*

2. What’s wrong with the climate? Why should I be anxious about it?

Well, some people think that the climate is changing and causing a lot of problems, and some people don’t. Have you thought about that?

I don’t care about anyone here. I saw a video of people in a cafe and then a tsunami came in and flooded everything. I cared about those people.

So you feel compassion for those people?

Yeah, people on islands. Not here. I think about the environment. I try not to buy a lot of things. I don’t need a lot of things. People buy too many things. We don’t need that many things.

(And that was about how it went until he said “Yeah, I see why you’re doing this. Cool. You made me think. Cool.”)

*

3. A man and a woman. He talked about the government and multinationals and career politicians and “follow the money.” She talked about all of the things she’s trying to do – organizing, making donations, calling/writing politicians. He just kept going and going – very ‘splainy – and concluded with “Well, are you supposed to give us advice before we leave?” I asked if that’s what he wanted, and he said yes, so I said “OK. Try to spend some time with your feelings.”

 

Other folks stopped by who didn’t have time to sit and talk, but said that they would have if they could. A couple of people said they were moved by the question. One bicycler shouted that she’d be back later.

 

On Instagram a woman asked if I’d be doing something similar locally (Hartford area rather than New Haven), and I said I was trying to figure out where to do it.

 

 [This is Kate again. If you’re interested in figuring out a version of Climate Anxiety Counseling that works for you and the people in a place where you live or spend much of your time, let me know at my gmail address, publiclycomplex, and I will help you get set up.]

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 10/10/18

Weather: 83 degrees Fahrenheit in October in New England; sunny

Number of people: 1 stopper, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 1

Empanadas (from the store across the street) eaten: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.00
Observations:

Only one person talked with me today. My friend Rani made this beautiful henna pattern on my hand at a time when she didn’t have any customers either.

unravel henna

Nonhuman visitors and passersby: hornet and ant on the notebook (at different times), monarch butterfly in the library garden, carpenter bee, honeybee, tiny grass moth.

 

A conversation:

What do you think can be done on the civic level?

[I spoke about cities making room for climate migrants and refugees, and increasing food sovereignty; didn’t write down what I said.]

Our system don’t think about even half of what you’re saying. The way that democracy work, things go from the top to the bottom. We don’t have the infrastructure—we need to create more. We see the problems with the house, but the rules are set by the landlord, so if you wanna change the room—you have the idea, but it’s frustrating, because the people who can make the change will not do it.

What appeals to me is having some representative here, because what I’m telling you has no weight. We can talk, but as nice as that is, it doesn’t change things. You can’t act on something that you are not allowed to act on. Having representation here—someone with influence in Washington who can get things done.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Sowing Place, 10/6/18

Weather: Cool and gray with heat waiting

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

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

Dogs seen: 3

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.10

 

Observations:

Interpreter Eveling Vasquez was with me today; only one person, a walkby, briefly needed her services, but she engaged with some interlocutors in English as well.

Nonhuman animal presences: yellowjacket, carpenter been honeybee, cabbage white butterfly, tiniest spider, pigeons in flight.

Some conversations:

I’m scared. I got kids–26, 24 and 16. I’m scared that the planet is gonna be a horrific mess, that they’re not gonna have good air to breathe. That all the demands to turn things around are gonna fall on them. I’m scared of the chaos and destruction of society, and that there’s gonna be a wall betwen those who are directly impacted and those trying to hang onto their power and wealth. There’s going to be so much violence and suffering throughout–I’m not sure if it’s gonna be winners and losers. These delays for years and decades mean we all lose.

Do you talk with your kids about this?

We talk to them, but those conversations are hard too. They’re in their 20s, they’re trying to figure out their careers and lives and social relationships.

What makes the fear come up for you?

Definitely reading the news, ’cause you get horrified and scared. I have wonderful kids, but sometimes it’s scary what they really pay attention to.

*

I live in Los Angeles, and for the past three years it’s gotten 15 degrees hotter every year. And everything’s on fire. It impacts our air quality–it’s harder to do things outside. Dogs can’t go outside, there are times of day I can’t take my dog for a walk because the sidewalk’s too hot. And if something’s on fire nearby, that’s scary.

How do people talk about it?

It depends who you’re talking to. People will talk about how it’s scary that everything’s on fire, if it’s encroaching, if there’s currently a wildfire going on. People talk about how it’s hotter than it used to be, there are more fires than there used to be, it doesn’t rain anymore … It feels scary, sort of foreboding and sort of apocalyptic. It’s not so imminent that it’s really gonna impact me. I’m concerned more in the context of people who don’t care. The actual idea that the world’s gonna end doesn’t bother me that much, but it’s sad and disappointing that people don’t care about what’s gonna happen to the environment after they’re gone. I feel it all the time, and I think everybody feels it all the time–everything just feels a little bit worse.

… In my house in particular, we make a conscious effort to be positive so we don’t get mired down in it. We try to share one piece of good news every day. It forces you to be more conscious of things that are not destructive, and what you actually can do to do something constructive or counter the negativity. I think you can always be better–I’m a vegetarian, I’m trying to be a vegan, I spend more money for things that are sustainably produced. We try to use our graywater, we don’t do it as much as we could. I understand that there are structural constraints that prevent people from doing these things. It’s important for me personally to believe that the little things matter–I know sometimes you hear people saying they don’t matter. I do stuff that offsets my carbon footprint, to at least leave no trace, mitigate the impact of my existence.

What are some ways you work together with other people? 

There are many cool local vegan organizations in LA. There’s a lot of community based work. But also in LA, there’s this huge contrast because there’s all these really rich people with huge mansions that all have their sprinklers on, watering their green lawn that shouldn’t exist.

*

Global warming–you know what bugs me? It bugs me that I work in places where they think passive management of the environment is impractical. I work in a building from the ’60s, and they could have put in ventilation or skylights but they put in air conditioning. … That was how people thought 50 years ago, and they’re still thinking this way. Why is it so difficult?

I have 24 solar panels on my house. I generate more electricity than I use–National Grid has to pay me. I don’t know why more people don’t just cough it up [for solar panels].

Eveling: Was it too expensive?

In the end, it’ll be cheaper. So many people don’t want to think beyond a year or a month. … It’s money and also a sense of, “It’s still impractical.” My uncle–I’m like, “You live in Florida, why don’t more people do solar? It’s the Sunshine State!” I think it’s kind of a brainwashing. Reagan called them “solar socialists.”

*

I’m just concerned about the changes–like for example, this fall. Yesterday it was cold. The day before that it was hot, and then it was extremely cold. It’s just weird. And then being used to that transition, where you can prepare yourself to get ready for cold weather–you have to add another thing to the schedule, buecase you have to have the right gear.

 

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[Image: map of Rhode Island marked with “Stillhouse Cove,” “Sankofa Market,” and some drawings by kids.]

The person who marked the map with “Stillhouse Cove” said, “There’s an effort to maintain the grasses and the plants, which attracts the birds and the proper fish. After a storm, when debris piles up, it’s gone the next day.”

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 10/3/18

Weather: Cool, gray, then some blue skies but the sun still covered.

Number of people: 2 stoppers, 0 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.35

 

Observations:

I brought cookies today and shared them with the vendors. Rani shared a chicken empanada with me.

A person drove by blasting “Beat It,” which was good.

Nonhuman animal presences: yellowjacket, who landed on my notebook; honeybee, who flew past; seagulls and pigeons overhead; sparrows in the grass; ant crawling on my notebook too; squirrel posing on library steps.

 

Some conversations:

I feel like I’m gonna explode. I’m from Utah, and I keep thinking about how Utah is just on fire and nobody in the Northeast thinks about how the West is on fire. It feels like all the power is concentrated here, away from the impact, and all the impact is in the places that have no power. It’s so scary. Utah has less than one million people in it, but so much land and really really horrible politicians. It’s always sort of freaky to be in this part of the world [the Northeast US]… When I was a kid, we’d have to build our Halloween costumes over snowsuits. Now it doesn’t snow till mid-December.

How do people in Utah talk about it?

Not like it’s a futurity. Like it’s already happening. The tenor of it is apolitical. A lot of people are ranchers and farmers, and they’re noticing what’s going on. We have no water anymore. I think it’s more like people are adjusting to new normals—there’s not really the sense that there’s anything that’s possible to do about it in a substantial enough way, which I kind of think is right, I think that’s probably true.

So they think about it as something more concrete.

More concrete and less changeable. It’s almost a relief to be in it in that way. Like there [was] a fascist rally this Saturday here, and that’s freaky but these’s also a sense of relief. It uncovers things we know are already there. With the climate out West, it’s more alarming and visible and tangible, you can see it for what it really is, it’s not clogged by all this other stuff. There’s so much concrete—I feel disconnected from my body out here. Out West I feel like I have a relationship to the land. It’s fraught in all kinds of ways by whiteness and colonialism, but it’s also a real relationship to place. Here, I forget I have a body. But also, here, I sort of have to work for it and I think there’s something really beautiful and special about that. The Northeast doesn’t offer itself to you very easily. When I moved back to Salt Lake City I felt alienated in a different way because there are these very easy and superficial relationships to place: you can drive for ten minutes and be at the foot of a 12,000-foot peak. You don’t have to work for it in the same way and there’s something special about that spiky exterior.

How do we live with this feeling?

It feels like a disservice to not feel it … The question of scalability feels important. I want to resist individualizing crises, and also, what does it look like to live consistently [with your principles]? I don’t know if you know the book Joyful Militancy, by Carla Bergman, but she writes about prefigurative politics, the effort to build the world that you’re trying to live in in the immediate present.

What are some ways that you do that, or try to do that?

I work with [REDACTED]. That feels concrete and meaningful, helping people get access to BAs. I live in [a collective] house, and we grow a lot of our own food. Living collectively feels really important, practicing reciprocity that’s not one to one. Making bread for people.

What would you like to be doing?

I’d like to dance more. I’d like to find more somatic practices. I’m more able to do the work that I’m doing when I feel in my body … I’m thinking about adrienne maree brown saying, “A flexible body is a strong body.” Fight or flight makes our bodies rigid.

*

What’s the thing you can’t say in a public context but that you can say to me now?

We’re so fucked. We are losing. We are going to lose this.  In the movies, you always know that things are bad when the scientists are saying they’re bad. But scientists are saying that and nobody really cares …Miami is already flooding, California is already burning. You go about your business, you hang out with your friends, people come over for dinner, and then you check the weather report.  I think letting people know in enough time, so that displacement isn’t traumatic … The more sudden it is, the more traumatic it is. If you go to a psychic and they say, “In two years, your whole block’s gonna burn down,” if you believe them, you have time to prepare. But if they say, “Tomorrow your house is gonna burn down,” or if your house is already burning—How can we say this in a way that people might be able to use…?

[Image: a photo of sporangia on the bottom of a displaced fern, seen in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.]

Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY, Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 3-6pm

Hi, everyone. I hope you’ll come see me at the Sankofa Market today, outside the Knight Memorial Library (275 Elmwood Ave) between 3 and 6pm today. You can also buy a vegetable, taste a cooking demo, listen to some live music, and watch kids run around.

I was going to post a photo of some sporangia that I saw at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, but now I can’t find it.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Broadway at Sutton St, 9/28/18

Weather: Sprinkling mist, chilly.

Number of people: 3 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 2.5

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 15, mostly from afar

Dogs pet: 0, but did receive one sniff/lick on my extended hand

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.00

 

Observations:

 I was doing this partly to get attention for a fundraising event for No LNG in PVD later in the evening. No one who stopped to talk with me attended the event, which was their loss, because it was amazing. We raised just over $1400!

 Interpreter Eveling Vasquez was with me this time, but no one who stopped needed her services.

This is the first time I’ve ever done the booth in my own neighborhood.

 

Some conversations:

I worry that it was never a big issue with a lot of people, and now it’s even less of an issue with a lot of people. In the national conversation, it’s fallen out of the limelight. People are more interested in other stuff. It used to be people would debate about whether it was happening. I don’t see people debating it anymore, but they don’t want to do anything about it.

 Why do you think that is?

 The problems of today seem much bigger than the problems of tomorrow. It’s tough to hold onto a problem that’s very big. You want to focus on something else, something you can make a difference on. There’s a little bit of apathy. I do it too … I don’t do very much. What am I doing in particular that’s helping the climate? I don’t drive much, but that’s not because of the climate.

 *

 Who doesn’t [have climate anxiety], who has any sense?

 What are some of yours?

Air pollution, plastic, garbage disposal. Just about everything you can think of. And we got a guy who’s not gonna care about it if he gets confirmed. I’m gonna be very depressed when he gets confirmed. It’s not just this, it’s gerrymandering, everything—the whole Republican party voted for that tax cut. They are truly diabolical. You feel like the country’s going in the wrong direction. I got a lot of older folks where I work, and they always want the TV turned to Channel 10, Channel 12. Sure, it’s good to know local news, but you know right away they’re Trump people. I talk to other [patients] who think he’s crazy. But they’re used to looking at Channel 10 and Channel 12, they’re not that well educated, blah blah blah.

 Do you get into it with them?

 Not really. I get an idea of where they’re at, I talk and joke with them. It’s not worth talking about. I won’t get into it ’cause I know they’re not gonna like me. Sometimes I do.

*

I’m taking an oceanography course, and we spend a lot of time talking about the earth and how old she is. The professor’s talking about the atmosphere and its interactions with the ocean, and of course climate change is having a lot of impact on that. I left in tears. I’m disappointed in the human race. We’re destroying so much, and that’s awful, and it’s embarrassing, like when your parents give you something to take care of and you mess it up. We’ve failed in a way, and what’s really hard is what we’re taking down with us—we’re not just destroying ourselves. So that’s what I’m thinking about. I’m embarrassed. We should’ve done better. Part of me thinks we should be trying to make amends, but that in itself feels selfish. The earth will heal itself [if we’re gone] and things will kind of spin around. We’re really just trying to preserve ourselves.

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 9/26/18

Weather: Gray, humid, sprinkling rain. Later, breezy and cooling off some.

Number of people: 4 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 3

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.00

 

Observations:

Short shift (4-6pm) today because of a meeting.

It’s pretty common for me to have conversations about farming and food when I do the booth at the farmers’ market. I think the three different ways these three different people are talking about them are illuminating.

Yellowjackets; cricket sounds.

 

Some conversations:

It’s a big world out there. It feels like a lot of things are ending, which, what do we do about that?

What do you do about it?

 I grow more plants, I learn about growing plants. I come to things like this.

 When is it that you feel anxious?

 Reading a new piece of news about, oh, the ways that communities are experiencing the world changing around them.

What does it feel like, when you read that or see that?

 Some kind of dread. But in many  cases it’s very removed from my actual life. It’s like I get an echo of what’s happening.

 Are there times when it feels more immediate?

 Looking around—my grandfather is a big gardener, and talking with him about things that have changed in his lifetime, like, he can grow these peppers for longer. It kinda feels positive—he feels like he can grow more stuff. English is not his first language, and he doesn’t read that much, so what he knows is mostly what my sisters and I talk to him about. So it’s one step removed, the dread—he gets it filtered through us. He’s good at focusing on the here and now.

 Is that something you can kind of learn from him?

 It feels like it’s something out of reach, but it’s good to tap into—to work in the here and now.

Do you have conversations with other people about this?

 Yeah, but a lot of the conversations I have are not very productive. Some of them end in like a feeling of dread or incapacitation—it doesn’t go anywhere and I kind of feel like it’s a copout, but how to move past that?

 What would happen if you moved past it by going through it?

 Often it’s either been with people or in spaces where we’re not able to be intentional about moving past that. It needs a devotion of time and energy, and you can’t do that individually, and the stars gotta align to have what you need to do it communally.

What would that look like?

 It would look like something that if it exists—it should look different from anything that we’re used to.

* 

It’s a bigger thing than me recycling. I do all the good things that people should do, I have dreams of owning my own little piece of land. But it’s no use doing my part unless I can get other people to do their part. The work I do, the nature of my work, kinda goes in that direction. I grow sunflowers at my house, I give ’em away to my neighbors—the other day there was a big group, a big bunch of middle schoolers, and I offered them sunflowers and they were all like ugh, you’re a dork, like my nephew’s that age. But there was this one, she didn’t want to admit that she wanted one, but she came back later.

… I feel guilty when I’m driving a car. On an individual level I do what I can, but on a macro level it’s too big for just me. Even if push comes to shove and we have to deal with some kind of environmental tragedy, we’ll handle it, hopefully. “Okay, what do we do now that the world’s underwater?” One thing that does worry me is that a lot of people close to me live in food deserts, food insecurity. Like one of the kids I was talking to [at CityFarm], she was like, “My family are farmers, but I go hungry sometimes.” So yeah, we’re giving food to the neighborhood, but what’s happening on the other side of the table? … I’m always mindful of it. I’ve gotten friends involved … It’s dope to meet people and get them interested in your interests. I’m much more into the personal interactions than I am in leading a movement. Empowering people to grow their own food– “You know what a ton of mint you can grow in this little pot? Try it!” People like to start with succulents. Something that stuck with me from childhood: Rich Petersen from CityFarm, he’s been my mentor, and he was like, “Food is one thing everybody has in common, ’cause everybody has to eat.” You can use food as a connecting tool. This one guy, I gave him a handful of huskcherries. He didn’t wanna try ’em but eventually I’ll get him.

 *

I have a lot of concern about farmers and how they’re impacted by climate change. There was some crop I was reading about recently where there was a blight, it was a very poor crop this year, and it was related to climate change. Oh, corn. One clue after the next, that’s something. With seafood—seafood is very affected by the warming of the waters. Jonah crab is becoming a thing here, and it’s great to have jonah crab, but it’s also a symbol of warming waters. How it’s affecting lobsters, other shellfish—I’m in the food business so I think about it from that point of view.

 And also the things that eat lobsters, the things that lobsters eat—

 Of course, it’s a whole ecosystem getting disrupted.

 When was this first brought to your attention?

I’m personally not engaged in any advocacy for climate change. I have a lot of colleagues who—that’s much more in their wheelhouse, and I support the work that theyre doing. Water, energy, the environment—food is the nexus of a lot of things … I’m worried and frustrated because not everybody in the political world is as excited about this. That’s what we need, to change a lot of things. And it’s hard when you come from a state that’s pretty democratic. If I was in a purple state I might be more involved.