“We will keep fighting for the health and safety of South Providence”

Yesterday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a certificate–basically, the necessary permit–for National Grid to build a natural gas liquefaction facility on the Southside of Providence. If you know me or have been reading this site for a while, you know that I’ve been working with No LNG in PVD to stop this plant from endangering the people of the Southside and (through contributing to climate change by increasing the extraction, transport and consumption of natural gas) the world at large.

lng plant panorama

Here is our statement.

No LNG in PVD is committed to fighting for health, safety and justice for all residents of South Providence. For three years, neighborhood residents and committed allies have fought to stop National Grid from building a liquid natural gas plant on Allens Avenue that will increase health and safety risks for residents and contribute to global climate change. On Wednesday, October 18, we learned that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has granted National Grid a certificate for this project, subject to certain conditions.

FERC’s decision came through 12 days after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in strong terms that ceasing fossil fuel emissions–reducing them to 45% by 2030 and to zero by 2050–is essential to maintaining human life and well-being on Earth. In National Grid’s permit applications, the useful life of the LNG facility is stated as ending in 2030. Meanwhile, on October 3, a truck carrying over 11,000 gallons of gasoline overturned on the Route 95 ramp from Allens Avenue, pouring gasoline onto the road and into the Providence River. Threats to the neighborhood and to the planet are ongoing from activity in the Port.

No LNG in PVD is proud of the work we have done to try to protect the people of the Southside. We are proud of delaying the construction of this shortsighted and dangerous facility for three years. We are proud of our attempts to participate in the public regulatory process despite many obstacles, and we are proud of the Southside: a neighborhood where people live and work, not a sacrifice zone. We wish that our elected officials listened to the concerns of the people they represent. We are grateful to Mayor Elorza for supporting our campaign from the beginning.

No LNG in PVD will continue to fight for the well-being of the Southside. This is only the start of ongoing efforts to make the Port of Providence clean and healthy again, and to make Rhode Island a place where economic and environmental health go hand in hand.

We learned the news yesterday. Today, I went with a friend to East Greenwich, RI to help collect salt marsh grass seed, which the Fish and Wildlife Service will germinate over the winter and set out in the spring at another marsh, in the John W. Chafee National Wildlife Reserve, to help the marsh keep pace with sea level rise.

grasses

[Image: grasses.]

Eventually, if the grass seedlings take, they will mediate between land and water (which helps humans) and provide homes for many nonhuman people there, as they do here.

grasses and mussels

[Image: grasses with mussels hanging onto their roots and the bottoms of their stems.]

I was, and am, so angry. I was, and am, so sad. I was, and am, so scared. And I am not finished. We are not finished.

grasses and beam

[Image: grasses, a sunbeam, and some tidal mud.]

I want to be clear: if the state were serious about the health and safety of the Southside, about “environmental management,” about “resilience,” we could and would work toward a restoration project like this there, too, where people live, where the land meets the water. Right now it’s poisoned by industry and choked by concrete, but Nature isn’t a specific place where you get to go if you’re rich. Nature is us.

When there is more that you can do to help us fight for-profit environmental racism, I will let you know.

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Climate Anxiety Counseling in ThinkProgress

Jeremy Deaton wrote about me, but not just me, and the climate booth, but not just the climate booth, for ThinkProgress. One reason I really like this article is that it puts the booth into context, and shows how the kind of thinking and feeling that I want it to make possible–livable–is underway. It cites work done, and truths spoken, by many people and connects readers to that work and those truths; it is open about the relationships among material and emotional suffering.

I’ll have more of an articulate response soon (right after I…type up all the notes from two weeks of booth sessions) but I want to thank Jeremy for our conversation and all the other people, named and unnamed, whose articulated reality this article includes.

Questions for Conspiracy Theorists

Where do you get your information?

Do you talk with other people about this? How do those conversations go?

How do you feel when you think about this?

What are you afraid of?

What are you hoping for?

If people listened to you, what might they do and what would change?

How do you deal with this knowledge when you’re alone?

Looking for stories about the way climate change is changing you

Friends, I am looking for some help.

I want to know, and to talk about, and to write about, how we live with the knowledge of climate change: how we bear it, and how we act on it.

I’m working with a Rhode Island organization to create a manual of concrete actions for fossil fuel drawdown and community building in the state, called “Livable Rhode Island”, and so I’m looking for stories from Rhode Islanders specifically. If you have such a story, I can take it via email at any time: publiclycomplex at gmail is my address.

And I’m also working on a series of writings that will be a more general tool for transforming ourselves in response to the transformation of our world, so I want to listen to people about that. This, I’d like to do in person and in groups if possible.

The climate anxiety counseling booth isn’t really set up for this–for one thing, I want those conversations to be about what the person talking to me chooses and needs. I’m still working on the structure, trying to learn from the arc of Interdependence Days and other things I’ve been part of. Let me know if you think you might like to be part of this, and please ask me questions.

Talking is weird because it’s somewhere between feeling and doing–it’s a necessary prelude to action, but it isn’t itself action (though the amount of effort it takes to do it can trick you into feeling like it is). But it still seems to me to be a key part of making a possible, livable world in the present and for as long as we can–we need to listen to each other in order to know how we can work together.

Sorry about that “we”–I know it’s not as simple as that–but in its complication and variation is strength, too.

I hope you will stay with me.

Out of the Woods On Climate/Borders/Survival/Care/Struggle

This conversation with Out of the Woods, a collective investigating capitalism and climate change, gets at the heart of a lot of what I’ve been trying to do with the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth, the alternate histories, and the Interdependence Day gatherings (now on hold, but these writings may help us reinvent them).

“To say ‘yes’ to what we want,” they say, “and what is already created in cramped spaces – necessitates saying ‘no’ to the world that dominates save for those cracks or openings.”

I knew about Out of the Woods, but hadn’t spent a lot of time with their ideas and questions. I’m going to do so now.

Children, Meaning, Transformations

A few things by me/with me in them and relevant to this project appeared online this week, so I thought I’d share them here.

I wrote about climate and political change, having or not having kids, and record-keeping for the present at Catapult.

Kate Colby and I talked about mattering, meaning, and ecology at Ploughshares.

And Jonah-Sutton Morse talked about stories, transformation, attention and Annihilation at Cabbages and Kings.

 

Some Alternate Histories and an interview in Reckoning

Michael DeLuca interviewed me about the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth, and published three of the alternate histories in Reckoning (the other writing in there is great too).

“Everything I see, both firsthand and reported–not just predictions for the future, but observations about the present–says that we are in the middle of a hard time that’s going to get harder, more painful and full of loss and grief, falling unevenly according to who’s already suffering or exploited. I don’t feel better about anything, ever, anymore, except in little tiny patches,” I said.

“But those tiny patches matter to me and I want to nourish them,” I said.

I also said, and 100% meant, that I would LOVE it if other people want to do a version of the booth in their own city (this has always been true) and if you want to, I will help you. Just saying.

Remembering the Arctic Ice Cap: A Celebration of Life

Ever since I started offering Climate Anxiety Counseling, I’ve gone back and forth about mourning the places and people–human, nonhuman–that we know climate change will not just hurt, but kill, before they’re gone. It seems like ill-wishing them–pre-grieving, shooing them out of the world, walking over their graves. And it also seems like something that you’d do instead of trying to keep them alive.

This summer, in Newport, RI–which is admittedly a very odd place–they held a funeral for a beech tree that’s reaching the end of their life (fernleaf beeches usually live for 150-200 years–I’m not sure how old this one is or was, and I also don’t know if they’re still standing). I changed my tune a little bit. The tree was dying; this gave people a chance to appreciate it and acknowledge them while they were still alive.

And now, my friend Maya Weeks is holding a memorial and celebration for the Arctic Ice Cap: She writes, “As we anticipate losing year-round sea ice as soon as 2018, we are taking this occasion to gather and process our feelings about this changing ecosystem together. We will gather to say goodbye to the sea ice algae and the Arctic cod and the polar bear. Please feel free to bring candles and loved ones to the Mosswood Amphitheater [in Oakland, CA] at 2pm on Sunday, December 18.  Please feel free to say a few words if you would like. This is an outdoor venue with a ramp for accessibility.”

This comes just after another group of literal and figurative deaths in Oakland: people living and celebrating at the Ghost Ship, which burned, and the way of living and being that was possible there. You can donate to the relief fund here, and to funeral services and end-of-life costs for the trans women who died at the Ghost Ship here. When I donated to the latter, I also donated to the Trans Assistance Project’s main fund, which “exists to finance legal/ID changes and healthcare for trans folks in need,” because the living and the dead both need care, but in different ways.

Other living beings don’t necessarily do peopledom the way human people do. A forest might be a person; a jellyfish might be a community. And equating human and nonhuman death is full of bad logic and bad history, especially when the human who died died at the remote hands of structures of power and capital and cruelty. Who gets to die like a person, and who like a plant; who is a martyr, a casualty, a throwaway–these are all mediated by the structures I just mentioned, and I’m not looking to draw a comparison that isn’t there or isn’t right.

But one thing that the dead share is their absence–even if we, the living, are in communication with them or take their advice, we mostly recognize that the way they are is different from the way we are. And one thing the nearly dead share with the living is their presence, their ability to be touched and known. I’m still on the fence about mourning the still-alive. But I don’t think that sorrow and anger for one kind of loss needs to displace sorrow and anger for another kind, and I think that mourning the dead can help the living to fight like hell for each other.

 

A New Whale

My friend said I’d probably already seen them: the “new species of rare beaked whale discovered in Bering Sea,” according to the headline at OregonLive. I hadn’t already seen them, and I’ll probably never see them in person, but I now know that they dive deep to feed on fish and squid in underwater canyons; that in Japan they have the common name “karasu” or “raven”; that scientists have so far, if I read the article correctly, only found them dead, and determined their newness by comparing their appearance and their DNA to that of other, more familiar beaked whales. If this is the case, there might not be any alive anymore.

The whale isn’t really new; it’s my knowledge of them that’s new. The fish and squid they eat know about them; the water knows about them; they know about each other. The whale this article refers to was found in 2014, and for all I know, human knowledge of this whale has risen and sunk many times over the years. And in order to exist now, these whales must have already existed for a time that seems long to us; that’s evolution for you. Ending them forever could be much quicker.

When I saw the artist’s rendering of this whale, I was seized with the desire to protect them. The OregonLive article, too, quotes Erich Hoyt of Whale and Dolphin Conservation in the UK: “The implication of a new species of beaked whale is that we need to reconsider management of both species to be sure they’re sufficiently protected, considering how rare the new one appears to be.” But to protect a creature you have to protect everything around them: it’s not enough to just stop killing them directly. Whatever they eat–plants, live animals, corpses–has to keep renewing itself; the land, air and water around them have to maintain the qualities and relationships that make their lives possible, with at least tolerable levels of warmth, contaminants, movement and activity.

And some of the forces that affect those things originate hundreds, thousands sometimes, of miles away from the path these whales are thought to swim, from the tropics to the pole and back: currents of warm water, gouts of greenhouse gas, nitrogen-based fertilizers. Typing away on my coal-powered computer, sitting in front of my coal-powered box fan, I am injuring those whales right now, molecule by molecule. I’m injuring the creatures whose predators they eat, and the creatures who eat their corpses after they die.

This is the point at which a lot of us break down, I think: we recognize our interconnection with the systems of life and their defaults, both human-engineered and not, but so many of the systems that sustain humans in particular have abuse of other parts of those systems built into them. So many of our motions do harm we can’t see firsthand, and a lot of people’s response to this–judging by what they say to me at the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth, and in conversation, and in a kind of low-grade hum that arises from the ways that people talk in public about complicity–is a moment of stricken paralysis, of suspended motion, and then a resumption of similar actions because there’s nothing they can do about it, after all: there’s no other place for their actions to go, no other way for their actions to lead. The most they can hope for, or so they think, is to do less damage, with things like renewable energy sources and water-saving dishwashers and buying fewer new objects.

What if instead of harming these whales incrementally, my ordinary tasks allowed me to help them incrementally? Could we wean ourselves onto methods of eating, building, burying, that shifted the flow and the burden of work, of waste, of making and mending and breaking down? Where is the give in our relations–what can’t we interrupt without severe damage, and what might be more mutable than we might suppose?

Not every system we’re part of may be susceptible to this, and we may not have time to adapt the ones that are. Climate scientists like Guy McPherson and others say that we probably don’t, that it’s too late not only for the new whales but for us, that talking about conservation, preservation, borders on the insane: what are we keeping, and for whom?

Back in the early days of the booth, I had a conversation that I didn’t handle my part of well; my interlocutor seemed to think that something could only matter if it mattered forever, if it persisted unchanged; that something that ended could not matter. I wish I’d asked that guy a few more questions. I’m still here, and if these whales really are still here–if the last of them didn’t wash up on St. George Island in 2014–I would like to make their life here as possible as possible, even if that time is short. The same is true for your life, you who are reading this: I want your life to be possible for you. I want us to change whatever we have to change for that to happen. I would want it if I knew for a fact you and I and the last of these whales were all going to die within the week. I would want it if we were all going to swim through the world for centuries to come.

*

Jason Moore’s Capitalism in the Web of Life, which I’m in the early middle of, and Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, which I’m rereading, helped with the framing for this writing.

Climate Anxiety Counseling this week CANCELLED

Yesterday, about an hour into my Climate Anxiety Counseling booth shift, my stomach started to hurt and it intensified until I was in too much pain to walk. Two very kind people–one who’d spoken to me at the booth before, and one who was a stranger to me–stayed with me while I called and waited for an ambulance. Long story short: ectopic pregnancy, emergency surgery, lots of professional and personal help; I am now at home eating apples and feeling okay, though my midsection hurts and I’m a little sad–going from “you’re pregnant” to “but in a life-threatening way” in a couple of hours was intense.

I can’t do climate anxiety counseling for the rest of the week because I’m not supposed to lift more than 10 pounds, which excludes moving the booth around and setting it up.

I’m telling you, the internet, my business in this way because I think it’s important to be open about what affects us when it’s safe to do so; because I wouldn’t abandon the booth, even temporarily, for just any reason; because I want to acknowledge the people who generously helped me; and because those people demonstrated the reality of the interdependence we all share.

One of the people who stood with me while I waited for the ambulance also took the large components of the booth over to the Kennedy Plaza Lost and Found so they’d be safe until I could pick them up, and handed the smaller components to one of the paramedics–who actually BROUGHT THEM TO ME in my hospital room when I was waiting to see the next doctor. Everyone who treated me was professional and kind (full disclosure here: I am a thin cis white woman with health insurance and no drug addiction), and they may have saved my life. My husband James was and continues to be present and exemplary in all ways. I am thinking of them all right now, but especially of the people who had made no pre-existing promises to or about me, but who kept my well-being in their sights and in their actions. May I always strive to do as much for them.