Climate Anxiety Counseling: One-on-One, 6/27/19

(This person reached out to me a few weeks ago via email. “Before, climate change was an abstract concept to me,” they wrote. “I knew it was real, but it was somehow ‘out there’ somewhere, out of sight out of mind. Now, I am witnessing the undeniable consequences of it with my own two eyes. It has truly hit home and I am in shock.” 

At that time, they were feeling too raw to come to the booth and talk in public, so we made a plan to meet one-on-one. They brought $10.00 to donate to the Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective, and mint from their garden. Here are some of the things we talked about.)

I’ve sort of had some time to calm down since I wrote to you, to go from, “Oh my God,” to, “Well, we’re in this.” My concern always goes back to the animals. They’re innocent and defenseless against all this. I’ve been sorting through things in my mind about how to make sense of it. It’s like a huge tsunami wave—it’s way off in the background, but I can sort of see the crest. But it’s easy to sort of go on with your life, like, “Maybe it won’t happen,” or, “Maybe it won’t be so bad.” … It’s just so enormous that it’s hard to get a grip on it—for lots of people, including myself.

What was the first feeling you had when you heard how bad [climate change] is?

Shock. When I was finding out about that, when I realized that, I was sitting in my yard, and there was not a bee and not a butterfly in sight. My husband heard all about it, my friends and my neighbors, Instagram—but that’s just not a tenable solution because you’re just kinda spreading this stuff. I have not accepted it, but I can’t go around alienating people. I’d rather gain their interest … When I first became vegan I was like that. I was like a loaded cannon. I would cry, I would be, “Nobody’s paying attention, nobody cares!” I drove myself crazy for probably two years. I didn’t know how to deal with this, how to see all these animals suffering. Even when we would go to protest in Boston, I couldn’t look at the signs. I guess I was glad we were out there—I’m not sure.

What does it feel like to think about it now?

Painful and scary and sad. But I’m an artist, and I started making paintings about this. I want to use paintings and my blog to start reaching people. They’re mostly about the beautiful side—I did some that were about the tragic side but I don’t think that does much for people. They’re of the world before the Fall, before people started polluting. Holding that image in my mind when I meditate helps me a lot. As I go along, I want to kind of just branch out with it, show the paintings, have people respond to them. It’s a unique way that I can express what’s going on, and I look forward to that. That sounds like something I can do.

How does it feel when you’re painting?

I just feel like the sense—Finally, I can express this. I don’t have to walk around with it stuck in my throat all the time. I feel optimism and excitement. …

What was the moment, for you, with veganism, where you realized that you needed to stop what you were doing and do something else?

I was a vegetarian for fourteen years before I became a vegan. Probably I just started doing my own research. Do you know the artist Sue Coe? I went to an exhibit of her work, and I just couldn’t believe what I saw. I don’t know how she’s able to even put those images on paper. It’s just, “Well, there it is, I was there, I’m just painting what I saw, I’m not trying to make you feel guilty.” Then I started getting books out of the library—this was before the internet—and I changed my diet. Turning to veganism is a very emotional thing for people. You have to give up not just comfort foods, but emotional foods, the foods that your family had.

So that brings up—what are some things that you might lose because of climate change that are hard to let go of? … Either because you are voluntarily giving them up, or because they’re gone?

I don’t know. We have a very economical car, it’s nine—no, fourteen years old. The only thing I can think of is that we have a very small air conditioner.

I’m also thinking about stuff like—you know, maybe climate change means that you don’t have kids, or that you stop bugging your kids about grandkids. Or maybe it means you can’t live where you live, either because living there takes too much energy or because it’s not safe to live there anymore.

If I knew something I was doing was really harmful, I probably wouldn’t have a problem—not moving, that’s a different story. We don’t even use the air conditioner that much. We have a lot of shade, and there are wetlands behind our house. But I don’t want to stay in a bubble.

Tell me about the wetlands.

I have a studio on the ground floor and the windows look out onto the wetlands. I can see all the little creatures…it’s a complete joy to me. And it’s regulated, so that at least for now, nobody can dredge it and build on it. We and all the neighbors share it.

How else might you help to maintain living creatures, living systems?

I wanted to plant something for bees and butterflies, and I keep reading little articles, but if there’s no bees then what are you attracting? Yes, there may be a few bees, but when I walk around my neighborhood I’ve only see one or two. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved insects—I was gonna be an entomologist—and I would always turn over stones and see all kinds of insects, earthworms, pill bugs… now when I see a rock and I lift it up there’s maybe one kind of teeny tiny microscopic millipede. I sit outside on the concrete slab in front of our house and there’s almost no insects. That’s weird. And I see baby robins in our yard, but when I see the adults hunting for them, what are they finding? Usually I ‘d see them pulling up an earthworm, but the earthworms are probably going the same route.


[IMAGE: Mint leaves and stems in a damp paper towel to keep them fresh.]



Learning Things

I’m going away for a week, to this, in order to develop a project that uses this as its germinal point. There’ll be more to know about it soon. I hate learning things, but this will probably be good in some important ways.

I won’t be at the Sankofa Market at Knight Memorial Library on Wednesday 7/25, but maybe you can go anyway and get your vegetables. I will be there on Wednesday, 8/1, and at the Sowing Place iteration of the Market (at the South Side Cultural Center) on Saturday, 8/4.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to read, this new reflection on pleasantness, the erotic, and more (of) that by Keguro Macharia, and this older interview between Ashon Crawley and Sofia Samatar on the Otherwise, are good to think with and maybe even learn from.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: PVD Fest, 6/3/17

Weather: Sun and clouds and sun and clouds, cool but with underlying (or superimposed?) heat

Number of people: 16 stoppers, 3 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10.5

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 0.5 (they said “Peppermint Patty” instead of “Lucy”)

Pictures taken with permission: 5

Pictures taken without permission: 11

Number of people who mentioned the Paris Agreement: 4

Dogs seen: I forgot to keep track at the beginning! After I started keeping track, 10.

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $19.70



I was there as part of a long-lasting, outdoor, recreational event, with food (costing money) and music (free) and stuff for kids to do (also free), so it’s not representative of how an ordinary booth session would go.

A lot of talk about powerlessness, not much about power. Another theme was the notion of anger as a cover or secondary emotion—for sadness, for fear—which I have heard before and noticed.

A lot of people are also worried about defoliating caterpillars and the idea of leaving behind a better or worse world.


Some conversations:

I mostly feel anger. I think anger is covering up my anxiety right now. We were screaming about it in the car on the way down. It’s scary. When the anger calms down, the fear comes up—the anxiety is just this chronic anxiety that’s always there. … Before this, I was anxious about climate change but it would go in and out, I was zoning out about it. Now I feel like this administration is waking a lot of people up. Part of me feels powerless even though I know I’m not. There’s so much I feel worried about with this administration—health care, immigration, the fate of the U.S. … We have to live our lives, so we push down the parts that are too hard to feel. But it breaks my heart. I feel like my heart is broken. There’s so much going on that breaks my heart, it makes it hard to feel hopeful. And also, I feel disgusted. It’s hard to live your life feeling disgusted.


My anxieties is just the fear of the unknown. The air that we’re breathing is what could kill us tomorrow. Nuclear bombs could go off tomorrow … War is more at the forefront than it was back then. So many different ways to pollute the earth that you don’t know where it’s coming from. Money factors, living factors, kid factors, health conditions– “I can’t afford my drugs to be able to care for myself.”


What worries me most is—what I worry about—what upsets—concerns me, more than all the most pragmatic concerns, is just the lack of compassion and empathy. It’s so systemic. We aren’t encouraged to think that way, and our circle of empathy is shrinking more and more. It comes out in people’s climate concerns. People don’t think enough about the consequences of what we’re doing, in space or in time: “If we can have a breakwater in our city, we’re okay.” Or “It’s not going to hit us for another one or two generations.”

How did you get to that point, where you could look beyond?

I think interaction is one of the most essential things. And meeting people where they are. What social mechanisms make people receptive? How can you make it concrete and refelctive of their experience?

I was wondering about you specifically, how you got to that point.

That’s so tough and I don’t know that it had anything to do with climate justice. Through family and friends who taught me to be thinking outside of my circle of influence? That’s hard to try to pin down. My mom’s a teacher, and she’s always talking and thinking about the way that people live in different spheres of life … Trying to walk that line in a way that’s careful and sometimes quiet. To open up the possibility of a meaningful exchange, not fully on their terms but sort of. If you apply that systematically…

What feels resistant, to you, about doing that? What’s hard for you about it?

I’m really angry, that makes it hard. Really I’m sad and that comes through in anger. We all have our own defenses up … You just see so much anger. I saw on TV, in West Virginia, environmental activists yelling at coal miners, and then the coal miners yelled back at the activists—that’s not getting anywhere. Not even the seed of a conversation can come out of that. To see a person as a walking ideology—no one is.


Everything just feels like it’s falling apart … My parents keep apologizing to me and my sister. They keep saying, “This is what we brought you, this is what you’re gonna inherit. I’m sorry this is how the world is right now.” It feels really rough. Compared to other kids I know, my parents are older, so I’m also worried about losing them. It’s hard to figure out. There are the small differences that you can make that everybody can do, recycling and not wasting water, using too much electricity or gas. But with recent events, the Paris Accords, it’s overwhelming … Obviously I want the world to live on, I want creatures and human beings to live on. But sometimes I try to forget.

What do you do to sustain the creatures around you, especially the nonhuman ones?

If I see trash outside of trashcans I try to throw it away. If I see it, it becomes my responsibility. It sticks in my mind. I”m trying to see if there are bigger things I can do—that’s just one street on one block.



Why is it raining in June? It seems like a rainier—just everything. It’s like we’re adopting the Floridian weather. It should be sunny right now, 70, 75 and sunny, but instead it feels like you’re in London, England. When it’s sunny I’m in a better mood. When it’s time for the sun to be out and I see it’s not out, it upsets me. This weather should’ve happened in April and it didn’t.



My mom should talk to you—she has a lot of climate anxieties. She know’s it’s gonna affect me more than her, and she knows it’s gonna affect low-income people and people of color more than her or me. She’s been an educator her whole life, and she’s always wanted to leave a better world behind her when she’s gone. It’s painful to think about.


I’m worried about the world ending.

What about the world are you worried about losing?

Nature, animals, fresh air. We just want to see this President gone.

Do you imagine the world you’re afraid of?

No. I remember all kinds of dire predictions back in the ’70s, horrible pictures, everybody with gas masks. It didn’t help.


For ethnic minorities, discrimination is more of a concern. The way they’ve targeted ethnic minorities—everything about this presidency. The fact that he pulled out of the Paris Accords. And it seems like everyone’s accepted whatever’s happening. There’s no more big protests. We’re all just waiting to see what happens next.



The roads are really bad around where I live, the South Side. They fix them, but it’s just like a layer over. People just get a little discouraged anyway—they say they’ll fix them and they take all year.


G*psy moths. I see them at school and I saw them way more this year than last year.

Do you talk to anybody about this?

Yeah, my friend _______.

They notice them too? Do you guys squish them?



I just read that Providence has the worst air quality of any city in New England. [My daughter] always wants to play at India Point Park and I’m like, “Only if you don’t breathe.”


The apathy and wanting to be ignorant of the issues. I hope the mentality can be changed before it’s too late. I don’t want the world to be worse for my kids than it was for me. Everyone feels like they’re powerless and if you feel that way, you are.


Climate Anxiety Counseling: the Booth is Back

…or it will be back this Saturday, in Burnside Park, as part of PVD Fest, and on Wednesday-Saturday afternoons throughout the month of June (with a couple gaps).

This Saturday, I’ll be there 12-12:30 and 3:30-6 to hear, discuss and write down your climate change and other anxieties, and give you a little piece of art (featuring one of your fellow Rhode Island organisms) to keep.

Between 1 and 3pm I’ll be walking and posing throughout the festival with the Portable Floodline 2100 to show, on buildings and streets, how high the sea is predicted to rise. Bring your snorkeling gear and take a photo with us!

Actual History: Refusal 9


I’m working to learn more from the stories of people who have refused and rejected attempts to exploit and tyrannize them, and I thought you might like to do that, too.


I’m going to tell this story backward.

In 1804, General Jean-Jacques Dessalines named Haiti and declared it independent. In 1803, he had led the formerly enslaved people who defeated the army of French colonizers at the Battle of Vertieres. They’d been fighting since 1791, but they’d been preparing to fight for much longer than that.

The people who would become Haitians used previous slave rebellions and the French Revolution as spurs and models. They had forged a shared language out of a combination of French and their or their parents’ home languages. Many of them shared Vodun religious practices.

The mountains in the years before 1791 were full of people, people who had escaped slavery and lived there and people who came there to meet them. “The slaves were stirring and holding mass meetings in the forest at night,” one of my sources read.

Marronage is the name for what the people who ran to the forest and made their lives there did, and what enslaved Black people throughout the Americas and the Caribbean did, before they killed their oppressors and gained their freedom. They made places to live, speak, think, eat, and plan. Of people similarly positioned in Louisiana, Ashon Crawley wrote, “The ciprieré communities secreted from local plantations, maintaining a relationship to spaces from which they escaped, but established new patterns of behavior and aesthetic interventions for protection and peace. Setting traps, navigating the swamps, having sex, singing, raising children, eating – all these were aesthetic practices that always and likewise had to be forms of preparation. Maroons needed to be ready at a moment’s notice for encounter with the political world of the exterior that would bear down on them and produce violence against them. Each practice, therefore, was a likewise preparation for the possibility of the threat of violation; each practice, thus, highlights the ways in which interventions always likewise have an aesthetic quality and theoretical underpinning.”

In other words, the story of marronage is the story of learning to live instead: rejecting, refusing, the ways the people profiting from your suffering told you were the only ways. Living, instead, or otherwise, in ways that make you want to live, and make you and your people more likely to live, and prepare you all to evade or to fight back against your death.


The Haitian Revolution is famous. My sources cite rough counts for how many former slaves and how many colonizers died, but I haven’t been able to find a source that will tell me how many people enslaved in what’s now Haiti died–through murder, through abuse, through neglect, at the hands of the white people who enslaved them–before the Revolution. I’m guessing that would change the count considerably. When you’re reading history, I urge you to consider and seek out the numbers around the numbers, and the information around the information, remembering that every historian chooses when and where to start and stop the story.

The first Ashon Crawley essay I cited above is an old one, and even the second one is two years old. I recommend attending to his recent work.

Actual History: Refusal 7

I’m working to learn more from the stories of people who have refused and rejected attempts to exploit and tyrannize them, and I thought you might like to do that, too.



The people of Asubpeeschoseewagong / Grassy Narrows, in Ontario, Canada, successfully halted clear-cutting of their forests for ten years. Judy DaSilva, who participated in the blockade, wrote about it in May 2016:

“By 2002, our people were frustrated with the “dead end” complaint processes over the destruction of our forest by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and Abitibi [Consolidated, the logging company, later Abitibi Bowater]. We had no protectors except ourselves.

So on that cold winter day, one of our community members said, ‘We need to do something.’ We set up a campfire on the side of the logging road about three kilometers from the reserve. By night, everyone had left except this one man. We went back to the comfort of our warm homes while he stayed. That night, even though he was scared, he stopped a logging truck from entering the forest. The next morning students showed up in full force, bringing the energy up at the blockade.

When our whole community had heard about this man’s actions, many community members, and supportive Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) began to help…”

Here is the logging company’s letter committing to withdrawal from the forest in 2008. But in 2012, ten years after its beginning, the blockade was still necessary and people were still maintaining it. They maintained it in the face of a Supreme Court decision against them in 2014. Several of the sources I found referred to it as “the longest-running blockade in Canadian history.” (Some more background, assembled by “solidarity activists working with Grassy Narrows organizers”, is here.)

The forestry management plan for the region threatens it again with logging, and the people, land and water of Asubpeeschoseewagong / Grassy Narrows continue to suffer from mercury poisoning caused by the logging and paper industries. They are attempting to fight it using the courts as well, and seeking action from Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Wynn; especially if you are Canadian, you can write to them and seek it too.

PLEASE NOTE: If anyone knows anything that contradicts the information here, please tell me and I will correct it! At the risk of sounding sanctimonious (“too late, Kate,” I hear you saying), that’s how we build knowledge together.

Public Hearing in Woonsocket about Burrillville Power Plant, 1/6, 5-10pm

In order to build a fracked-gas power plant in Burrillville, RI, Invenergy needs water that they are proposing to purchase and truck to Burrillville from Woonsocket. (Woonsocket was previously considering a water pipeline for this purpose.) If you’re looking for further background, there’s a list of relevant articles at the bottom of the one linked above.

The Woonsocket City Council is having a public meeting on Friday, January 6th, 5-10pm, Woonsocket High School. PLEASE NOTE THAT I HAD THE TIME WRONG BEFORE! If you can, please attend and let the City Council know that this is a bad idea for many reasons:

Rhode Island should be investing in new renewable energy infrastructure, not new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Because of the unsustainability of these forms of energy, jobs related to them are unlikely to last long (and Invenergy may bring in their own people for some of them); the proposed Woonsocket water facility would provide a maximum of three jobs, according to the article linked above.

The pollution, noise and traffic from the trucks, especially on smaller roads and roads through woods.

The pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the plant itself, which contribute to climate change and all its various effects on our food, air, water, weather and safety.

Unless I’m missing something, all that water will be unusable for anything else after they use it for this. (If anyone has information about this, let me know.)


This is a complicated situation because Woonsocket is a financially strained city and could use the money (which is, of course, why Invenergy made them the offer). So if you participate in this process by going to the public meeting, which I encourage you to do (I am), consider also participating in other processes that might help support Woonsocket’s human economy and sociality without doing quite so much damage to the nonhuman world. I’ll try to keep an eye out for what those might be and post them here.



North Dakota Police and Military Attack Standing Rock Water Protectors

The alliance of over 300 peoples resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline is under aggressive attack by police, National Guard and other forces.

As I post this, Atsa E’sha Hoferer was still posting live from the site.

Kelly Hayes spoke yesterday with people there about the history and context of their resistance.

You can donate to the legal defense fund for the water protectors, if you have money to spare.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market: 8/31/16

Weather: Coolish, humid, overcast, a few raindrops.

Number of people: 4 stoppers, 1 walkby.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 4

Pictures taken with permission: 2

Pictures taken without permission: 1

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 0, though a woman did walk by in a shirt with Lucy, Linus, Charlie Brown and Snoopy on it.

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island: $0.05



Another sparse day, and not even Michael Jackson to blame for it.

A couple of people interviewed me among the other market vendors. Thanks, those people! I also had several moving non-counseling conversations with other vendors, and several second conversations with people who’ve spoken to me at this market before.

I also got to see someone I met last year downtown: we talked on this day, and I gave him a copy of this alternate history. Later that summer he stopped by to ask how it ended, and I asked if he would try to end it. Today he said he was still thinking about it and he actually wrote something for it! If we’re able to reconnect and he’s willing for me to share it, I’ll post it here.

Today was my last day at the Sankofa World Market, and various people gave me A) a small sunflower, 2) a spoonful of majarete, and D) a spray of peachy-orange gladioli. One farmer also let me know when the eggplants were about to be gone, so I could buy two of them.


Some conversations:

Finding a good job after graduation. I’m graduating from college this year. I want to work for the CDC and study diseases, disease prevention, epidemiology … I’m just nervous because other people with the same major as me are just floating around two years later. I can’t be working minimum wage, living and paying my loans.


Since I talked to you I’ve been trying to be more intentional about my choices. Sometimes I go to Stop and Shop and get vegetables from wherever they come from, but I wanted to come back [to the Sankofa Market] because the vegetables are so good, they’re grown right here and they’re really affordable. It’s easier to make positive choices [when you’re buying food], because companies say, “Oh, it was grown this way, it was raised this way.” But it’s harder to make negative choices, because the negative isn’t advertised: “Oh, we treat workers like shit.”

… I was also thinking from when we talked before about when I was really young, Public Works–this was in Vermont–would cut the trees and I was just sobbing, thinking they were killing them, and I think that’s a gift that young children have–to be able to relate to the trees. But me not being able to get out of bed because I’m sad about the trees isn’t ultimately sustainable. I’ve been watching a four-year-old and the other day she said to me, “Let’s make a movie…I wanna make a movie about trees. Trees are so important because they’re so pretty.” And I think there’s a connection between the place that tears come from that trees are dying and the joy at the awesomeness of the natural world. But I guess it’s easier to empathize with humans.



I guess my anxiety about this [gestures at sign] at the moment is around that article that’s circulating, “Is it irresponsible to have kids in the age of–” It’s an area where there’s so many really clear cerebral positive fact-based reasons [not to have kids]. It doesn’t make sense for there to be any more humans, that’s how we got to where we are. But then you’re thinking about this realm that’s so unconnected with any scientific analysis and reasoning. How do these intersect–this really primal, human thing, this biological imperative that bonks up against harsh reality? We don’t need more humans swelling the population. And then on a personal level it’s also ugggggghhhhh, wow, I don’t–



Doctor’s note: I suggested that this person look at the work that Conceivable Future does.