Energy Facility Siting Board rules that there will, in fact, be #NoNewPowerPlant in Burrillville!

Yesterday, the Rhode Island EFSB ruled that the fracked-gas power plant that the people of Burrillville, RI have been fighting since 2015 can’t be built because Invenergy, the company that wants to build it, can’t demonstrate a need for it in the region’s energy economy.

 

[IMAGE: Front page of the Providence Journal, showing the headline “Power Failure” and an article chronicling the decision.]

You can read more about the decision here and here. The two things that stood out to me, from the part of the open meeting I attended, were that demand for fossil-fueled energy is decreasing across the region–partly due to renewable energy and energy efficiency measures–and that the long process actually provided a testing ground for whether the company’s claims and projections were accurate (they weren’t).

The residents of Burrillville have worked for FOUR YEARS for the woods, the water, the air and the people. They’ve fought on multiple and constantly shifting fronts, they’ve organized like crazy, they’ve called in expert help and they have refused to back down. This is their victory and it’s beautiful to witness and I hope it sets a precedent for decisions all over New England and the country and the world. In fact, we need it to.

Here is a picture of my husband James walking across a little swamp, toward a lake, in the woods near Burrillville. Let’s continue to work so that we may all be whole and well.

james swamp ladder

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Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY at the Sankofa Market! Public hearing TONIGHT for Burrillville power plant!

I love doing the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth at the Sankofa World Market: I’ll be there for the fifth time this year and am excited to see my fellow vendors, buy some fresh and extremely local vegetables, hear live music (sometimes, including today) and good DJs, and talk with people from or passing through the Elmwood neighborhood. Come see me today outside the Knight Memorial Library (275 Elmwood Ave) and you can do all those things too, as well as sharing your climate anxieties and other anxieties.

Image may contain: 1 person, text

If you stop by, you can also fill out a Postcard against the Plant, urging the Governor, the RI Dept. of Environmental Management and the Army Corps of Engineers to stop the fracked-gas power plant in Burrillville from moving forward. And if you’re free this afternoon or evening, I strongly encourage you to go to the public hearing about air quality that the RI DEM is holding tonight as part of their permitting process for this plant. Spoiler: they shouldn’t grant that permit!

Public Hearing: Draft Air Quality Permit

3-5pm AND 5:30-8:30pm

Burrillville High School Auditorium, 425 East Ave, Harrisville, RI

Here, too, are links to the permit application and the draft permit, as well as information about how to submit comments by email or postal mail.  I can’t help much today with preparing comments for the hearing, but if you want suggestions for submitting a written comment, please get in touch with me at my gmail address, publiclycomplex.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/17/19

Weather: Gray, little wind, warm & muggy; cooler, breezier & more pleasant as time went on

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 4 walkbys, 1 map marker

Number of hecklers: 0!

People who got the Peanuts reference: 3

Pictures taken with permission: 2

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 3

Dogs pet: 0

Postcards against the Plant: 3

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $1.50

 

Observations:

It was my last day in this spot. I’ll be at the Sankofa Market (275 Elmwood Ave, outside Knight Memorial Library) starting TOMORROW, 6/19, and Wednesdays thereafter, 2-6pm. I’ll also be at the Miantonomi Farmer’s Market, at Miantonomi Park (named after the Narragansett Sachem of that area) on Hillside Avenue in Newport, Mondays 2-6 starting 7/1.

Cop and park ranger cars both at the west end of Kennedy Plaza when I arrived. The cop car left just after I set up. Another car, or the same one repositioned, parked at the corner of Dorrance and Washington, with two cops out of the car and leaning on it; they too left soon after. Yet another was parked at the old Greyhound bus stop 2:45-3:45.

Nonhuman animal presences: pigeons, sparrows, starlings that I heard before I saw them, tiny fly, even tinier translucent unknown bug who landed on my hand. One of the interlocutors reminded me to look up at the Superman building every now and then for peregrine falcons, who are nesting there, but I didn’t see them.

Of the 10 stoppers, 3 were looking for information—about climate change, about how it could cause anxiety—and demonstrated interest and illumination, which was nice. And one wanted to make sure that I knew about an action opportunity: the DEM’s public hearing for the air quality permit for the Burrillville power plant. Please do come if you can, or send a comment before July 15th if you can’t.

 

Some conversations

I’m not gonna be dead by 2050, and I heard on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” about a study that says civilization is gonna collapse by then.

Do you imagine what that’s gonna look like? What do you imagine?

Large scale epidemics, famine, drought. Government systems becoming more and more authoritarian in order to control the social effects [of those things]… My mom lived through a dictatorship in Portugal, the Salazar regime.

How do you feel when you think about this?

It’s frightening. Very frightening. I was just in New York visiting someone, and they had no issue talking about it, but I didn’t want to, because I was just trying to have a nice time.

Does your mind kind of go to it and go away from it? What do you do when that happens?

Sometimes I just let it run. But mostly I put on music and start singing along—it’s mostly music, or art of some kind, that gets me away from it. It is regularly on my mind, because [my job means] I need to travel. I drive all over the state fairly regularly, and I have to fly to conferences. It’s a requirement of my job and how I can contribute. I can’t just take a RIPTA bus to where I need to go.

What would make you more willing to talk about this with people?

People not being assholes.

Who have you had that happen with?

A cousin…I tried to contradict their points and they were just like, “No, I’m not listening.” And, “You think you’re better than us ’cause you went to college.”

*

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: We talk about it a lot together, and we talk about it with our friends.

Person 2: We’re vegan—I think going vegan is one of the best things you can do.* Factory farming is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. If you’re serious about stopping climate change and you’re not vegan, are you really serious?

Person 1: We go to rallies and protests—we live in the Berkshires, so if there’s anything happening anywhere in the country, there’ll be a rally in support. … We do a lot with the Farm Sanctuary, we support them with donations.

Are there things where you’re like, “Oh, I wish I could do more”?

Person 1: You want to do more but you don’t know where to go or what to do or how to do it.**

Person 2: Person 2: We run a gift shop, we really work 24-7. It’s hard to get away even for a weekend like this. It’s hard to go to things. But everything in the shop is vegan, if you see something that looks like leather it’s synthetic. We talk about veganism with people in the store, we sell a vegan cookbook.

Person 1: It’s true, I feel like we’re really more on the education side than the activism side. We’re more about doing the personal part.

 

*It’s a little more complicated than that.

**If the two of you happen to see this, or if any of my other readers live in the Berkshires/Western Mass, here are some “where to go or what to do or how to do it” things:

The Stockbridge American Chestnut Preserve could probably use some financial support and loudmouthed praise! This Twitter thread outlines the role that American chestnuts could play in feeding people, storing carbon & restoring forests; this article focuses on carbon sequestration and is a little more technical.

The Berkshire Environmental Action Team lists community events relevant to conservation, waste reduction and environmental justice.

MA Power Forward is working for a just transition to clean energy in Massachusetts; here are their legislative priorities for 2019-2020. Can you call your reps and senators about the bills listed here?

The fracked-gas infrastructure I mentioned is in Dover Plains, not Amenia, but it appears to be on track for construction; infographic below; here’s some recent coverage. People are picketing it this weekend and every weekend till November, if you want to go.

No photo description available.

[An infographic listing flaws and risks of the Cricket Valley Energy Center, a fracked-gas facility scheduled to be built in Dover Plains, NY in 2020.]

Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY: Last day of the season in Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park!

Come visit me downtown today! It’s my last day at the entrance to Burnside Park, across from Kennedy Plaza, and I’ll be there 2-5:30 approximately.

Bring me your climate anxieties and other anxieties, write a postcard to a regulatory agency to stop a fossil fuel project, and take home a drawing of one of our nonhuman Rhode Island neighbors.

I’ll also be at the Sankofa World Market this Wednesday, June 19, 2-6pm, and most Wednesdays throughout the summer. Come see me there, too! A Newport slot is in the works as well, probably for Mondays.

cecropia cj

[Image: Detailed line drawing of a cecropia butterfly by CJ Jimenez.]

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/15/19

Weather: Bright and fiercely windy

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 1 walkby, 1 map marker

Number of hecklers: 0!

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 3

Pages of notes: 4

Dogs seen: 16

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $0.15

 

Observations:

Downtown was tooling up for the Pride parade. There were lots of people wearing or carrying one-use plastic rainbow objects, which infuriated me. There was also one person wearing a rainbow clown wig that looked like it had seen a few seasons of service, and another person carrying a little made-at-home trans pride flag, both of which I found touching. Older couples and groups were nice to see.

While eight people spoke with me at length today, none of them wanted me to take notes or share the conversations (which were also not about climate change but about other concerns and strains in their lives). So I won’t.

Today also had an unusually large number of people saying that they thought the booth was cool, a great idea, etc., but not stopping.

Around 4:25, one of four white people I’d seen walking around together with a muzzled dog beckoned a cop car over to the park. That cop and two others searched a Black man with an orange-striped shirt and made him get in the car, then stayed around questioning other people. Three white women (not me) went over together to speak up for the guy they arrested, but with no success. Later, someone else told me that the dog was biting people and that the guy they arrested had tried to defend himself.

Someone wrote, “My kids’ safety” on the whiteboard map of Rhode Island, where I ask people to “put their worries on the map,” but I can’t get the picture of it off my phone. So here, instead, is a picture of a small friend of mine feeding blazing star to his shark. Let’s work together to make sure that joy, not violence, is waiting for him. Let’s work for the thriving of the plants, the sharks, and the humans.

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/14/19

Weather: Passing sun and clouds, stuffy at first, then wind picking up. Heavy cloud mass rolling over from the northwest, looking like rain but not raining.

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 1 walkby, 1 driveby

Number of climate change deniers: 1. I wouldn’t exactly call this guy a heckler, but he was smug in a very vocal and persistent way.

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Conversations between strangers: 1, brief

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

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 0

Pages of notes: 4.5

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $0.35

 

Observations:

Park ranger car was there when I arrived at 2, gone soon after. A cop car, a fire truck and an ambulance showed up around 3; the truck left with sirens on soon after and the ambulance and cop car stayed for a while. At 3:19, the first cop car was gone and a different one had come; that one pulled away at 3:36. A couple other cop cars, marked and unmarked, drove through on Washington St but didn’t stop.

Nonhuman animal passersby: teen starling, pigeons, sparrows, mallard duck couple.

While I find some things about the corporate electric scooters and bikes sinister, I really like watching people get the most out of them: a Del’s vendor riding one of the green scooters and towing their cart, one kid riding one of the red bikes with another kid in the bike basket.

Had a very good conversation that I didn’t take notes on but was glad to have! M, if you’re reading this, thanks.

 

Some conversations:

I feel bad for those climate change deniers who are living on fantasy island.

Do you feel bad about it yourself?

I’m so deeply concerned I feel like I need to stay put. I’ve taken personal responsibility… I’ve been trying to get more active in my locality. I like that they write bills to investigate the ocean, the pH of the water. We should help our allies dispose of desalination waste, not just put it back in the ocean. That’s where we get all of our oxygen. I call my reps, I do my little part.

*

I have three concerns. One is pollution. It’s killing animals and hurting animals and also causing global warming. Humans need to stop doing that. One is overhunting. All animals are important to the society of the earth. It’s just like humans are important, so are animals. And one is poaching. One, it’s illegal. Two, it’s like overhunting, except it’s only certain animals … Mankind is pretty messed up.

How does it feel when you learn about these things?

It feels like very sad and depressing. But it’s like—if you help to make the world a better place, then other people might see what you’re doing and try to make the world a better place too.

map detail 6-14-19

[Image: Detail of a whiteboard map of Rhode Island, strapped to a red handtruck. Written on it in pink marker: “Offshore wind farm: will underwater life (dolphins, seals) be able to hear anything else?]

Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY in Burnside Park/Kennedy Plaza!

I’ll be in Burnside Park today (6/14), 2-5:30pm, to listen to your climate anxieties and other anxieties. Come see me!

My friend Corinne came for a session and took this nice picture of me at the booth.

kate booth 6-11-19

[Image: Kate (a white woman with big eyebrows, square glasses, and a sun hat) at the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth at the entrance to a city park. Superimposed text says “Received some v important counseling in Kennedy Plaza.”]

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Burnside Park/Kennedy Plaza, 6/12/19

Weather: Warm & bright, wind picking up

Number of people: 5 stoppers, 3 walkbys, 1 map marker

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7.5

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 0

Postcards against the plant: 0

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $0.00

 

Observations:

Slow day today, not sure why; only got permission to post one conversation.

To the filmmaker who spoke with me, if you see this: You might like reading Brandon Taylor‘s and Keguro Macharia‘s writings. They are very different writers and thinkers, but what we talked about shares some elements with each of them. Good luck.

Noticed a cop car by the old Greyhound stop at 4:45 but have no idea how long it had been there; a second car arrived at 4:55, left soon after; two more marked cars and one unmarked drove through on Washington St but didn’t stop.

The map marker marked the map with “Hakuna Matata” and it is the only thing I have ever wiped off the map before taking a picture. If you’re not worried about climate change, okay (I mean, not okay, but I’m still going to treat your worry with respect) but you don’t get to tell people not to worry at a thing that’s about worries! This is not the thing for you! Go to the “no anxieties” booth!

 

A conversation: 

I think I feel anxious about how everything gears up toward not thinking about it. Our culture is one of denial, continuing to exist as if nothing needs to change.

Is this something you see in yourself, or you see it in other people and worry about that, or both, or what?

Yeah, it happens in me, but if it happens in me, everything in the world around me tells me it’s fine. It’s a first-world, not-in-current-climate-catastrophe privilege. It lets you be a doer of all the things you do as a consumer in fossil-fueled capitalism. There’s nothing that makes you uncomfortable about these decisions.

For you, what’s the relationship between feeling uncomfortable and what you do next?

I think I have my internal conversation about what I do. Things like bike [instead of drive], eat less meat. I make art about species loss and climate change. There are ways that I as a creature, as a person in the world try to consume less and question more. In my work I’m interested in what are ways that we can hear different conversations about climate change—there’s such crisis language about it, I feel like the emotive and the affective has no space. So having space for the emotional realities of climate change, and how it’s intertwined with global capitalism and poverty. We don’t have space in our culture for a public ritual of mourning.

So you mentioned the emotional reality of climate change, what is that reality for you?

Yeah. I’m like devastated about species loss—it feels irreversible and awful. That we’re a species amongst many—those of us engaged in capitalist structures—and we’re the worst stewards every of others, and other species, and of land. I’m desperate about the state of water. It’s this essential life force and we’ve toxified it and weaponized it against the poor, and changes in weather and temperature are making water dangerous, with flooding and storms. It’s the intersection of climate change and global capitalism—the precarity of poverty… Hurricane María was so devastating in Puerto Rico because of the lack of infrastucture and because the distribution of resources was profoundly inequitable.

What usually happens when you feel those things, or know about those things?

I feel heavy, I feel anxious. But I think we live in a world of such distractions that my environment is always inviting me to escape from that feeling. I can pick up my phone, look at something, or call someone. I’ve been trying to work on not doing that, on sitting with it. It’s good, but it’s really depressing! It feels so honest—I think that there’s devastating things happening in the world and I want to be honest about that devastation. … It feels kind of meditative. Sometimes it’s reading—my partner is currently reading the climate report and they’ve been telling about it, so not looking at anything else after that. Or writing in response, or just sitting in response. … I’m terrible at not being honest. But we’re all self-deceptive—we live in a very deceiving culture. Like the “right to work” law, which is the most anti-worker law. Or just propaganda, the way we’re lied to all the time. We self-deceive about so many things—maybe it’s necessary to deceive yourself a little bit, just to move on with your day.

Do you think about climate change every day?

I don’t do it every day. I guess I think about it—do you know the meditation practice tonglen? You breathe in suffering and breathe out relief. So you generally start with easy things, maybe an acquaintance who’s having a hard time. Then you can move through more complicated things, someone close to you, or a stranger. That’s maybe one of the ways I think about sitting with it—breathing in, taking in the suffering.

How do you interact with other people about it?

I teach about it with students. I talk about it with friends, but that often feels like a hard conversation to have—where does it go? What solutions are there? I’ve gone to protests and rallies, like the climate justice rally. I went to Standing Rock.

What was that like?

It was unsettling. Like [undoing] settler colonial structures. It was a very Indigenous space that I experienced strongly, being an ally but being a white person walking in, knowing it was not my space. It felt like a very—both like powerfully joyful and powerfully sorrowful space.

Are you looking to find that kind of powerfully joyful and sorrowful space again?

The thing that I’m really looking to find again that I felt there is the experience of being in powerful community, ’cause that is who you share joys and sorrows with. I was part of a worker-owned collective for five years, and that collective political existence, building and breaking in community—I miss that shared experience. What does it look like to be in a collective? Who would it be with? I’m engaging in a lot of collaborative projects right now and that feels good, like it could be the beginning of those things.

What are the environmental justice fights where you are? 

There’s the Line 5 fight, to interrupt a pipeline, and there’s mining in Superior National Forest, which is very complicated. I’m just now learning about it. I’ve given money but I haven’t done other things. I live in a city with the third largest Indigenous population in the country, and I know that for example on the White Earth reservation there’ve been struggles about getting land ownership back to members. For a project I’m working on now, I’m interviewing a few Indigenous folks who are doing work around food sovereignty, and interviews feel like a good way to begin getting to know the place.

booth interior 6-12-19

[Image: the interior of the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth, a turquoise plywood tabletop with a binder for notes, a jar for donations and pens/markers, and a box of cards featuring Rhode Island organisms.]

Climate Anxiety Counseling in Burnside Park/Kennedy Plaza TODAY, 2-5pm!

Come visit me in Burnside Park today (Wednesday 6/12) between 2 and 5pm, share your climate anxieties or other anxieties…

booth 6-5-19

[Image: A small turquoise booth made of cardboard and plywood, with “climate anxiety counseling 5 cents” and “Here to listen” written on it, next to a map of Rhode Island with people’s beloved places marked on it, at the entrance to a park.]

…take home a piece of art featuring a Rhode Island organism (here’s one showing some of the plankton that help to make the air we breathe)…

phytoplankton 1

[Image: a line drawing of phytoplankton species Ceratium furca.]

… and fill out a comment postcard to stop the fracked-gas power plant in Burrillville.

20190608_112157

[Image: an orange postcard with a space for people to tell the Army Corps of Engineers why it’s important to New England’s waters and wetlands not to build this power plant.]

Come and talk with me. I’ll be glad to see you.

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: PVDFest 2019, Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park

Weather: Hot and bright and clear, cooler and breezier toward evening

Number of people: 30 stoppers, 10 walkbys, 5 map markers

Number of (vocal) climate change deniers: 2

Pages of notes: 16

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 6

Pictures taken without permission: 5

Conversations between strangers: 2

Repeat interlocutors: 2

Dogs seen: 51

Dogs pet: 2

Snakes seen: 1, very large

Postcards against the plant: 26

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $28.16!

 

Observations:

I was set up as part of PVDFest, which meant not only that there were a lot more people around, but a larger percentage of them were ready to stop and look at things, including me. On the minus side, people were also there to have a good time and maybe didn’t want to engage with something that would be a downer.

Interlocutors today had a wide age range but were/appeared to be overwhelmingly white, which didn’t reflect the composition of the crowd at all.

For future reference: there is a relationship between climate change and plastic waste, both of them come from fossil fuels and both of them contribute to ecological degradation, using one as as shorthand for the other is not a great idea, and I need to figure out a simple and quick way to clarify this for people without talking down or arguing.

A noticeable number of people had read the article asserting that 90% of humanity will be dead by 2050 (which would mean of course that most of us will die much earlier). One thing I need to remember is to ask both, “How does it feel to read that?” and “What do you want to do if that’s true?”

Many people also said some version of, “I don’t know how to get more involved.” Depending on the other things they said, I recommended that they explore the Land and Water Sovereignty Campaign (with whom I also work), Sunrise RI, the fight against the power plant in Burrillville, and Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective (where the donations will go); in a couple of cases I also pointed people toward Uprose and Occupy Sandy.

There’s this thing that people sometimes do where they try really hard to prove how much smarter they are than everybody else and if everybody would just listen to them it would be okay. I didn’t get a ton of this today, but there was a very marked instance of it. It seems connected to what Diane Exavier calls the “innocence project” of white America: the notion the important thing is to prove that you’re above the mess, not to figure out how to live in the mess with others, and the actions or inactions that result from that notion.

 

Some conversations:

I don’t know how to get involved in climate change groups—and I’m a librarian, I know how to do research! But I work full time, and everything I’ve found out so far has been very vague. When I’m working with very young children, three- and four-year-olds, I think, What kind of future are they gonna be having? I’m older, it’s not going to be as drastic for me.

*

I usually say, “The earth is hot, don’t litter.” Paris Hilton once tweeted that and it just really spoke to me. Those three [sic] simple words, “The earth is hot”–it’s not “global warming,” not something people hear all the time.

How do you feel when you think about it—sad? Angry?

It makes me so sad. I’m not really an angry person. [It] makes me want to do something. I always recycle, I choose glass over plastic. I’m educating myself and then educating others. I try to be positive.

Is it hard to do that?

No. I feel so empowered. The more that [I] look at it, the more I wanna help.

*

Person 1: We live pretty close to the water and I’m always hearing about sea level rise.

Person 2: People talk about it over social media but no one does anything about it. It just makes people feel better about themselves.

Person 1: It’s feeling more urgent.

Person 2: Because of that congressional report.

Person 1: Everyone’s sharing this article saying that 2050 will be the last habitable year for people.

How do you feel when you read that?

Person 1: I get stressed but I also get frustrated. The previous generation screwed us over, and we have to live with what they did.

Does it piss you off?

Person 2: Yes.

Person 1: A little bit. Corporate America is making these decisions–

Person 2: –For oil money, and they’re not going to have to live with these decisions, we are.

*

I heard something about how we’re all done for by 2050.

How’d it feel to read that?

Deflating. Horrifically sad. But like anybody sentient, I’m trying to enjoy things that don’t cost money and don’t produce waste. I just joined [a local marching band]–it’s so nice to do something with a bunch of people…that doesn’t use any resources—well, I guess we drive to get to the practices—and that creates beauty. Nothing on its own sounds so good, but together it’s beautiful.

*

I was reading the study that was all over the internet about how the world is basically ending in 2050.

How’d you feel when you read that?

Sad and angry. I don’t know how to help at an institutionalized level. On an individual level I don’t eat red meat, I recycle, I compost, I try not to use plastic. I monitor my friends and try to get them to not use plastic, and they don’t at least when I’m around. Sometimes I yell at people [who are trying to throw things in landfill trash]–“That’s recycling.”

Have you looked into doing stuff at the institutional level?

No—I’ve explored it a bit but there’s not a lot that I can do here in the US. There’s maybe more that I could do back where I’m from, which is Puerto Rico. My parents had to move off the island because my dad lost his job. And a lot of people had to leave because the health care system was in shambles. My dad found a job in the US, in Missouri, in St. Louis. It’s interesting, because it’s Trump country over there. My parents are the only people of color in a predominantly white neighborhood. All these women that are wanting to engage with my mother are treating her like an exotic toy…

… If [climate change] were having an effect on people who are rich and have influence, we would have made these changes, like we would have all gone solar so long ago. But it’s true for them too, like, you’re dying, you’re dying, your children are gonna die! I did get my dad to stop using plastic water bottles. I was like, “You’re so into recycling but they’re still manufacturing the plastic. You’re not really doing anything good, you’re just giving yourself peace of mind for no reason.”

*

Have you read Emergent Strategy? You have to read it. She got me reading Parable of the Sower , and there’s this part where [the main character’s] dad is talking about: how do you talk to people about future threats without making them write it off and dismiss you? How do you actually prepare yourself for the next climate disaster? I’m trying to stop fossil fuel projects and support renewable energy, but on a community level we need to be preparing for adaptive strategies, and how do I talk to my mom who doesn’t read the news because she doesn’t want to think about it? She lives on the thirteenth floor of our apartment building. What will she do if there’s a disaster? What do I do for our elderly neighbors who live on the upper floors? There are these moments where I’ve been actually letting it hit me, especially about New York. I saw where someone marked on the side of a building how high the waters came up during Sandy, and it was as tall as me. There still aren’t proper flood plans, and these are in places that are mostly public housing, affordable housing. People don’t have places to go. It’s scary—how do you talk to people who are really afraid, but we have to have a plan for what we’re gonna do?

Is anyone working on this in your neighborhood that you know of?

I don’t know, that’s a good question. There are some environmental organizations and I think they’re mostly pushing the city to have formal plans, but I don’t know if there’s anything on the community level. … Every time I bring it up [to my mom] she’s like, “If I talk about it I’m gonna have nightmares.”

What if you said something to her like, “I’m okay with you having nightmares if it means you’re gonna be safer?”

It’s hard, because it’s still possible for us to walk around, have festivals, have dinner. I was reading an article by someone who heard about a school shooting, and he was like, “I compartmentalized it so I could have dinner with my kids. And this is what it’s like to be in America.” Climate change is like that too. If we let the whole weight of it be felt constantly, we couldn’t live our lives.

I guess I have two things I want to think about in there. One is the “constantly”–what if we didn’t feel it constantly but we made times to really feel it? And the other one is the “living our lives”–which parts of our lives does it make sense to keep living?

I’ve been trying to be more thoughtful about trying to use less—how do I use less energy? How do I train myself to use less? Trying to keep in mind, “This is an energy thing that I’m doing right now.”

*Some of the Department of Health’s Health Equity Zones are beginning to try to set this up for at least some Rhode Island communities. I will look into this and make a separate post.

*

I do have climate change anxieties, mostly about the city as a whole. I’ve been hearing from real estate people with the city, developers talking about building in flood plains—it’s kind of like a rich people inside scoop, not something I feel like is talked about in policy meetings. But then you hear from the city’s director of real estate, “Oh, we probably shouldn’t build there.” It feels slimy, because these conversations are happening amongst people who are probably gonna be okay with things like that happening. I’m just one elected official, and I feel like we all need to be thinking about it.

Have you already tried to talk with your colleagues about it?

I have. And there’s a lot of, “Oh, we already tried that and it didn’t work,” or, “We’ll never be allowed to do that.”

Is this how you thought it would be when you started this position?

No. Not at all. But then I think, if I were a representative or a senator, I would still have to contend with bad people in leadership.

So with all of that in mind, what do you think is the way out of that?

Honestly, I think education. …With climate change, we’re seeing the effects but they’re not impacting our lives in a restrictive way.

What would be a good place to start with that?

Maybe the river. Everyone loves Waterfire*, but it’s starting to become really difficult. In the next five years, it’s regularly going to be flooded. And the coastline—in Charlestown, they’re no longer insuring houses in those areas.

*I wouldn’t say “everyone.”

*

I worry that I don’t worry enough, partially. People are saying there’s no place for recycling anymore. And if there’s nothing else being solved on a macro scale—this thing that it took the USA a decade or more to do—what kind of solution is going to be found for anything else? I keep putting things in bins because it’s a habit.

Are there other ways of participating that you’ve tried, or looked into?

I feel like there were parts of my life where I was more in tune with that. In the last few years I’ve concentrated more on building the power to do what’s best for myself, building a career, consolidating my position to do more. But I feel like time is slipping away—there’s not a someday to work towards. It’s good to remember that there are tangible, actual ways.

*

Person 1: I’m worried I’m choosing a career path that I’m not going to be able to support my family.

Person 2: It’s disturbing that access to stuff in the face of climate change depends on having enough money.

What are you thinking of doing for work?

Person 1: I’m not sure yet. But I’m seeing a lot of people go into finance, these lucrative jobs that I do not want to go into, but I’m worried that I’m setting myself up for greater difficulty.

What if there weren’t going to be jobs anymore?

Person 2: Like focusing more on learning basic survival skills.

Person 1: It depends on if we’re talking about a cooperative jobless world or an individualistic jobless world.

Person 2: I feel like sea level rise and climate change in general could make that landscape completely different. But you can’t really plan for that—it’s unimaginable, there are so many different possibilities. When I’m being rational, I prefer to think about things I can do to help [with] climate change now. My anxieties lie with stuff beyond the present.

Person 1: There’s a lot of control issues.

How do you live with lack of control?

Person 2: Everyone just kind of goes about their daily routine. But you could get run over, you could find out that you have Stage 4 cancer. You kind of have to ignore it—it’s a mental health thing. A lot of mental illness comes from not being able to put those worries away.

Person 1: I worry, and I think certain things I get a little obsessive-compulsive tendencies over. Sometimes I deal with it by trying to pretend that I know things—like, Oh, if I read enough about it, I’ll understand it, even though that doesn’t change the unpredictability of it.

What is the cost of thinking about it? I mean, what do you have to give up if you think about it?

Person 1: Ignorant bliss and self-indulgence.

Person 2: What makes it so much more difficult is that industry has made it about shifting the guilt onto individual people. Like, yes, plastic is bad for sea turtles, but plastic straws are not that big a deal.

*

[This was from a group of four who came up together; person 4 was quiet.]

Person 1: We were just talking about the plastic bag ban. It seems like a good thing!

Person 2: I’m just bothered that people are so ignorant about [climate change].

Which people?

Person 2: People on the internet. Apparently it’s not a problem. If it doesn’t affect you now, why bother?

Person 1: People who don’t have small children, they don’t have to look as far forward.

Person 3: I just learned about fast fashion and it’s stressing me out. I’ve been trying to go through my closet and get rid of stuff.

Person 1: I feel like it’s that subtle guilt that you give yourself.

Person 3: I start thinking about every little action I do—seven billion people are doing the same thing.

*

What are you anxious about?

Person 1 (indicates very small daughter): She’s on my shoulders.

Have you talked with her about it at all?

Person 1: Not that much so far. She’s a little young for it.

Person 2: I know that she and I have had some conversations about it.

Person 1: We do talk about the importance of conservation and recycling, we have talked about that.

Person 2: I know we were talking the other day about diminished habitats for animals. And we’re going to Narragansett Bay next weekend—this isn’t climate change so much, but there’s that area preserved for the [piping plovers].

That’s definitely connected to taking care of the rest of the world, the living world.

Person 1: And making her realize that it’s worth it. Of course it’s all in the news—that the environment is gonna be irreparably damaged by 2030, 2050. Well, she’s three years old and it’s 2020. By the time she’s my age, things will have come to this point. And I don’t feel like timetables for remediation are realistic.It can be really paralyzing. We can do individual things, but if it’s not accompanied by universal effort—I’m not gonna stop doing the individual things, but–

What about doing things with other people?

Person 1: Not really. We’re pretty atomized as a culture. I’m in school with people who are working on this, and I support them in their work. I’m planning to work on employment, community development, land use. I’m in law school, and to some extent I rely on social scientists to inform me about some of these things, like how we might bring people together with a better plan…

What do you do when you start thinking about these things?

I have a cigarette, or I drink a beer, or I get some food—some kind of quotidian pleasure. But also I think about these things late at night, when I’m alone and my family has gone to bed. I don’t know what it takes to focus people’s energy.

What would it take to focus your energy?

I mean, if there was something, I would show up and lend my voice. If I got an email, a call, I don’t use much social media but if [my partner] were to see something on Facebook, I’d show up.

*

Person 1: My anxiety is that people who are most affected are not causing it. A lot of it has to do with people who have a lot of wealth, and they’ll be able to survive….That the whole thing will be very unjust. In wealthy countries, the focus is on sustainable development, the focus isn’t on big impact things.

Person 2: A lot of the things that people do, like electric cars, the popular trendy things to do, in the system the money goes back into using more resources. You’re not really reducing the use of things. People need to be okay with consuming less, not just with resources being redirected.

How do you feel about all of this? Like, are you pissed about it?

Person 1: Anger is directed toward someone or something. This just feels inevitable. …

What are some things you do about this with other people?

Person 1: I don’t drive to work, but my coworkers do, so I try to talk to them, to encourage them to try other things.

Person 2: I do see people being less wasteful, and I think, how can I be more like them? Bying used clothing and furniture, making food at home instead of going out to eat—having more discipline.

*

I have a lot of guilt because there’s no way to overcome the amount of shit that we have on this earth. I’m somewhat of a hoarder, and when I’m trying to donate things, I’m like, “Oh, I should try to donate this, I should try to share this,” but then sometimes I just have to get rid of all of it. If I’m stressed, I shop.

What does that do for you?

I think it’s the rush of something new …

What else gives you that feeling?

Connecting with people. When I connect with someone, I like to know everything about them … But then if I try to [make these changes], there are still so many people doing nothing.

So is it fair to say that even as you’re feeling guilty for the amount you’re doing, you’re also feeling resentful of people who are doing less?

Yes, and I wanna know, is it gonna make a difference? Will me finding all these little piece of plastic make a difference?

What if—I’m not telling you this, I’m just saying if you definitively knew that it wouldn’t make a difference, what would you do differently?

I think I would just say, “Then let’s find a way to make it make a difference. We need to do better.” I wouldn’t just be like, “Fuck it.”

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[Image: A postcard addressed to the Army Corps of Engineers, asking that they reject a permit for the fracked-gas power plant proposed for Burrillville, RI.]

I’ll have more postcards like this at my booth sessions next week, Wednesday 6/12 through Monday 6/17, 2-5pm, in Burnside Park opposite Kennedy Plaza. Come and fill one out!