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.]

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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.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/16/17

Weather: Light drizzle increasing to pouring, steady rain

Number of people: 4 stoppers, 0 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 6.5

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.35

 

Observations:

Unsurprisingly, very few people stopped to talk to me when it was pouring. There was room under the umbrella—it’s a big umbrella—but the lie of the land had a little muddy stream running down right in front of the booth where they’d have to stand. I rigged the umbrella by bungee-ing it to the handtruck, which worked fine only because there was very little wind.

The stream behaved like a stream, with patterns of currents that were revealed by patterns of pebbles and silt, even though it was tiny and temporary. That was cool to me.

People’s rain behaviors—especially, the way they covered themselves, and their walks—were very lovely. I spotted at least two people using plastic store bags as rain shields for their hair, some hood-stretching and jacket-ducking, and lots of variations of scuttling, determined striding, hunching, and plain old running.

Themes of the day: farming, convenience, reasons why people do or don’t do things.

 

Some conversations:

I started getting anxious about it around the time that An Inconvenient Truth was released. Before that I was like, Eh, you know, it’ll happen sometime soon, and that was like, Nope, it’s happening now. I started looking into little actions I could do, but it’s difficult to keep from having a sense of despair. Every once in a while—I own a house in Providence and it’s 150 feet above sea level, but this area right here is 10 feet above sea level. Half the economy of Providence is 10 feet above sea level.

Can we go back to—you used the word “despair”, which is a really deep-down word. What do you despair of?

That people are willing to make difficult decisions to do something about it. It’s a long-term problem, it’s been building and building, and each year it gets incrementally worse …. You can see it right now. It’s been sort of real—with Hurricane Katrina, it was like, It could have been made worse by climate change but we don’t know, and with glaciers it was like, Well, glaciers come and go. But the moment when I was like, This is it, right now, was the March heat wave we had in I think 2012. It was in the high 70s for a week, 10 days, and people were like, Oh, it’s so mild and pleasant! And I was like, No, this is 20 degrees out of normal. This shouldn’t happen, it’s such an unusual—Oh, we’re screwed.

…I got rid of my car. I was completely vegetarian for a few years, now I eat meat maybe once a week, or less. But at one point I was like, Fuck it, I’m gonna do whatever the hell I want because it doesn’t matter anymore. I didn’t want to say completely fuck it, get the biggest car I can and live in the suburbs, I had a week of saying fuck it and then I went back to doing what I normally do. I like my bike for transportation. It’s cheaper—I save $1000 a year just by not renting a parking place, and I think something like $8000 a year by not having a car at all. And it’s fun, I like riding my bike, it’s fun to do. Same with the mostly vegetarian diet: It feels better, it’s easier to cook, you don’t have to worry as much, it’s cheaper. I could spend thousands of dollars to make my house more efficient, but I haven’t looked into it.

… I follow the Audubon webcam with the falcons. It’s like a streaming media service for me. I’m always happy to see the hawks. I ride out into Scituate and Gloucester—and that’s another thing, you can really see the g*psy moth boom. You can hear it, it sounds like rain. Last August, it felt like April—the trees were mostly bare with just a little green, but it wasn’t because they were budding, it was because they were eaten. When I was in the fuck-it state, I was thinking about how I buy produce from the farmers’ market, and it’s two times as expensive: why am I paying two times as much? But I like to ride my bike in Foster, and I’d rather ride my bike by a farm than by an exurban development. If I want there to be a farm, I need to buy that produce.

*

 

I think about icebergs. I think about the extinction of some of our wildlife—and the human race, too. I’m a chef, so I think about plants. I think about the ocean. I’m not too knowledgeable about climate change, but I know that one of the problems is going to be a very serious lack of water … Last summer I couldn’t get butternut squash, I couldn’t get golden zucchini. Oysters come from the ocean. It’s pretty big. But I don’t see it, I hear about it through word of mouth, from news broadcasts—it’s not the same.

… I try to teach my five-year-old to be environmentally friendly, but I can’t be environmentally friendly. Coke, Sprite and everything, they give you this recyclable bottle, but do you see any recycling cans down here? So it’s the city, it’s everything… I can’t just go into the 7-11 and ask for a cup of water, or a spigot, because you can’t trust the water in your city. No matter how much you wanna be environmentally friendly, unless you’re a millionaire, unless you can afford to live that lifestyle you can’t live it… I argue with my brother all the time—he says organic this and free range that, but “free range” just means they spend one hour in the field, the rest of the time they’re stacked up in cages, thousands and thousands, they’re still in the cage unless you’re spending like $9.99. What exactly is free range, what exactly is “support your local community”?

…But I don’t have anxiety about it because it’s not directly affecting me. But I do have a five-year-old son, and I worry about what he’ll be dealing with , and his kids.

What would make it feel like it was directly affecting you?

The extinction of a lot of ocean animals. We live in the [food chain], you need the orca to eat the dolphin, the dolphin to eat the shrimp, the shrimp to eat the algae. … There goes my striped bass, if I want that striped bass, if I want that tuna—we’re the ocean state, but they’re just gonna migrate, I’m not gonna be able to just go to my usual spot. So then it costs more for gas, fuel for buses. But I wouldn’t say I’m anxious about climate change because I’m getting everything that I want. Everyone turns a blind eye if it’s not affecting them.

You talked about your son, and being worried about the future for him—do you show him how to care about things that aren’t affecting him directly?

Oh, yeah. For him, yeah. I’m a victim of society. I’m set in my ways—I’m 33. But we watched [Garbage Island] together and I’m like, This is important. Now he doesn’t wanna go in the ocean because he thinks it’s dirty, but we’re working on it, we’re getting back in the water. The other cool thing about the ocean too is there’s so many animals we haven’t even discovered—oh! and that’s kinda sad, right?

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/15/17

Weather: Hot, bright, breezy. Later, cold enough in the shade that my thumbs started to go numb.

Number of people: 5 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 2

People who knew me from previous sessions: 4

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for the Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.22

 

Observations:

Started 15 minutes late today because I was walking with a friend and that seemed more important.

The food truck parked near my spot is very loud, grinding and constant. No one came up to talk with me while it was there, but that could just be correlation.

Three cops walked through Kennedy Plaza at 3:17, I don’t know why.

I always appreciate a good, genuine double take.

When someone not only didn’t want to have a session but didn’t want a card, I felt a stab of real anger.

One of the people who talked with me also showed me pictures they took of the plants in the grounds of the nursing home where their father is staying.

 

Some conversations:

[These two came up together and I later found out they’re a couple.]

Person 1: The Global Seed Vault in Svalbard just flooded … There’s no damage to the seeds but–

Person 2: But because of global warming, this is not a semipermanent solution to saving biodiversity.

Person 1: When it was being planned, things were not as dire.

Person 2: It’s like a museum for seeds. We sequester diversity in museums—we make it inaccessible by preserving it. And relying on them to do it is like—it’s really vulnerable to what it’s trying to prevent. They made the Seed Vault to perpetuate and be sure to save seeds, but the mission and the problem are getting on top of each other and messing each other up.

Person 1: I’m much more in favor of dispersing things and letting people use them, not this thing that you rely on [to preserve them]. And who are the people working in that facility?

Person 2: These aren’t just antiquities, this is something that potentially carries life. Some seeds need specific ways of being planted and being cared for. Lack of knowledge could make them useless. Disseminating knowledge and how to care for them makes more sense than separating them.

 

 

 

*

 

Not like I stay awake thinking about it, but it’s more like when I am awake. I was on a bus yesterday, in a sea of cars and trucks backed up—we need better public transportation that doesn’t have a stigma. When I tell people I ride RIPTA, they get so snobbish, like, Why would you do that? Why don’t you drive? I’ve been driving all my life, but I prefer public transportation. We need it to make things better for our kids. We can’t do anything about us, right this minute, but I have grandchildren, and who knows what their world’s gonna be like. I think we need to—what’s the phrase? Crash and burn before we do anything about it. One thing is good: there are a lot of people who care, leaders, and at least they’re doing something.

What do you think about our own political leadership?

Mixed. It’s mixed. I think they’re more afraid if they’re aiming to go up for political advancement. But I think they have kids and grandkids, so they care.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market, 8/2/16

Weather: Sunny and hot, a small breeze, nice in the shade but I didn’t have it the whole time.

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Picture-takers with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.55

 

 

Observations:

 

This was my first booth session since I had to abandon one halfway through in June, and I’m definitely out of practice, both in booth-wrangling and in getting into “doctor” mode. For example…

 

… I got “that’s-alrighted” by someone near the beginning of my shift, and I really had to make a conscious effort to dissipate my rage. (It worked in the sense that I did not yell at her or make a horrible face.)

 

On the other hand, sometimes people have a really lovely and unusual way of putting things that shows up in almost everything they say, and I talked to such a person today.

 

A few people–vendors and market organizers–told me that the market’s been slower this summer than it was last summer. Today it seemed about the same to me–sparse, but not, like, desolate.

 

 

Some conversations:

 

 

 

 

[These two were friends]

 

PERSON 1: I’m kinda overwhelmed with climate anxieties. I’m in environmental studies and we say our department should have our own climate therapist.

 

What makes you the most anxious, what knowledge is the most burdensome?

 

People are resistant to hearing the truth. They’re set in their ways, they can’t change. It inhibits action–it feels like a roadblock you can’t work through. It’s not promising.

 

For what?

 For climate change in general. Even to acknowledge that it’s anthropogenic*–if that’s not recognized … we’ll keep exploiting natural resources and sending more greenhouse gases into the air. Agriculture will be threatened–there won’t be enough to eat, to drink, to use water for agriculture. Contaminants, pollutants–

 

PERSON 2: People have trouble seeing that climate change issues are also issues of social justice. Environmental racism, public health, what neighborhoods are safe to live in.

 

PERSON 1: I talk a lot about food access and the intersection of food access, public health and sustainability–local and global food supply. We all eat, so it’s not this far off “climate change [is] somewhere in the future.”

 

What’s it like to be the person who talks about this when other people don’t want to talk about it?

 Isolating. I have a good community of people who [didn’t catch the word] to do some actions, spread some knowledge. But I’m from Florida, and it’s illegal there to say “climate change” in school.

 

What happens to you if you do it?

 

It’s only if an administrator or someone from the county is in the room, there aren’t cameras or anything. But it’s a three strikes thing–first you get a warning, then it goes on your record, then it’s some offense–you go to court? In my AP Environmental Science class, never once was there a mention of climate change. I learned calculus through “disproving” climate change, disproving that it was caused by humans … In Miami, people wear rainboots to work because if it rains at all, there’s so much sea level rise and flooding, people are gonna need an extra pair of shoes. People recognize that there’s change, they just don’t think humans are causing it.

*human-made/human-caused

 

*

 

 

What makes you anxious, what sets it off?

 

When people don’t do what they say they’re gonna do. I can’t take it out of my head. If I don’t let them know about it I get even more anxious. I can talk to everybody but unless I talk to the person, I stay anxious. … I been fighting it since I was a child. I came through a crisis when I was pregnant with her [indicates younger daughter], like an existential crisis. I don’t wish it upon anybody. I learned that I need to take some people out of my life, and I don’t need anybody’s approval. I think anxiety comes through life with a message: you need to change the way you think about your beliefs. I’ve learned a lot, it’s been a rollercoaster–I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness anymore. They were always looking for perfection and we’re not even close to that. I think everybody has an inner voice that tells you exactly what you need to change, but it takes more effort to change than to stay the same.

 

*

 

 

Everybody’s gonna have to move north. [Areas that are warm now] are gonna be barely habitable. North is not really north anymore–it’s just gonna never be cool. Yes, it does bother me that southern Florida’s gonna disappear. It’s not that critical to me personally, but where are those people gonna go?

 

 

*

 

 

[To one of their companions] You know that’s one of my biggest worries. [To me] If everybody was to spend a little more time maintaining and keeping the planet a little more clean, we might be able to last a little bit longer–not only for us but for future generations. Especially our waters, especially our grounds. And if companies would spend a little more effort–it’s not based on the money, it’s based on health. What’s the use to have money if you can’t have health? You can’t eat dollars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/27/16

Weather: Hot in the sun, fine in the shade, light breeze, wind picked up around 5pm. Facing east.

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0, but see below

Number of climate change deniers: 1

Pages of notes: 4

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 3

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

Number of dogs seen: 2

Number of dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.64

 

Observations:

Today I had one of the very, very few climate anxiety counseling conversations ever in which I might be in danger. I am fine and I’ll write more about it another time.

I came up with a pretty good spot definition of the weather vs. climate distinction, “Climate change is a change in weather all over the world and over a very long time,” but I’m still not totally happy with it.

I never think about the big beech tree in the center of the park when I’m not in the park

 

Some conversations:

Person 1: Actually, climate change is getting harder and harder. I’m starting to sweat more and more each day.

Have you noticed differences from year to year?

Yeah, it’s different this year. Instead of spring, we went from winter to summer. You see the change. I went from long pants to shorts. The seasons are off.

 

Person 2: It wasn’t that cold a winter and it was a very cold May.

 

Person 1: Two days ago I had a coat on. Yesterday, I had a coat on and I’m sweating. If I’m cold, I act a certain way and if I’m hot, I act a certain way.

*

I’m particularly worried about what we’re using for energy and water sources, and mass deforestation as a result of the agricultural industry. We think we’re getting smarter when we’re constantly repeating our mistakes, being aggressive toward each other and destroying everything … People try to distance themselves from the implications of their actions. I try to be conscious of how my actions impact other people around me. I know how capitalism works, I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I see how businesses have to do it, but I don’t see how governments can buy into this. They’re thinking about short-term benefits, not long-term implications …

What do you think could help people work towards putting something else first, besides money?

There are cultures, I feel like there’s fewer and fewer, cultures that cling to a community sense of living, a relish in that your community is doing well. But that would require a complete change in our perceptions of ourselves and each other. I’m trying not to be pessimistic.

What would it be like to just be pessimistic?

I would consider that my spirit breaking. I’ve seen firsthand and through a lot of stories the shitty things that people do … but I’ve also seen a lot of good. To be who I am, to continue to be proud of who I am, I can’t give in to my negativity.

 

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/26/16

Weather: Hot and muggy at the beginning, cooler at the end. Small breeze. Faced east again for shade. This was a short shift, 3-5.

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: Maybe 0.5? Very mild.

Pages of notes: 5

People known to me, and I to them, from previous sessions: 1

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Number of dogs seen: 2

Number of dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.47

 

Observations:

There’s a face people make to protect themselves from me. I can’t describe it, but if you come visit me at the booth (I’ll be there today through Monday, 3-6pm), I’ll try to do it for you.

Lots of people said hi to me today without stopping, just being friendly; a few were people I’d seen yesterday.

Themes of the day: veganism and the movie Cowspiracy  which, I’m glad it was pivotal for you, but that is a terrible title. I have never seen it.

Two bike cops rode through at 4:30.

The person I screwed up the conversation with also stopped by. She had a great hat on, and she asked me what kind of data I was getting. I told her about the first conversation below, and it developed that she’s a math teacher. I’m so grateful to her for stopping and talking with me.

 

Some conversations:

[These two came up together, and are pretty clearly friends]

Person 1: I don’t like the hot. I get hot and aggravated and sticky and I wanna jump in the ocean.

Person 2: But the ocean’s mad cold!

Person 1: I want it to be cold!

Person 2: But you’re gonna tan!

Person 1: How I’m gonna tan under the water?

[There was a transition here that I didn’t note.]

Person 1: They say the water’s getting higher, the ice in Antarctica is melting.

Person 2: The penguins and the polar bears are all gonna die.

Is that something that bothers you a lot, or does it seem far away?

Person 2: No, it’s gonna happen mad soon! We’re not gonna be able to tell our kids about polar bears ’cause they’re gonna be extinct … The birds, they’re all dying. There’s mad crows, crows are everywhere.

Where did you guys learn about these things?

Person 1: My old science teacher. She was talking about winters getting warmer, summers getting hotter, snow when there shouldn’t be snow, or not enough snow so there’s a drought.

Do you talk to other people about it?

Person 1: I would talk to my science teacher.

Is she good to talk to about stuff like that?

Person 1: About anything.

Person 2 [laughing]: All the animals are dying!

Can I ask you, I’m not trying to be rude, but I notice that you’re laughing when you say all these things. Can you say why you’re laughing?

Person 2: It’s like a nervous laugh. Like, it’s gonna happen.

Do you imagine it? Do you picture it?

Person 1: It kinda resembles the apocalypse. It’s like this movie, The Book of Eli … he has to go through the desert and eat rats, through all these ghost towns.

Person 2: Because they’re gonna break out in war. It’s like this [gestures around] but it’s all gray, all the buildings broken, all the statues broken.

It sounds like you guys like watching movies like this. How come?

Person 2: It’s showing you what life’s gonna be later.

Person 1: And there’s usually a character trying to save life, save their family.

 

*

Basically animal agriculture is what I’m most concerned about. It’s kind of destroying the planet. It’s not sustainable at all. This is a new discovery for me: I watched this film Cowspiracy … It’s definitely a personal journey for me. I’ve used social media to put the message out there that we need to be concerned about what we’re doing on this planet. How could I have been so ignorant to this beforehand? We’re just part of a bigger system, and it’s hard to detach from that and see how things really are. There has to be a personal want and desire to take care of the planet.

When you make these changes, or try to encourage other people to make these changes, do you feel better?

Yeah … Even if your voice is not as strong, you still need to speak up.

Can you think about how you might help other people make some of these changes, how you might make that path smoother for people?

When I was going through this change, I had a lot of support from–not my family and friends, they think I’m crazy, but from people on YouTube, on the internet, a community of reassurance and support. Something to that effect is what I’d like to do for other people.

It sounds like you had almost a conversion experience, and I’m wondering if it’s possible for people to change what they’re doing without that conversion.

Well, they’re working on various technologies, like for scrubbing carbon from the atmosphere. They’re looking for ways to solve problems through engineering, but with engineering they’ll cost billions of dollars, and it wouldn’t cost [nearly as much] to change the way we eat.

*

People dying every other day.

Are these people who are dying close to you, are they people you love?

Cousins, people younger than me or a little older. They’re dying more regular now. They say, live a sober life, be sober and deal with this, but it’s not something that we as children are warned about. They tell you, Oh, you gotta go to college, you gotta get a good job, but they don’t tell you this.

*

I definitely am [anxious]. I’ve been vegan for 8 moths because of that. I worked on a dairy farm in New Zealand, and then I saw this film Cowspiracy and I found out that dairy farming is basically the worst thing we can do. Cows are so inefficient. New Zealand used to be 90% forest, now it’s almost all dairy farms. I’ve only been back for a week … If we don’t change, we’re fucked.

Can you say more about what “fucked” looks like here?

By 2050 we’re gonna have 9 billion people. They’re gonna have to eat the food we’ve been feeding the cows. It’s not sustainable.

But what do you imagine though?

Wars, climate wars. They’re saying 2 degrees Celsius, but around the equator it’s gonna be [much worse]. Places like Canada and Russia are gonna be full of rich people ’cause they’re colder. There’s gonna be a mass exodus from the equator–the war in Syria is pretty much directly caused by climate change, but they don’t say that on the news because it doesn’t feel good. We’re totally fucked unless we change, and we’re not gonna change.

The Alchemists at Home

I wrote about the very specific climate and environmental anxieties I have about becoming a parent, which I’m not currently in the process of doing, but would like to do, and am afraid to do.

If you click that link, you’ll see some things about me that many people choose not to share about themselves, and a couple of things that I have in the past chosen not to share about myself. I decided to share them for one of the same reasons I started the Climate Anxiety Counseling project: I wanted to know if I had company. The Toast has a particularly responsive and generous commentariat (and a rigorous commenting policy) and people wrote in with their own fears, decisions, declarations of willful avoidance or painful preoccupation, showing where they overlapped with or diverged from mine, and expressing a gratitude that I also feel towards them for putting these feelings into words.

Twitter user @eveewing asked a similar question on the last day of January. There, too, people spoke of their reasons for fearing or not fearing, for holding off or going ahead. Some were flip, some grim, some earnest; all of their responses were, unsurprisingly, informed by what they revealed of the rest of their lives. Someone who works on climate change and environmental justice wrote that they can’t help thinking about it, and pointed out how little most of us know about earth’s systems and the way they interact. An EMT wrote that they’ve “been to too many senior apartments as an EMT and have seen too many people dead alone not to want a family.”  Someone from Sri Lanka spoke of the vulnerability of their home and the ways climate change is already affecting their agriculture and their coasts. Others spoke of raising a generation to mediate these problems and take care of the world, and of talking about it with the kids they do have.

Conceivable Future frames climate change as a reproductive crisis, and interviews people about the ecological calculus of making and raising a child. There, too, people’s stories of their own decisions are moving and direct. Many of the people interviewed there so far appear to be white, but many writers, investigators and scholars have articulated environmental racism, even before it’s exacerbated by climate change, as a reproductive crisis as well: the lead-filled water in Flint, MI and Ottawa County, OK;  African-Americans ghettoized into floodplains; schools built on toxic sites in Providence and New Orleans. Without drastic, prioritized revision of physical and social structures, climate change will make things worse for people for whom things are already bad, the people whose lives are most delicate, most precarious, most tender.

I was glad, reading those comments, that people were hearing what I said; I was glad to hear their stories, and the responses to @eveewing’s question, and to see the faces and hear the voices of Conceivable Future’s interviewees. If they’re important, it’s because hearing that we’re not alone can help shape how we act together, toward each other.

Alternate Histories: 6/13, 6/13, 9/14

[These are anxieties from three different people; here’s an explanation of why they’re together.]

6/13/15

Him: My big anxiety is that if you look back 65 million years, when the temperature jumped, it jumped in a span not of 100 but of 15 years, 8 degrees Celsius. We couldn’t adjust for it.

Her: The sea level rise from that–

Him: Basically if you melt all of [the] Greenland [Ice Sheet] you get 8 meters of rise. If you melt East and West Antarctica, you get an automatic 300 feet. Countries other than the U.S. are gonna push for geoengineering, but that has massive negative consequences. And the other thing is methane. There’s a tipping point with methane release as polar ice melts, and it’s greenhouse gas with 27 times the power of carbon dioxide. That’s really the thing that’s gonna put us over the edge. No policy can stop that. Barring geoengineering, this will happen.

Her: Based on the models.

So if this is definitely happening, what does that mean–

Him: For civilization?

I don’t think you know that. For you.

Him: It would be very sad, because we’re of the generation that actually had a chance to have an engineering impact for future generations. Cheap agricultural production is gonna collapse, and there’s gonna be an expansion of people who are denied their basic human rights.

Do you think there’s structures we could set up now that would reduce the chance of that?

Him: When I was younger, I went to Cuba and I looked at agricultural reform that was part of the reaction of the government to Russia’s collapse. All the imports of things like grain stopped. So they had to move from an agriculture that was focused on producing coffee, sugar and tobacco to a diversified local agriculture that could feed the population of the island. They were overall able to adapt the food supply, shift away from state-run agriculture. If we could facilitate such a shift–but agriculture runs off fossil fuels and glacial meltwater … I got burnt out on international development. Now I’m just trying to make money enough to make sure my family is safe. I’m building nonmilitary drones–they make 3D plans of buildings … I don’t see a total extinction event, I just see a very rough period for human rights. We have a tendency to hunt till there’s no more, drill till there’s no more. I personally think that humans are awesome, because humans make awesome things–humans are grasping the fundamental nature of reality in a way that no other creature has.

6/13/15

More storms. But it doesn’t feel personal to me, not like a personal fear. It’s more like the collective weight of an increasing level of disaster. It feels like a heavy weight, a collective weight of too much–too much happening at once. I have some sense of the fallout of that kind of [event]. I think there’s a lot of people that would vanish, would fall away, would die, and then the few people who are left would have to sort it out.

*

9/14/15

G sees history, and N feels it, looming above them, poised to fall. Let’s entwine not what they imagine, which is similar, but how they imagine it. When G is frightened, they gather data–names, relationships, likelihoods, projections, things that seem to them incontrovertible. When N is frightened, they register emanations–feelings that they share with other humans, with the strain that will show later in the year as blight on the edges of maple leaves, ground turning sour under heavy, sudden downpours, edged jokes about the Ocean State.

G can help tell us what structures we might put in place, what resources we might make available. Will we need new ways to balance what we permit with what we object to? G can seek out ways that people have handled this in the past, all through storied time, and correlate them with our coming needs. They can weigh the effects of different methane-capturing technologies and paces of reforestation. N can tell us if what we’re doing is working. Is the weight lighter? What does the air taste like? Which excuses do the violent try to make, and do they fly?

This happens–they tell us these things, and we listen, and act–and people who think like G go to places where that kind of thinking is needed, or wait where they are for people who think like N to reveal themselves. They come to recognize that data describes them, that history is something they are in, that the fundamental nature of reality is not something we grasp. It operates through us–we are among its tissues and its elements.

Through conversation, through proximity and through shared effort , people become better at each other’s kinds of thinking. Of course there are more than two; there are more than ten, or even a hundred; when we look away from all the different ways that people can see and understand the changes, we’re faced with the ways squids “understand” them or the way rocks “feel” them. And as we know this–as it’s expressed in numbers or in sounds–we may change what we do. This seems abstract, semantic, but history in us is as palpable as a dash of cool wind, the taste of bananas, a neck muscle easing.