Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/25/18

Weather: Hot and getting hotter, little restless breeze

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 0

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

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.20

 

Observations:

A cop car drove by at 11:10.

I “seeded” the map with “The air in WP/Southside.”

I remembered my sunscreen and wore auntie pants for the heat, but forgot water .

A couple of people were napping on the grass. One of them woke up, and it looked to me like the park ranger asked her to leave, but let the still-sleeping one sleep.

 

Some conversations:

Trump—that’s all you need to know. Scott Pruitt. I don’t think what some states, like what California is doing, will be sufficient. I’ve seriously cut back on my news. I used to be a news junkie. Now I ration the news feed—it’s probably down to about 1/3 of what it used to be.

What’s included?

BBC, Reuters, Washington Post, New York Times, NPR.

What happens when you listen or read too much?

I can feel my blood pressure rising.

What do you do then?

If possible, I turn off all sound and I listen to the birds in the backyard.

Who do you have back there?

Ruby-throated hummingbirds, nesting robins, a flicker. Downy woodpeckers, of course. Purple finches, goldfinches. My backyard is state land, so nothing will ever be built there.

*

 

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: I’ve noticed an odd change in the weather pattern.

Person 2: It went from 70 to 30 in three hours. I don’t know what to wear. The people in the office all make the same complaints about the weather.

[I hand them a card and explain the things on it, including No LNG in PVD.]

Person 1: The state just approved a wind farm. It’s stupid [to use more fossil fuels], we should be moving in the opposite direction.

*

 

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: I’m from halfway across the world, so this heat is normal to me.

Where exactly?

Mumbai.

Have you noticed climate change having any effects there?

The monsoon is getting worse. When the monsoon hits, the roads flood.

Person 2: Summers are hotter, winters are colder.

*

Climate change confuses me because I don’t know what to believe. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Both sides seem to have an agenda.

One thing you might want to look for is what interest the person has in having what they’re saying be true, like what they get out of it. Do you have a science background?

Yeah, I do. And that’s another thing, I saw someone referencing a study, but you can’t see the actual study without paying $20.

 

*

My sister would be proud of you, and you’d be proud of her. Look, this is what she does. Straws are another thing, just trying to get rid of plastic straws. My lips work fine! We’ve made some progress. Ken’s Ramen has plastic cups out so you can get your own water, but when I asked, they gave me a reusable cup. … I’m president of [A BEACH ASSOCIATION] in [SOUTH COUNTY], and we hire kids to pick up garbage on the beach and send it back to Proctor and Gamble—they call it “storied plastics.” But then they said we weren’t collecting enough. There’s a board meeting tomorrow and I’m going to propose covering the cost of the shipments.

 

map 5-26-18

Description: This (somewhat impressionistic) map of the state of Rhode Island says, “Put your worries on the map,” at the top, and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” at the bottom. On the map I wrote “the air in WP/Southside,” and another person has put dots all over to indicate that they’d like to protect the land and water.

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Alternate History: 5/12, 5/28, 6/8

[Here’s an explanation of alternate histories.]

5/12/16

Heat, dryness, really sick people, kind of barren landscapes. A lot of–as I’m listing things off it looks a little bit like what’s happening right now, in terms of economic and cultural devastation. A lot more complete separation of folks with resources and folks without resources, a lot more violence and globalization from below–people joining forces, people finding commonness where they couldn’t before because they thought they were in competition.

That part sounds–not exactly hopeful, but like something that you would like to see.

Yeah, that is.

So what’s the fear part?

Starvation?…but when you go to identify it, it’s different than what you think. I like to think of the world as an ecological system. Basically the fear is that turned on its head and nothing being able to sustain anything else. I don’t even know how to file that, where to put that.

*

5/28/16

I’ve been down here 10 years working with the homeless. Last year they had a sign that said there was no smoking in the park, so then of course people came and smoked out here, but now people are smoking in the park again. … I’d like to see people down here motivated to clean up the park.

What do you think might motivate people?

I think people need to take ownership of it.

But what makes you take ownership of something? Like, do you own your house, what makes you feel like the owner of your house?

I think you have to tap into what people can do instead of what they can’t do.

*

6/8/16

The story of competition is only one story.

D hangs laundry in his backyard, bees rocking and rummaging in the rhododendron pollen. He has a backyard, at the moment, that he can say “his” about. If he’s honest, it belongs also to the bees, to the rhododendron, to the grass; to the native trees that the rhododendron and grass replaced, to the Native people that his ancestors displaced, to the slaves that cleared the land of trees the first time; to the bugs that thread through the grass and the worms and grubs that tunnel through the dirt; to the microfauna in their guts and the fungal hyphae laced around them. All those whose speech is in their operation. The living and the dead. There’s enough backyard for all of them, if he does it right.

Until now, the other meaning of ownership has trumped this shared meaning in his mind: the getting of what you pay for, the holding of what you have. The recognition that he is always taking part takes him apart.

He does a few things. He and his neighbors on the one side work together on a pass-through through his yard between theirs and the street, breaking up the concrete of his driveway into pavingstones with moss between them, leaving half the fence to slow down noise and building the rest of its boards into a trellis. When he waters the plants or digs in compost, he treats it like an offering; when he poisons the carpenter ants that are gnawing down his house, he holds a funeral for them. When his neighbor on the other side comes out running from his other neighbor, her girlfriend, he sits with her on the porch and helps her make a plan about what to do next. Later he says to the girlfriend, “If you want to hit her, come talk to me instead. Whatever it takes for you to not hit her. Don’t do it again.”

“Or what?”

“What do you mean, or what? Don’t do it.”

The girlfriends break up and move away, taking advantage of the northward convoys. D doesn’t know what they do, what happens to them. Other people move in, turn the house next door into what turns out to be one of the first free clinics and build out a giant trellis to let the ivy and grapevine make it a superstructure of shade, stabilize its temperature in the increasingly sharp spells of dry heat and downpour. D chats with the people waiting to pick up their doses of hormones and makes tea for the people dying of cancer to wash down their painkillers–iced tea would probably be better, but he needs to repair the connection between the refrigerator and the solar cell. If the next storm doesn’t rip this house away, if food poisoning or accident doesn’t nab him on one of his work trips out into the countryside, he’ll probably die here, too. He belongs here, and so do the plants that scaffold or strangle each other, the tiny animal deaths that feed into insect and fungal life, the remnants of the dead, the visiting birds (ever fewer), the relations among all of these.

Many years later, on that same spot, circle of people sit in a dry and ragged landscape, a stretch of dust punctuated by tree stumps and a few ragged foundations, in whose shelter the weeds grow and they can sleep. They are tired and dying, looking for the end of the wasteland. They pass an old thermos around. Each of them takes about half a sip. In the morning three of them are dead. The others form a circle, pass an old thermos around, each taking about half a sip. Then they keep walking, the slightly stronger ones bolstering the slightly weaker.

It doesn’t have to last forever, whatever it is, for you to be tender to it, for you to share with it; you won’t last forever, either.