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.]

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Sowing Place, 7/7/18

Weather: Bright, breezy, feels almost cool compared to the past week

Number of people: 7 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island: $0.15

 

Observations:

There weren’t a lot of vendors when I got there. Two came later.

Nonhuman animals: seagulls and pigeons overhead; bumblebees, cabbage white butterflies and a black swallowtail (?! I think) in the South Side Cultural Center’s flower garden.

Normally, I don’t include much of what I say in these conversations. But I had one on this day where I clarified something that a lot of people who talk to me seem unclear about, so I’m including the part of the conversation that has both the explanation and why I think it matters.

 

Some conversations:

I’m concerned about my grandson. When I went to pick him up from daycare, they told me he’s been play-fighting too much. We’re trying to help him learn to make good choices for himself, limiting TV time and time with the phone. And part of the problem is the daycare isn’t an exciting environment. He’s bored. There’s too much reading and sitting still for him, not enough playing … I’m the grandma, so I get him once a week. He wants to fight me! He’s getting bigger, so his punches hurt now. We used to play-fight, but now he doesn’t know his own strength. I wonder if that’s part of why—and then sometimes he goes to his dad’s, and that’s an uncontrollable environment. We just have to keep communication going with both his parents, and be diligent about getting results. I know he’s bored … And he’s good at school, he just needs an outlet.

(I give her a card with “small cranberry” on it.)

Oh, I know cranberries, I grew up on the Cape. I know the cranberry bogs. We used to skate on them, because they flood them in winter, and you’re not gonna fall through, ’cause where you gonna go? We used to try to cut through the bog to other places, but we’d get in trouble for that ’cause we’d be smashing the cranberries. We’re cranberry people. My family worked for Ocean Spray.

*

Why are people not more concerned about long-term change?

Do you have an opinion about it yourself?

Because people are built to live on a day-by-day basis.

*

It’s so pressing, it’s so stressful. I don’t know a lot of the science behind it, but it’s just so apparent—I don’t know how people can still be in denial about it. Look at Puerto Rico—what do you mean, this has nothing to do with what humans are doing? I think it has to happen to these people—the water has to rise up to their doorstep. If it’s not an issue for them, it’s not an issue. Just here in Providence, it’s gonna hit the more affluent parts, but there’s only so much further they can go. And people living in the West End—it’s not like they can go to the next town over—when you come in and take their land because you can? Right now they know that they’ll be fine, because they have the means to put their house on stilts or move somewhere else. Or Seattle’s banning plastic straws, which is great, but it has a lot of issues—you have people who use plastic straws, but then you have huge industries taking up so much. It’s like saying that people are poor because they get Dunkin’ Donuts every week, like there are no systemic issues keeping people poor. And there are folks with disabilities who need to use plastic straws.

Also like—here we are talking about plastic, and a lot of people come talking to me about that, but do you know the connection between plastic and climate change?

No, I don’t.

I can tell you if you want to know, but my point is that we’re all walking around putting these things together but we don’t necessarily know how they’re tied together. I do it too. Do you want to know?

Yeah.

So there are two things: the first thing is that plastic is made out of oil, petroleum, and all the work of extracting and making it uses fossil fuels. And the second way is that when plastic sits around in the ecosystem, it puts a strain on that ecosystem that’s already strained by climate change.

[This person had to go do something else and another person came up and spoke to me (I didn’t get permission to post that); later we resumed our conversation.]

So the plastic bag ban—that’s kind of regressive too, particularly with low-income communities. I definitely don’t want to be that person that’s like, “Every idea is bad,” but—and it’s not something that gets brought up in these conversations. It’s like, “Oh, we banned plastic bags and plastic straws but a coal lobbyist is the new head of the EPA.”

How do you think the conversation could go, or should go?

I guess it would be like: how are you going to address—for every initiative that you do, what are you going to do to change the structures that created a lot of these environmental damages? And the other thing is, what are you going to do to prepare communities that will be of course impacted? … In DC they also have a bag ban, where you pay a fee but they take it and they let you choose an organization to donate to, so it’s not perfect but maybe it’s better?

Yeah, especially if it’s an organization that benefits communities that might be strained by the ban, maybe? What about in the work that you do, where could you see these things happening?

At [WORKPLACE] it’s pretty easy. Like we were applying for a grant, and one of the questions was, “What are the green components of your work?” So I did some research on food transportation, and it made me actually think about it—it turns out food transportation takes up so much energy. But when I think about my other job … I can’t really think of a way that we could incorporate being green in what we do.

*

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: I guess I feel like there’s a downward spiral. As the heat rises, more energy is used in cooling. If we’re not generating that electricity in a sustainable way– I read that they’re trying out Syrian strains of wheat because they’re supposed to be more fly-resistant. They’re from this seed vault in Aleppo. It’s because flies are a much severer problem in the Midwest. But destabilizing our food raising regions is scary and weird. For a while, sure, but when it’s the Sahara, you’re not growing anything.

Person 2: Are you gonna forgo capitalism entirely? And if not, where are you gonna make your changes and set your boundaries? As long as you’re participating in capitalism, it’s a ripple-wave effect.

map 7-7-18

Today, kids decorated the map of Rhode Island with pictures of an angry monster and a more cheerful-looking monster.