Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/23/18

Weather: Hot, breezy, bright, big moving clouds

Number of people: 12 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 9

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 2

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 0

Conversations between people who didn’t know each other before: 1

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 1, but I didn’t recognize them at first

Money raised for the Environmental Justice League of RI: $9.30

 

Observations:

This day was my first in Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park this season. I didn’t know what to expect from the new time (11-2 instead of 3-6) or the presence of the food trucks. So far, what it’s come down to is that a higher percentage of strangers talking to me are people who have food truck money. The noise of the motors doesn’t seem to be a problem; I can hear everyone.

One person who spoke with me also shared her fries with me. I ate about half of them and then shared the rest with a guy who did not have food truck money. (I only touched the ones I ate.)

You need a permit to be a vendor in the park. The ranger came up to me near the beginning of my session and said, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you know what I’m gonna say, don’t you?” (I have a permit; I showed it to him.)

Next time I need to come out with water and more finished organism cards.

This seems like a good moment to reiterate that I don’t agree with everyone whose conversations I post!

Some conversations:

The housing situation. We’re constantly having to move. We’ve had three houses sold out from underneath our feet, and the place we were just in got condemned for no apparent reason. Someone called the fire marshal and they were like, “Oh, you gotta update to the new fire codes,” this impossible renovation, so they misplaced families, they put us in a hotel. The landlord is depressed, his hair turned white in a week. This house has been in his family for generations. My children are straight-A students, but every time this happens it’s affected their grades, their attendance at school, they’re tardy—they should not have to deal with this.

I think they’re picking on him for renting to Black people. The fire department, when they saw it, 48 hours later they shut us all out. Changing the code—it’s like the police stopping a car, like, “This is a bus now. Everybody gotta get off, and you gotta get a bus license. If you don’t get a bus license, you gotta get off the road.”

*

It’s a really big issue. The current leadership of this country has me the most anxious. I can’t even listen to the radio anymore. I used to listen to NPR all the time, but now every time I hear the so-called President—I can’t even say his name—I have to change the station. I have a violent reaction—I want to yell, to drown out his voice. If they mention his name, I have to turn it off. Now I just listen to WCRB, just music, the classical station.

Where do you get your information now?

News apps and online—the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC. I’m interested more in a global perspective. This way it’s in my control if I choose to see his face, or read or hear what he said. He makes me want to do violence to myself or others—mostly others, mostly him.

What do you do when you feel that anger?

I drink alcohol. I joined a gym, I want to be more physically fit.

Have you been involved with any political stuff here in the state?

I haven’t. I used to be active in another state, around the 2004 election. I’ve been voting my whole life, and at first I registered independent, until I found out that in my state you had to be in a party to vote in the primary. I’ve since become disillusioned. I’m not a member of a party—I’m more progressive and left-leaning than most Democrats. There is a woman running for Congress in my district, but I haven’t signed up to volunteer. I think we need more women in positions of power.

What would smooth your path to volunteering?

If I had a sense that it would be time well spent. But if that was what it took, nobody would donate, nobody would volunteer. It’s difficult to fit in with my own personal business, but I’d probably feel better.

*

My wife and I noticed in East Providence, on Massasoit Avenue, there are these abandoned gas tanks, Getty tanks, and someone is building houses there. Who’s gonna want to live there? God knows what’s in the ground there.

*

Global warming trends. Weather patterns seem strange lately. I have some anxiety about cell phones and wireless—what long-term effects of that are there gonna be? Because it’s pretty pervasive.

What does the anxiety feel like, do you feel it physically?

I get a tension in my head, a tightness in my chest.

And what do you usually do after you feel it?

I try to distract myself with reading, doing work or chores around the house. I try to be conscientious, but I have anxiety about some of the things I have around the house that are going into the landfill system.

*

I heard 11 feet by the year 2100.

Where’d you hear it?

Some progressive politics meeting. That’s a good chunk of Rhode Island! I’m filled with anxiety, but it’s not present enough, I have to consciously think of it, and I think that’s why action doesn’t happen. There’s no immediate sign of it that you feel—it’s not like an asteroid heading towards Earth. But it’s gonna have really scary consequences that we haven’t really understood yet. The ecosystem is incredibly elegantly balanced, and because of climate change—I think the Lyme disease outbreak is a consequence of climate change. There’s sea level, there’s stupid simple things that we can picture, but we don’t picture how the rain falling over the wheat is gonna start falling over the Pacific. I’ve decided that this is the issue. Other political issues are just moving deck chairs on the Titanic—what does it matter about income inequality if the planet doesn’t work? I think people feel a bit of helplessness, like, “What can I do”– or they’re like, “Oh, I drive a Prius, I’ve done what I can.” Maybe it’s because I live in a liberal bubble, but I haven’t bumped into that many people who don’t think it’s a real thing, I guess that’s good.

*

I think it’s stressful how much we are consuming and [at the same time] talking about the natural world breaking. I don’t think I can imagine it. So much of my day-to-day life is relying on the Earth. We have this human saturation—not the amount of people but what we’re doing. That’s my new band name, Human Saturation.

What would they sound like?

Maybe really harsh noise. It feels like something down the road. We don’t want to think about it until we inevitably have to deal with it, and we pretend we’re not going to have to. … To have this huge thing that’s happening to everyone, to not acknowledge it is damaging, literally damaging. It’s hard to find one single answer. It has to happen on a huge level—I don’t think a few people biking to work every day is gonna cause change

*

 

I’m coming from a place of statistics. Overpopulation—more people means more waste, more use of natural resources, higher [carbon dioxide] levels. … It’s one of many things that’s gonna happen. Maybe the ice caps melt and we all drown. Maybe we die in a fuckin’ fiery mass of nuclear fallout. It could be a bunch of different things. Massive volcanic eruptions, the sun being blotted out by ash clouds. Who knows how long we have? We all could be living on fuckin’ boats. A massive Atlantis is what I see. There are people who live on water already. Or maybe [carbon dioxide] levels rise and our planet burns to a crisp and we’ll all go live on galactic space stations. Everything has its cycle—part of time is essentially death. … When you work out, you’re breaking your muscles. It takes death to incite growth. We’re all just figments of imagination, we’re specks of dust, a million atomic particles with the capabilities for love. If we pass—you can’t create or destroy energy. Our bodies die but the energy continues. You could wipe all the information off the face of the earth, science will still be science. We’ll be absorbed back into the Creator. Love is my higher power. It’s one way of sort of honoring God, God presents himself to me through the love of other people. … If you show love and be kind, you will be blessed by God. I’ve been clean for a couple of months. I was an addict for 10 years, and what I lacked was love—recognizing and applying love and living by it. Being an addict tends to absorb everything you love, all your interests, all your pleasures. A guy in recovery told me you can trade one thing for everything in your life or you can trade everything in your life for one thing. I’m blessed to have two beautiful children and it’s my duty to make sure that they love themselves first and foremost, but more importantly, that they’re accepting love from others.

map 5-23-18

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. People have written:

Woonsocket

The box of Eddie St

Coventry

Massasoit Ave

 

 

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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.