Normally at this time of year, I’d be repainting the booth and setting up the season’s first Climate Anxiety Counseling shifts. COVID-19 makes it unsafe to talk to multiple people face to face at close range, so I won’t be rolling out the booth this season.But our climate anxieties haven’t gone away and the systems that drive climate change and distribute its effects unequally–environmental racism, extraction, capitalism, colonization–are also worsening, and distributing unequally, the effects of COVID-19. It is a good time, I think, to adapt our minds, feelings & relationships to the kind of action that climate change and other, related crises require of us, and I’ve started developing a workbook of ways to do that.
The questions and practices in this workbook are to help us imagine and practice living in, with, and through the changes that climate change is bringing to our lives, and to become who we need to be to meet them together. The questions are to expand our sense of what’s happening, how we’re reacting, and what’s possible. The practices are to—well, practice—thinking, feeling and acting in ways that may benefit us differently than the ways we’re used to.
Over the next few days, I’ll be posting exercises that have already been tested–either by me with a group of people I’m part of, or by a group of people that doesn’t include me–as well as some explanation of how I’m putting them together and some guidelines for trying them out yourself. If you’re interested in trying an exercise with a group you’re already part of, write to me at my gmail address, publiclycomplex, or comment here with your interest, your questions, and a way to get in touch with you. I will be grateful for your help in making this workbook more usable and useful.
Weather: We were inside the Arlington Elementary School cafeteria. Outside it was mild, in a post-frost way.
Number of stoppers: 15
Number of walkbys: None (see below for why)
Pages of notes: 15.5
Pictures taken with permission: 1
Conversations between strangers other than me: 6 or 7; again, see below for why
The purpose of the Speak Out was to listen to people living in the three neighborhoods covered by the Cranston Health Equity Zone about the factors that contribute to, or tear down, their health and well-being. There were other stations about food access and quality, transportation, housing, trauma, education, affordability and expenses, and a few other things, and the event was set up so that people could enter a raffle if they got a paper signed at every station. So a lot of people stopped to talk with me who might not have otherwise.
Also for this reason, I was talking with people pretty much constantly except at the very end when the crowd thinned out (after the raffle, I think). So if there were walkby comments I didn’t hear them, and because it was inside and no one had a service dog, there were no dog sightings. I didn’t collect money today, although I did tell a couple of people about the Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective, where other donations have gone this season.
The HEZ set me up with a Spanish-English interpreter (plus a floating Khmer-English interpreter, who also translated some signage for me) and a note-taker. As the conversations went on, both of these people talked with the people who were talking with me—sometimes with me involved, sometimes while I was talking with someone else. I loved this and want to do it all the time now! They both appear in these conversations: N is the interpreter, and C is the note-taker. K is me.
My signage was different today, based
on conversations with a few people in and outside the HEZ, and I’m
kicking myself for not taking a picture! The front of the booth said,
“Climate Anxiety Counseling 5¢”
and then, in Spanish, English and Khmer, “Are you stressed? Angry?
Worried?” and then, in English at the bottom, “Here to listen.”
Instead of a blank map of Rhode Island for people to write their
worries on, I drew a map of some of the climate change/health
connections specific to Cranston (there’s a picture below). All the
RI organism cards I gave out were food or medicine plants that grow
wild in the city, and one person recognized one of them, which was my
No Batman sightings today either, but
the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, who was maybe about 6, helped
me pump up the handtruck tire that won’t hold air.
It’s not something I really pay
attention to. You live in New England, you get what you get.
K: [I said something about high heat days, and she took it a different way than I meant it.]
Oh, yeah, the heat.
Definitely heat. My daughter gets assistance for heat.
K: Or I don’t know if you remember the flooding back in October—
Oh yeah. Yeah ,we live right on Pontiac. … I work for the school department, and I have five grandkids that I pick up every day. I don’t have time to breathe. My husband’s retired, so he’s sitting around all day and I’m doing all this. But I can’t sit around doing nothing. But yeah, my daughter had to move, and she went from gas to oil—now she’s back to gas, and we had to fill out the paperwork again. She’s a single mom with three little girls—seven, six and four, the baby’s almost five.
So it sounds like—obviously you
want to do it, but it sounds like that takes a lot out of you.
Yeah, but like I
said, I need to be doing something. And she does have enough support.
When it’s too much, I call my sister, she’s in Ohio, and we just
vent. She vents to me too—she just found out my brother-in-law has
prostate cancer, and they can’t operate because he’s already had so
many surgeries. But life is life. You gotta have a positive attitude,
you can’t go around every day down in the dumps.
Every day there’s a
reminder of the fact that we’ve got twelve years, ten years, before
we can turn the clock around.
K: Sometimes like to ask people how they know what they know about climate change—where have you been seeing that?
Well, the media,
but I’ve also been reading a lot of reports, studies, that say
realistically we need to start changing it around now. But I don’t
know what, if anything, we’re really gonna do. Obviously we do things
in our own communities that are helpful, but what governments and
corporations are doing—I generally try not to be stressed out about
it. I do worry about other people, in my community and elsewhere, who
don’t have the resources to deal with it…
…There just needs to be better allocation of resources. I don’t want to get too political, but Mike Bloomberg bought $30 million of political ads for one week, and he’s got [billions of dollars] total. The UN released a report that the food crisis could be solved for $30 bilion. It’s just really bad allocation of resources. [Climate change] does have real life consequences, but it’s hard for people to conceptualize how to address it on their own local level. There’s this LNG plant they want to build in Providence, down on Allens Avenue … If that thing ever blows, not only is the whole community affected but Cranston and Edgewood are gonna go just like that.*
C: What makes you so involved?
I started when I was eighteen or nineteen, but when I bought a house and I realized I was gonna be staying for thirty years—that’s why housing is so important. That’s what gets you invested in the community—well, there’s family ties, but a lot of people don’t like their hometowns.
*The Univar chemical tanks, which are within the explosion range of National Grid’s LNG facility, have a 14-mile disaster radius.
One of the things, for example—it doesn’t have to do with climate change—but where I live, I try to grow things over the summer, and animals come over the summer and they don’t have food, so they eat it, so I never get to grow any food. Sunflowers, tomatoes—these animals, the little chubby ones, they created this tunnel underneath the house. And something that worries me—where I live now there hasn’t been a problem, but at the time when I lived around this area, we had a problem with rats. I worry that they might come through the pipes for the laundry.
I’m pretty sure the
school that I live next to has radon in the basement. Supposedly
they’re knocking it down in the next few years, so I don’t know
what’s gonna happen then.
K: Is it something that people talk about in the neighborhood?
I know the kids are scared to drink the water at school. It’s kept pretty hush-hush, but the parents all used to go to the school.
K: Is it the kind of thing where parents might be willing to get together to ask for some kind of action?
I used to do after-school programs there, and the problem with any kind of action is that there’s a lot of languge barriers. A lot of the parents are immigrants coming from other countries, they’re scared to say anything—people don’t know that we live in a democracy [sic] and that they can speak up. And there’s a lot of grandparent-raised families and multi-job families. I work for One Cranston, and we ask people what they would change about their communities, and a lot of people don’t know what they would change about their community.
that’s an issue. I’d say I’m pretty worried. I like what Providence
did, with no more plastic bags.
When do you think about it, what
gets you started worrying about it?
Randomly. Or I’ll
start thinking about it over the summer when it gets really hot, or
when weather changes too drastically.
C: What kinds of things do you worry
How animals are
gonna get affected. They don’t really have a choice. I’m a big animal
person—I like them more than people.
Do you try to look out for animals
or help them survive?
In Guatemala I saved a lot of turtles. My family’s from there, so we go down there every year. We were at this restaurant and there were baby turtles in cages, I guess because the bigger turtles [in the pond] wanted to eat them. But there was a little hole in the cage and the baby turtles were getting into the pond. So I was like to the guy at the restaurant, “Do you have a net or anything?” and he got me a long net and I caught them and put them on a little dock. My family’s like, “[NAME], come, the food’s on the table and it’s getting cold,” and I was like, “I don’t care, I’m fishing out turtles.” … I would love to save animals 24/7.
Just, like, the
timeline– “We’ve got twenty years and then we’re all dead.”
K: How does it feel to see people saying that?
stopped going on Facebook. But anytime I make—I just graduated from
college, so anytime I’m making large life choices, I’m like, “What’s
the point?” [laughs]
K: You’re laughing but I’m guessing you don’t really think it’s funny, so—what is the feeling?
I don’t know if I
have a good word for it. It’s not one of those stresses that come up
K: How does it affect your decisions?
I don’t know if
it’s made a specific or conscious choice that I’ve made. There’s just
so many big things [happening] and it’s just like, what’s this big
I feel like I don’t
know enough. I’m embarrassed to say that.
K: [I pointed her towards the map I had made, which you can see below.]
I can say this, I’m
sensitive to high heat days in terms of my workplace. OSHA doesn’t
govern schools. There are days where I can’t even walk up the stairs,
let alone be in that building for six hours. Sometimes people will
[This person spoke
quietly and it was hard for me to hear them well, so there are some
I’m a little bit worried about myself—from the war, I went through a lot. From 1970 to 1975. I left my country. I’m here helping people, especially with education for people from poor countries. People in my country who were educated were killed by [the Khmer Rouge]–professors, doctors, police…
…I’m still too much in my mind. All the worries for everybody, many things with my job. [He named the schools he worked at.] I retired Friday, June 26, 2015, almost five years now. I’m still thinking too much. My family all graduated from high school, Classical or Central, [I think he also said where some of them were going to college]. Myself, I’m still worrying about living here. I’m healthy, but my mind still misses my country. I want to fight for freedom—not to arrest good people.
asked a question about how he thought the Cambodian government would
respond if there were bad storms.]
They didn’t care. The government doesn’t come up with a solution.
They take your family from the ground to the top. Day by day, I’m
safe but I’m thinking about them.
K: When you feel like it’s too much for you, what do you do? Is there someone you talk with, is there something else you do?
I went to the
doctor. The doctor told me I need counseling, but I can control it
myself. Sometimes I get headaches, I take a pill, one aspirin. I
exercise sixty minutes every day. I don’t know what the solution is.
[Person 2 was
Person 1’s mom.]
Person 1: Does it
affect us? Not really.
Person 2: Yeah, it
K: I like it when people who are talking with me disagree, because it means we can try to figure out whether you really don’t agree with each other or whether you’re reacting to different things. So can you tell me why you think it won’t affect us?
Person 1: It’s
natural—well, all the gases in the air coming from cars, and coming
from factories, causes climate change, that’s not natural. But it
wouldn’t affect us directly.
Person 2: It’s
affecting us right now, ’cause we have more hurricanes because of the
things that we’ve done to the environment. It’s affecting the
climate—the air gets trapped and it causes natural, what we call
K: Does it stress you out to think about it?
Person 2: Yeah it
does, because it makes me think, what’s the future gonna be like? All
these things we call natural disasters, but it’s not natural. If you
call it natural—but it’s something we can do something about.
N: So in a sense we’re building it
up. We’re like, “Oh, where is this coming from?” But we built it
Person 2: We’re
living in this earth—it’s gonna affect the generations to come.
We’re all human and we’re all connected! We’re gonna feel something.
… I try to use less vehicles, walk places, riding a bike.
K: Also there’s things like—if the bus was better and went more places, then people would use their cars less.
Person 2: But the
bus is costly for someone who can’t afford it. If it’s free—then
the bus company doesn’t make money, so then we pay for it out of our
taxes. But it could be less costly.
Person 1: They do
offer it for free when it’s too cold.
Person 2: When we really think about it, everything is connected to climate change.
Person 1: I
understand it from that perspective too—but before climate change
we have to get into other things as well. We have to take care of
ourselves as a people before we can worry about the climate.
I’m a science teacher. This is in our curriculum, and we spent most of the first quarter talking about it. I know a lot about it, and it does make me anxious.
So I have two questions. How do you
deal with that anxiety with your students? And how do you deal with
it when you’re by yourself?
It’s hard to hide
it, because stressing how important it is is what makes it
worthwhile. I try to spin it as an optimistic thing: you are the next
generation, you have the power to change things.
K: What about when you get home?
It’s peaks and valleys. It can be pretty optimistic and moving to hear things that my students have to say. But it can be pretty depressing knowing that some people are out there actively doing things to spot progressive change. What kind of world—I don’t have children, but if I have children—will they be living in? …. It feels like it would be kind of selfish to [have children]. I studied environmental science, it was my major in college, and I’ll never forget, the first day of class, Environmental Science 101, the professor said, “This is a depressing major …” So it’s always in the back of my mind. It makes me more conscious of trying to make better decisions. I carpool to work … There are so many aspects of the world today that are heavy and depressing.
I’m in Sunrise, I’m on the recruitment team. I’d really appreciate it if you could send people my way for the next strike, on December 6th.
How’d you get involved with Sunrise?
I was at Wyatt Detention Center at a protest—that was the first action, the first activism I’d ever done. I was like, “Hey, let me actually do stuff.” There was a Sunrise person there from Philly, and they were like, “Actually, there’s a meeting tomorrow.” So I went to it. I’ve been doing other activist work as well … Climate change is just a bummer. Just doing work about it—I probably don’t dedicate as much time as I should, but doing work around climate-change-adjacent things, it helps keep me not as anxious. It feels like I have nothing to feel bad about. Even if in twelve years Delhi is uninhabitable, it’s 200 degrees in Death Valley, I have the satisfaction of the knowledge that I tried, I did what I could, I tried my hardest. I can’t just not do social justice and climate justice.
I really don’t know
that much about it. I have asthma. But it isn’t as bad as it used to
be, so maybe the pollution isn’t as bad. I heard about plastic, I
heard that in Providence you can’t have plastic bags.
What have you heard about plastic?
… How animals are
gonna die—it’s making it [easier] for it to kill the sea animals.
People are taking action upon it though.
[We also talked
a little bit about relationships between humans, plants and other
animals in ecosystems, like how ocean algae produces 2/3 of the
oxygen we breathe.]
affects our mood. I do see people’s mood change when it’s colder,
they’re depressed and down. I see a lot of people being affected,
especially people who are away or apart from their families. In
summer I see more people getting together, depression seems to get
better with summer being around. Stress is worse during the
winter—people are worried about paying for heat. People are coming
more for assistance so they can be able to afford heat, or for
National Grid to extend services because of heat.
C: In your work with people and
families, do you hear them concerned with big storms, or power
outages, or stuff they hear about the environment in the news?
I haven’t heard
much of that. It’s more people filling out paperwork for National
Grid to say they can’t shut off their electricity or heat.
K: And that’s so wild because that’s
the same people, we have to pay money to the same people who are
making the climate worse.
C: Do you think that people realize
I don’t think
they’re aware of it—I don’t think people realize that many things
are part of the same thing.
K: So your job is really helping people survive. Is that a strain on you? What about when somebody gets turned down?
That’s a terrible feeling. I see the frustration in their face, that they’re not going to be able to survive living here when it’s actually cold.
N: Let’s say they get turned down,
and you see the person’s frustration. How do you
deal with it? Do you allow those reactions to get to you?
Like with situations I’ve encountered at my job, I don’t want to get
too attached because it’s going to affect how I make a decision?
I’ve never gotten frustrated with them. I’ve felt disappointed, and frustrated with National—with the system, when I have my hands tied. It never gets easy to say, “I can’t get the extension and there’s nothing else I can do for you.” It’s not an easy answer…
N: We’re in a sense creating a
barrier, to not allow these emotions to get through.
It takes time …
[But] otherwise you would not have a clear mind to assist them and
help them. It’s not that I have less feelings. If a child comes to
you and tells you they’re being sexually abused, you want to kill
that person. But [over time] you become able to say okay, we’re gonna
get you help and here are the services you need.
C: With the HEZ, there were some
mixed feelings about whether people would be concerned about climate
change to have it be part of where the investments in resources are
made. Is it or is it not a concern? And why do you think that is?
It is, but it’s not
until it starts affecting them.
N: It’s like knowing that the issue is there, subconsciously, but then it gets cold and then your mind is actually talking to you.
It’s the same thing
like if somebody needs new brakes—you don’t do anything about it
till you hear the sound. People are like “I gotta go to work, I
gotta make sure there’s money coming in, I don’t have time to worry
about electricity. I gotta make sure I have my medications.”
C: That’s the insidious part of this. The large companies that create this issue make sure people can’t put the bigger picture together so that they can continue [making money].
N: In school they teach you how to not question these things—it’s more like they’re teaching you how to get a living, so you can just go through life.
[IMAGE: A hand-drawn black-and-white map of Cranston, with a few major interactions of climate change and health–high heat, air pollution and asthma, food supply chains and flooding–marked on it.]
Cranston’s new Health Equity Zone (HEZ) is holding a Speak Out event, where people living in Arlington, Stadium, and Laurel Hill can tell people working for the HEZ about what would improve their health and well-being, and what threatens it or makes it impossible. If you live there, please come–what you say will shape and guide what the HEZ supports and provides using money from the RI Department of Health! (There’s an explanation at that link above of what the Health Equity Zones are supposed to do.)
I’ll be there with the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth, talking with people about their mental health needs, their knowledge about climate change, and whether those things ever intersect for them. If you talk with me, I’ll ask permission to share our conversation here and also with people working for the HEZ. Here are some of the things I might ask:
How does the environment affect your health?
How have you noticed your health change while you’ve been living here?
How have you noticed the climate, weather patterns, or seasonal patterns change while you’ve been living here?
What do you do when you feel stressed or angry or anxious? Who do you talk with, if anybody?
Here are some of the ways that climate change affects this part of the world; are those among the things that stress you out?
Who’s responsible for your well-being and whose well-being are you responsible for?
There will be lots of other people listening at the Speak Out, too–some other things they’ll be asking about include food, housing, transportation, education and affordability. Spanish and Khmer interpretation, childcare and activities for kids, and food will all be on offer.
The Cranston Health Equity Zone Speak Out is November 23rd, 11am-2pm, at Arlington Elementary School, 155 Princess Ave, Cranston, RI. Please come if you’re a resident, and share if you’re not!
[IMAGE: A sketch of the Climate Anxiety Counseling Booth setup, with annotations and some additions like extra stools for people to sit on, signage in English/Spanish/Khmer, and provision for a group conversation.]
The REJC very kindly gave me a chance at the mic at the resilience celebration and presentation of Providence’s new Climate Justice Plan (Spanish / English). What I said was okay–climate change can stress us out and can add to the stresses we already have, if our kids are sick with asthma, if we don’t have enough work or if our jobs are killing us; while we’re fighting to remove those stresses, it’s better if we can also take care of and support our mental well-being; talking about what we’re feeling can help us practice talking to each other, which is necessary for working together.
But there’s also some stuff I wish I’d said, because it’s true, and here it is:
I wish I’d also said how grateful I was to be there, and how much strength I saw when I looked out at everybody who was there, sitting in folding chairs and leaning on picnic tables and watching the kids on the playground.
I wish I’d also said that mental health is a zone of justice and equity, both in the sense of, “Who gets care? Who gets to feel well?” and in the sense that landlords and bosses and power hoarders of all kinds want us isolated and lonely and tongue-tied and depleted, with nothing left over for each other.
I wish I’d also said that sometimes we don’t call what feels wrong “mental illness,” or even “sadness” or “anger” or “shame.” Sometimes it’s a stomachache, tight shoulders, a perma-clenched jaw, tiredness. Sometimes it shows up in a rejection of practical help, or abandoning a sustaining friendship, or giving up on trying to change something because we’re scared it won’t work.
I wish I’d also said that talking and listening can be part of healing if we do it carefully, and that it can help us know what we can do and should do. I wish I’d said that the city government had made a good choice in listening to the knowledge and experience of the city’s people, those most affected by racial and environmental injustice.
I wish I’d said again how glad and grateful I was to be there with everyone, in this time, in this place.
Today, join Providence’s Racial and Environmental Justice Committee in celebrating our city’s resilience and sharing the Climate Justice Report for Providence. Providence residents have worked with the REJC and the city’s Office of Sustainability to put together a plan that doesn’t treat any place like a sacrifice zone, or anyone as disposable, but makes the well-being of our city’s people a priority.
If you have questions about what the plan will mean for you, your family or your neighborhood, or how you can participate in carrying it out, this is a great place to ask them! If you don’t know the people of your city that well, this is a great place to meet them.
12-3pm, Davey Lopes Recreation Complex (227 Dudley St), Providence. Spanish-English interpretation will be available, as will food for the first 100 people. I’ll be there with the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth.
There’ll be music (live and DJed) and stuff for kids too. Please join us.
Climate Anxiety Counseling will be at the PRONK! festival tomorrow (Monday), 10/14, 2-4:30pm, along with many community groups, artists, and bands (go to the website for the full list, it’s pretty exciting). Come and share your climate change anxieties and other anxieties, and learn how to translate your feelings into connection and action.
Here’s a map of the festival. The booth will be on South Water St, somewhere in that line of purple fists.
[IMAGE: Map of a small section of Providence showing the location of various PRONK! events. Community groups will be lined up on South Water St; for directions/GPS, you can use “South Water St between Point St and James St, Providence, RI.]
Two additional features of this booth session: a friend is donating Spanish/English interpretation, and a producer from Safe Space Radio is offering the option to be recorded for a show they’re doing on climate change. You can absolutely still talk with me without being recorded if that’s what you’d prefer!
[IMAGE: A very fuzzy black and brown caterpillar, NOT a woolly bear, on a plantain leaf. The photo doesn’t really convey that they were a little smaller than my pinky finger, which is big for a caterpillar.]
I was going to be at the Sankofa World Market (275 Elmwood Avenue, Providence) between 2 and 6pm today, August 28, but it is now Too Wet, and I have bailed. I did have a nice visit with this person, who asked me to take their picture.
[IMAGE: A small child with beaded braids running out over the grass and into the rain, carrying a blue and white umbrella.]
The market itself continues through October! Please buy some vegetables from local, hardworking farmers and vendors.
I visited this tidepool when I went to Block Island a few days ago. Tidepools are among my favorite ecological phenomena and one of the places where I feel the weight of climate change, and my love of the living world, the most.
[IMAGE: A shallow tidepool with sand, small rocks and large algae-covered rocks, some submerged and some emerging.]
Today is my last day this season at the farmer’s market in Miantonomi Park, in Newport’s North End. Come and share your climate anxieties and other anxieties with me and, if you wish, with Elizabeth Malloy of Living on Earth (you can choose whether or not to be recorded).
[IMAGE: Close-up of a recording device with a gray furry sound muffler over the microphone part, balanced on a person’s knee as she sits cross-legged on the ground. Her knee is on sidewalk, her hand leaning on grass.]
I had Elizabeth Malloy of Living on Earth with me, listening and recording (with permission), to see if there’s a story in all of our stories. She will be back to record at the 8/26 and 8/28 sessions, so come on those days if you want to be on the radio.
Nonhuman animal presences: Two tiny brownish butterflies, ant, white
butterfly, housefly, bronze dragonfly (I can’t figure out what kind
these are), seagull, little green fly.
A rare thing happened: Someone came back to speak with me for the second time and I got to hear what they did after our first conversation. If they can face their fears and expand their capabilities as steps toward participating in the world in a way that’s responsive to climate change, maybe you can too.
What’s the question of the day?
The question of the day is: in a bad storm, what would the strengths
and weaknesses of your community be?
[We talked about this some, and I think I brought up that because Providence is a city, there are a lot of people who have a lot of different skills to share.]
A lot of the jobs here are the same thing, just different places.
Like waitresses. Very few people do construction. People who do
construction aren’t from here.
If a bad storm were to happen like that, all of Newport is just done. There’s water over here, there’s water down there.
worst storm you remember?
Have I been through a storm? A lot of the bad storms, I’ve heard
about, I haven’t been through.
I noticed that
you wrote on the map, “It doesn’t happen in just one place.” Can
you say more about that?
You can take one place and try and protect it, but that doesn’t do anything about the whole problem. I’m really really frustrated. Nothing seems to be happening and what’s happening isn’t fast enough. The Point section [of Newport], all those very old houses—and a lot of them are for sale. And they can’t move them all. Since I rent, I’m never gonna own, I don’t think of it that way. Superstorm Sandy cut off a road to the wildlife refuge for years. …
I did go clean the beach. I wanted so bad to go down to [the] Allens
Avenue [cleanup], but I don’t drive well on the highway. If I can
still register, I’m gonna just go and be terrified. I signed up for
communication skills [courses], and computer skills—I think I can
learn a lot but computer skills are going to be the most useful. And
I did sign up for the climate discussion at the library. What I’m
trying to do is write down my thoughts so I can keep organized. We
only have a certain amount of time. It’s not funny. This is now.
[Person 1 and Person 2 are kids, Person 3 is their parent.]
Person 1: I don’t want the ocean to be dirty.
[To Person 2]
What about you?
Person 2: It’s kinda like the same thing but I don’t want like—you
know how sea turtles, they think [plastic] bags are jellyfish?
Do you talk to
other people about this?
Person 2: To my mom. And some of my teachers at school and at my
What do you do
Person 2: We go outside and we go sailing. Today I did a learning
thing about the ocean, so we can keep the ocean clean. So [one of the
teachers] did these tests and we did like—and we made our fingers
look like a turtle and we put a rubberband, and it was kind of like a
test of a how a sea turtle feels. And we did a thing where she said
to dump out all the seeds and put it in the plastic beads and we did
that three times. I think all that plastic beads was actually the
pollution that was inside of the birds and sea turtles.
When you learn
about stuff like this, what about it makes you angry or makes you
Something dying. Something I get mad about is like something on
TV—somebody choking, like an animal. … I don’t exactly tell
anyone about it, I kind of keep it to myself.
Person 3: How come?
Person 2: ‘Cause I like to. Sometimes I even think if someone’s doing
the exact same thing as me.
Person 3: You learned a bunch of songs about not polluting. Do you
remember any of them?
[Person 2 did not want to sing the songs.]
Person 3: I think one of the hardest parts of thinking about climate change is using the right language. Especially with young people … It’s really serious [but] is that going to help the situation, talking about it with young people and scaring them?
How do you talk
about it in your house?
Very experientially—something’s happening and you talk about it in
the moment. For whatever reason, animals are the way to a lot of
people’s hearts. Kids love animals and don’t want to see them hurt.
[And it comes with] the guilt of, “It’s kind of our fault.”
What would you
like to do in response to this that you’re not doing?
It would be great to take them to New Mexico to build an earthship. That’s a really big dream. We’ve gone to a couple protests…I wish there were more options. … They talk about the three Rs, but I think there should be five or six Rs. We should be teaching them about refusing things, and repurposing things…
[Climate change] seems hypothetical because you’re not there. It’s easier to do these experiential teaching things in the moment—like pointing out the cycle of something and the people who made it. …It’s shifting, the conversations are happening more. It wasn’t really a thing to talk about in the ’80s when we were kids.
How has climate
change affected the way you think about your kids and the future?
I’m pretty hopeful. Kids are incredibly resilient beings. I don’t fear for them. The only thing—I guess if I had climate anxiety, which I do, it’s about accessing nature, because it’s—there’s just not going to be as much access to nature in its current state. And the ocean especially, because water is so important to the health of humans. That’s the only thing that I think I’m really concerned about, is losing … that as they get older. My kids and their generation are 100% problem-solvers, maybe because they have to be. [But] one of my pet peeves is when people are like, “It’s up to these kids.” It’s not up to them. It’s up to us to make everything sustainable and [I DIDN’T TAKE DOWN THE END OF THIS SENTENCE].
My grandchildren were visiting last week… I’m very concerned that my grandchildren will have no water to drink, and I can’t tell them that. We talked a lot about climate change and why we don’t have dinosaurs. “Maybe we’ll have another ice age.” I just couldn’t get into the Industrial Revolution, from the 1700s and the 1800s…So we’re all feeling pretty confident [about] our lives, they’re not terrified of dying in their lifetimes …
woman, 50s, glasses, stylish
I’m definitely anxious and I’m more anxious about the deniers in our government. These rollbacks that they’re doing…I’m frustrated about that and I don’t understand it. The frustration is [with] the “profit over humanity” type thing. I’m worried about changes that I’m seeing in the current weather patterns. We don’t know what to expect … Should I start getting sandbags? Should I get an inflatable raft and keep it in my garage? Am I being paranoid? Am I being silly? Or realistic?
They’re trying to bury the science that’s out there, and it’s up to us to try to fight it… I don’t know if they just have an agenda and they’re putting lies out there or if they don’t get it, they just don’t want to. I think the bigger thing is, our values have to change. We’re very materialistic and I don’t think we’re looking at the big picture.
What are the
values that you think we should either bring back or start having?
Just the simple things in life. Community, education, just being able to live our lives without everything they put in front of us. We don’t ask ourselves [whether we need it]. … If we were to cripple [companies’] profits–
What helps you?
Reflection upon it all. My church family. …Having like-minded people around you who can kind of see that perspective—people who you can learn from and who are receptive to things that you’re saying as well. Taking a look inside and asking yourself, “Why do I have to have this?” … A big part of our problem is—as a community—is it’s inconvenient to do a lot of things and I think that’s what’s holding us back. I don’t do too much for the cause in that regard. I think that’s a big reason people don’t want to talk about it.
… I need to start putting myself in a mindset to live on the bare minimum. [On the island that] my parents were from, the island that we used to visit, they had no electricity. Do I prepare myself to go back to that? … It’s not gonna kill me to use an outhouse. My family back in Anguilla, when those two hurricanes hit, we were so worried, we didn’t hear from them for a week and a half, and when we finally got in touch they’re like, “We’re fine.” My cousin had food in the fridge and they took the food out and they had a barbecue for everyone. They knew how to do the manual labor, they knew how to put the houses back together. The thing that I find different here is that people here are all about that profit—people [with those skills] are gonna be thinking, “What’s in it for me?”
[IMAGE: The components of the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth (plywood table, wooden stool, cardboard signs, map of worries, canvas bag for other materials) packed onto a red handtruck. Nestled in the bottom of the upside-down stool is a container of cherry tomatoes.]
Bring me your climate change and other anxieties TODAY (Wednesday, August 21), 2-6pm, at the Sankofa World Market (275 Elmwood Avenue, Providence). This is my second-to-last appearance at this market for the season, so if you’ve been wanting to talk with me and putting it off, now would be a good day.
You can pick up some food items, too. Teo and Margarita had honey in the comb last week, and someone–maybe Lia?–has bitter melon, but for that you might have to get there early.