Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/14/19

Weather: Passing sun and clouds, stuffy at first, then wind picking up. Heavy cloud mass rolling over from the northwest, looking like rain but not raining.

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 1 walkby, 1 driveby

Number of climate change deniers: 1. I wouldn’t exactly call this guy a heckler, but he was smug in a very vocal and persistent way.

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Conversations between strangers: 1, brief

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 1

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 0

Pages of notes: 4.5

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $0.35

 

Observations:

Park ranger car was there when I arrived at 2, gone soon after. A cop car, a fire truck and an ambulance showed up around 3; the truck left with sirens on soon after and the ambulance and cop car stayed for a while. At 3:19, the first cop car was gone and a different one had come; that one pulled away at 3:36. A couple other cop cars, marked and unmarked, drove through on Washington St but didn’t stop.

Nonhuman animal passersby: teen starling, pigeons, sparrows, mallard duck couple.

While I find some things about the corporate electric scooters and bikes sinister, I really like watching people get the most out of them: a Del’s vendor riding one of the green scooters and towing their cart, one kid riding one of the red bikes with another kid in the bike basket.

Had a very good conversation that I didn’t take notes on but was glad to have! M, if you’re reading this, thanks.

 

Some conversations:

I feel bad for those climate change deniers who are living on fantasy island.

Do you feel bad about it yourself?

I’m so deeply concerned I feel like I need to stay put. I’ve taken personal responsibility… I’ve been trying to get more active in my locality. I like that they write bills to investigate the ocean, the pH of the water. We should help our allies dispose of desalination waste, not just put it back in the ocean. That’s where we get all of our oxygen. I call my reps, I do my little part.

*

I have three concerns. One is pollution. It’s killing animals and hurting animals and also causing global warming. Humans need to stop doing that. One is overhunting. All animals are important to the society of the earth. It’s just like humans are important, so are animals. And one is poaching. One, it’s illegal. Two, it’s like overhunting, except it’s only certain animals … Mankind is pretty messed up.

How does it feel when you learn about these things?

It feels like very sad and depressing. But it’s like—if you help to make the world a better place, then other people might see what you’re doing and try to make the world a better place too.

map detail 6-14-19

[Image: Detail of a whiteboard map of Rhode Island, strapped to a red handtruck. Written on it in pink marker: “Offshore wind farm: will underwater life (dolphins, seals) be able to hear anything else?]

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: PVDFest 2019, Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park

Weather: Hot and bright and clear, cooler and breezier toward evening

Number of people: 30 stoppers, 10 walkbys, 5 map markers

Number of (vocal) climate change deniers: 2

Pages of notes: 16

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 6

Pictures taken without permission: 5

Conversations between strangers: 2

Repeat interlocutors: 2

Dogs seen: 51

Dogs pet: 2

Snakes seen: 1, very large

Postcards against the plant: 26

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $28.16!

 

Observations:

I was set up as part of PVDFest, which meant not only that there were a lot more people around, but a larger percentage of them were ready to stop and look at things, including me. On the minus side, people were also there to have a good time and maybe didn’t want to engage with something that would be a downer.

Interlocutors today had a wide age range but were/appeared to be overwhelmingly white, which didn’t reflect the composition of the crowd at all.

For future reference: there is a relationship between climate change and plastic waste, both of them come from fossil fuels and both of them contribute to ecological degradation, using one as as shorthand for the other is not a great idea, and I need to figure out a simple and quick way to clarify this for people without talking down or arguing.

A noticeable number of people had read the article asserting that 90% of humanity will be dead by 2050 (which would mean of course that most of us will die much earlier). One thing I need to remember is to ask both, “How does it feel to read that?” and “What do you want to do if that’s true?”

Many people also said some version of, “I don’t know how to get more involved.” Depending on the other things they said, I recommended that they explore the Land and Water Sovereignty Campaign (with whom I also work), Sunrise RI, the fight against the power plant in Burrillville, and Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective (where the donations will go); in a couple of cases I also pointed people toward Uprose and Occupy Sandy.

There’s this thing that people sometimes do where they try really hard to prove how much smarter they are than everybody else and if everybody would just listen to them it would be okay. I didn’t get a ton of this today, but there was a very marked instance of it. It seems connected to what Diane Exavier calls the “innocence project” of white America: the notion the important thing is to prove that you’re above the mess, not to figure out how to live in the mess with others, and the actions or inactions that result from that notion.

 

Some conversations:

I don’t know how to get involved in climate change groups—and I’m a librarian, I know how to do research! But I work full time, and everything I’ve found out so far has been very vague. When I’m working with very young children, three- and four-year-olds, I think, What kind of future are they gonna be having? I’m older, it’s not going to be as drastic for me.

*

I usually say, “The earth is hot, don’t litter.” Paris Hilton once tweeted that and it just really spoke to me. Those three [sic] simple words, “The earth is hot”–it’s not “global warming,” not something people hear all the time.

How do you feel when you think about it—sad? Angry?

It makes me so sad. I’m not really an angry person. [It] makes me want to do something. I always recycle, I choose glass over plastic. I’m educating myself and then educating others. I try to be positive.

Is it hard to do that?

No. I feel so empowered. The more that [I] look at it, the more I wanna help.

*

Person 1: We live pretty close to the water and I’m always hearing about sea level rise.

Person 2: People talk about it over social media but no one does anything about it. It just makes people feel better about themselves.

Person 1: It’s feeling more urgent.

Person 2: Because of that congressional report.

Person 1: Everyone’s sharing this article saying that 2050 will be the last habitable year for people.

How do you feel when you read that?

Person 1: I get stressed but I also get frustrated. The previous generation screwed us over, and we have to live with what they did.

Does it piss you off?

Person 2: Yes.

Person 1: A little bit. Corporate America is making these decisions–

Person 2: –For oil money, and they’re not going to have to live with these decisions, we are.

*

I heard something about how we’re all done for by 2050.

How’d it feel to read that?

Deflating. Horrifically sad. But like anybody sentient, I’m trying to enjoy things that don’t cost money and don’t produce waste. I just joined [a local marching band]–it’s so nice to do something with a bunch of people…that doesn’t use any resources—well, I guess we drive to get to the practices—and that creates beauty. Nothing on its own sounds so good, but together it’s beautiful.

*

I was reading the study that was all over the internet about how the world is basically ending in 2050.

How’d you feel when you read that?

Sad and angry. I don’t know how to help at an institutionalized level. On an individual level I don’t eat red meat, I recycle, I compost, I try not to use plastic. I monitor my friends and try to get them to not use plastic, and they don’t at least when I’m around. Sometimes I yell at people [who are trying to throw things in landfill trash]–“That’s recycling.”

Have you looked into doing stuff at the institutional level?

No—I’ve explored it a bit but there’s not a lot that I can do here in the US. There’s maybe more that I could do back where I’m from, which is Puerto Rico. My parents had to move off the island because my dad lost his job. And a lot of people had to leave because the health care system was in shambles. My dad found a job in the US, in Missouri, in St. Louis. It’s interesting, because it’s Trump country over there. My parents are the only people of color in a predominantly white neighborhood. All these women that are wanting to engage with my mother are treating her like an exotic toy…

… If [climate change] were having an effect on people who are rich and have influence, we would have made these changes, like we would have all gone solar so long ago. But it’s true for them too, like, you’re dying, you’re dying, your children are gonna die! I did get my dad to stop using plastic water bottles. I was like, “You’re so into recycling but they’re still manufacturing the plastic. You’re not really doing anything good, you’re just giving yourself peace of mind for no reason.”

*

Have you read Emergent Strategy? You have to read it. She got me reading Parable of the Sower , and there’s this part where [the main character’s] dad is talking about: how do you talk to people about future threats without making them write it off and dismiss you? How do you actually prepare yourself for the next climate disaster? I’m trying to stop fossil fuel projects and support renewable energy, but on a community level we need to be preparing for adaptive strategies, and how do I talk to my mom who doesn’t read the news because she doesn’t want to think about it? She lives on the thirteenth floor of our apartment building. What will she do if there’s a disaster? What do I do for our elderly neighbors who live on the upper floors? There are these moments where I’ve been actually letting it hit me, especially about New York. I saw where someone marked on the side of a building how high the waters came up during Sandy, and it was as tall as me. There still aren’t proper flood plans, and these are in places that are mostly public housing, affordable housing. People don’t have places to go. It’s scary—how do you talk to people who are really afraid, but we have to have a plan for what we’re gonna do?

Is anyone working on this in your neighborhood that you know of?

I don’t know, that’s a good question. There are some environmental organizations and I think they’re mostly pushing the city to have formal plans, but I don’t know if there’s anything on the community level. … Every time I bring it up [to my mom] she’s like, “If I talk about it I’m gonna have nightmares.”

What if you said something to her like, “I’m okay with you having nightmares if it means you’re gonna be safer?”

It’s hard, because it’s still possible for us to walk around, have festivals, have dinner. I was reading an article by someone who heard about a school shooting, and he was like, “I compartmentalized it so I could have dinner with my kids. And this is what it’s like to be in America.” Climate change is like that too. If we let the whole weight of it be felt constantly, we couldn’t live our lives.

I guess I have two things I want to think about in there. One is the “constantly”–what if we didn’t feel it constantly but we made times to really feel it? And the other one is the “living our lives”–which parts of our lives does it make sense to keep living?

I’ve been trying to be more thoughtful about trying to use less—how do I use less energy? How do I train myself to use less? Trying to keep in mind, “This is an energy thing that I’m doing right now.”

*Some of the Department of Health’s Health Equity Zones are beginning to try to set this up for at least some Rhode Island communities. I will look into this and make a separate post.

*

I do have climate change anxieties, mostly about the city as a whole. I’ve been hearing from real estate people with the city, developers talking about building in flood plains—it’s kind of like a rich people inside scoop, not something I feel like is talked about in policy meetings. But then you hear from the city’s director of real estate, “Oh, we probably shouldn’t build there.” It feels slimy, because these conversations are happening amongst people who are probably gonna be okay with things like that happening. I’m just one elected official, and I feel like we all need to be thinking about it.

Have you already tried to talk with your colleagues about it?

I have. And there’s a lot of, “Oh, we already tried that and it didn’t work,” or, “We’ll never be allowed to do that.”

Is this how you thought it would be when you started this position?

No. Not at all. But then I think, if I were a representative or a senator, I would still have to contend with bad people in leadership.

So with all of that in mind, what do you think is the way out of that?

Honestly, I think education. …With climate change, we’re seeing the effects but they’re not impacting our lives in a restrictive way.

What would be a good place to start with that?

Maybe the river. Everyone loves Waterfire*, but it’s starting to become really difficult. In the next five years, it’s regularly going to be flooded. And the coastline—in Charlestown, they’re no longer insuring houses in those areas.

*I wouldn’t say “everyone.”

*

I worry that I don’t worry enough, partially. People are saying there’s no place for recycling anymore. And if there’s nothing else being solved on a macro scale—this thing that it took the USA a decade or more to do—what kind of solution is going to be found for anything else? I keep putting things in bins because it’s a habit.

Are there other ways of participating that you’ve tried, or looked into?

I feel like there were parts of my life where I was more in tune with that. In the last few years I’ve concentrated more on building the power to do what’s best for myself, building a career, consolidating my position to do more. But I feel like time is slipping away—there’s not a someday to work towards. It’s good to remember that there are tangible, actual ways.

*

Person 1: I’m worried I’m choosing a career path that I’m not going to be able to support my family.

Person 2: It’s disturbing that access to stuff in the face of climate change depends on having enough money.

What are you thinking of doing for work?

Person 1: I’m not sure yet. But I’m seeing a lot of people go into finance, these lucrative jobs that I do not want to go into, but I’m worried that I’m setting myself up for greater difficulty.

What if there weren’t going to be jobs anymore?

Person 2: Like focusing more on learning basic survival skills.

Person 1: It depends on if we’re talking about a cooperative jobless world or an individualistic jobless world.

Person 2: I feel like sea level rise and climate change in general could make that landscape completely different. But you can’t really plan for that—it’s unimaginable, there are so many different possibilities. When I’m being rational, I prefer to think about things I can do to help [with] climate change now. My anxieties lie with stuff beyond the present.

Person 1: There’s a lot of control issues.

How do you live with lack of control?

Person 2: Everyone just kind of goes about their daily routine. But you could get run over, you could find out that you have Stage 4 cancer. You kind of have to ignore it—it’s a mental health thing. A lot of mental illness comes from not being able to put those worries away.

Person 1: I worry, and I think certain things I get a little obsessive-compulsive tendencies over. Sometimes I deal with it by trying to pretend that I know things—like, Oh, if I read enough about it, I’ll understand it, even though that doesn’t change the unpredictability of it.

What is the cost of thinking about it? I mean, what do you have to give up if you think about it?

Person 1: Ignorant bliss and self-indulgence.

Person 2: What makes it so much more difficult is that industry has made it about shifting the guilt onto individual people. Like, yes, plastic is bad for sea turtles, but plastic straws are not that big a deal.

*

[This was from a group of four who came up together; person 4 was quiet.]

Person 1: We were just talking about the plastic bag ban. It seems like a good thing!

Person 2: I’m just bothered that people are so ignorant about [climate change].

Which people?

Person 2: People on the internet. Apparently it’s not a problem. If it doesn’t affect you now, why bother?

Person 1: People who don’t have small children, they don’t have to look as far forward.

Person 3: I just learned about fast fashion and it’s stressing me out. I’ve been trying to go through my closet and get rid of stuff.

Person 1: I feel like it’s that subtle guilt that you give yourself.

Person 3: I start thinking about every little action I do—seven billion people are doing the same thing.

*

What are you anxious about?

Person 1 (indicates very small daughter): She’s on my shoulders.

Have you talked with her about it at all?

Person 1: Not that much so far. She’s a little young for it.

Person 2: I know that she and I have had some conversations about it.

Person 1: We do talk about the importance of conservation and recycling, we have talked about that.

Person 2: I know we were talking the other day about diminished habitats for animals. And we’re going to Narragansett Bay next weekend—this isn’t climate change so much, but there’s that area preserved for the [piping plovers].

That’s definitely connected to taking care of the rest of the world, the living world.

Person 1: And making her realize that it’s worth it. Of course it’s all in the news—that the environment is gonna be irreparably damaged by 2030, 2050. Well, she’s three years old and it’s 2020. By the time she’s my age, things will have come to this point. And I don’t feel like timetables for remediation are realistic.It can be really paralyzing. We can do individual things, but if it’s not accompanied by universal effort—I’m not gonna stop doing the individual things, but–

What about doing things with other people?

Person 1: Not really. We’re pretty atomized as a culture. I’m in school with people who are working on this, and I support them in their work. I’m planning to work on employment, community development, land use. I’m in law school, and to some extent I rely on social scientists to inform me about some of these things, like how we might bring people together with a better plan…

What do you do when you start thinking about these things?

I have a cigarette, or I drink a beer, or I get some food—some kind of quotidian pleasure. But also I think about these things late at night, when I’m alone and my family has gone to bed. I don’t know what it takes to focus people’s energy.

What would it take to focus your energy?

I mean, if there was something, I would show up and lend my voice. If I got an email, a call, I don’t use much social media but if [my partner] were to see something on Facebook, I’d show up.

*

Person 1: My anxiety is that people who are most affected are not causing it. A lot of it has to do with people who have a lot of wealth, and they’ll be able to survive….That the whole thing will be very unjust. In wealthy countries, the focus is on sustainable development, the focus isn’t on big impact things.

Person 2: A lot of the things that people do, like electric cars, the popular trendy things to do, in the system the money goes back into using more resources. You’re not really reducing the use of things. People need to be okay with consuming less, not just with resources being redirected.

How do you feel about all of this? Like, are you pissed about it?

Person 1: Anger is directed toward someone or something. This just feels inevitable. …

What are some things you do about this with other people?

Person 1: I don’t drive to work, but my coworkers do, so I try to talk to them, to encourage them to try other things.

Person 2: I do see people being less wasteful, and I think, how can I be more like them? Bying used clothing and furniture, making food at home instead of going out to eat—having more discipline.

*

I have a lot of guilt because there’s no way to overcome the amount of shit that we have on this earth. I’m somewhat of a hoarder, and when I’m trying to donate things, I’m like, “Oh, I should try to donate this, I should try to share this,” but then sometimes I just have to get rid of all of it. If I’m stressed, I shop.

What does that do for you?

I think it’s the rush of something new …

What else gives you that feeling?

Connecting with people. When I connect with someone, I like to know everything about them … But then if I try to [make these changes], there are still so many people doing nothing.

So is it fair to say that even as you’re feeling guilty for the amount you’re doing, you’re also feeling resentful of people who are doing less?

Yes, and I wanna know, is it gonna make a difference? Will me finding all these little piece of plastic make a difference?

What if—I’m not telling you this, I’m just saying if you definitively knew that it wouldn’t make a difference, what would you do differently?

I think I would just say, “Then let’s find a way to make it make a difference. We need to do better.” I wouldn’t just be like, “Fuck it.”

20190608_112157

[Image: A postcard addressed to the Army Corps of Engineers, asking that they reject a permit for the fracked-gas power plant proposed for Burrillville, RI.]

I’ll have more postcards like this at my booth sessions next week, Wednesday 6/12 through Monday 6/17, 2-5pm, in Burnside Park opposite Kennedy Plaza. Come and fill one out!

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 8/1/18

Weather: gray and clammy; then, sunshowers; then, straight-up rain; then, gray and clammy again but slightly cooler

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 11

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

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.70

 

Observations:

I still have to talk with other vendors about this, but it seems to me that the market is doing well this year overall—a lively and ongoing flow of vegetable-buyers.

Talked with my first climate change denier in a while today.

This is the second time at this market that I’ve been mistaken for a paranormal service worker—a palm reader or a psychic.

The woman who owns the candy store across the way very very kindly gave me a bottle of water for free, and one of the farmers very kindly added an extra tomato onto my tomato purchase.

Pause for heavy rain at 3:30.

 

Some conversations:

Being unable to do anything. I’m a news junkie. I watch and I say, “This is awful, we need to clean this thing up, we need to do something.” There seems to be something done about it with this particular administration.

So are your anxieties at the national level or—

The geopolitical level. Who’s gonna talk down that little fat guy?

Where do you get your news?

I watch both sides. Fox, CNN, NPR—I go around. I spent time in the service. Given where the rest of the world has been and was, we are the greatest country in the world, the most generous country in the world. If you have a little problem—everybody’s gonna call us. But then they’re—it’s like a teenager, you raise them, you give them everything and they’re, “Well, I didn’t ask you to do that.” Not the countries, the leaders. Let me be clear, we’ve screwed up a few things. Vietnam—we maybe should’ve done something there, but not that.

…The criticism for this administration is harsh, not only here but outside. We have this deficit in trade. We paid for the security of the entire European administration, and now they don’t want to pay. But those talks are moving forward. I’m a conservative, and I’m in favor of whatever brings those policies forward—of changing attitudes that result in changing policies. The US is the dominant player in any aspect of society. Whether that’s something that should be—if these countries had paid off their share, maybe it wouldn’t be.

So you actually seem satisfied with what’s going on right now.

[Gestures at my sign] I’m in therapy! It ain’t done yet, but I’m under treatment if you will. I’ve gone to the doctor.

How do you feel like you can contribute to what you want to see?

My contribution would be to continue to vote to put the underpinnings, such as Congress, put those same policies into effect. It seems like a little thing, but overall, I’m taking it where I want it to be. You asked me what I was worried about, not whether I knew what to do about it.

[I give him a card to take with him and explain what the EJ League—where the donations go—does.]

See, now, that’s real, that’s not up in the sky. The arrogance of human beings thinking they’re gonna take on God. He’s gonna take care of us. … You gotta get out of yourself and look around a little bit.

*

We know it is our fault. We have been blessed with a planet, we know it, but we’re savage—we don’t know how to share. We should start to be humans. I wish that all of us would combine, ’cause we strong. I just hate the fact that—I think about that boy that died, how people came together. Why can’t we do that just because? Why does it have to be after a death? I am not too proud of my kind. ‘Cause it hurt. I’m part of it, you part of it too.

… Deep inside of me I know I’m not doing as much as I should. People say God is coming—I just hope one day we learn how to be humans and live together… Everything has a purpose. My mother had a parrot fish. He played with my mother, he noticed her, he followed my mother in his tank. He was her world, he was her baby. What makes you think because it doesn’t have language–I’m not a veggie, I try, my kids try. They saw a video of a cow getting killed. And I’m also part of that. It hurts. Trees, just because you can’t talk to them—they’re breathing things, they grow.

*

I’m worried about things not changing fast enough. We’re at a point in a lot of ways—not just with the climate, but in the political landscape, the social landscape, people who are marginalized—where change can’t come fast enough. What is it they say, two steps forward, one step back? One step forward, two steps back? It’s an interesting time to be alive—I wonder what a child growing up now feels like.

You’re not that old, you’re probably going to be around for a while. What does it feel like to you?

It feels like we have a lot of work to do. I’m a new medical resident at [HOSPITAL] and I work with families having a hard time, parents who maybe don’t know how to manage in the best ways, and try to hold space for them in a way that requires empathy and patience and emotional labor from me.

How do you take care of yourself in that?

Therapy, I see a therapist. And finding like-minded people and finding support among allies.

*

[This person also spoke with me on July 11th.]

I’m so happy I’m eating a tomato! I’m not sure if I’ve really thought one way or the other about what we talked about last time, not explicitly in terms of climate change. But I’ve really been enjoying summer and the natural parts—eating this tomato, going to the beach—but it’s tinged with a little bit of “I might not get to do this forever.” I’m working with [someone who’s studying] hospice, and there’s a similar mindset with an old relative. The psychology of hospice is, “It’s done.” I don’t necessarily think it’s the same. It’s natural that our individual lives end, but this isn’t natural. But then I think if there’s someone really young who has cancer—you can’t totally use the analogy because then it’s like we’re giving up. But there are parallels in terms of mourning.

*

Lots of kids drew on the “Put Your Worries on the Map” map today. You can see the thumb of one of them here, pointing at their art.

map 8-1-18

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/14/18

Weather: Warm and bright, breezy.

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 6 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

People who got the Peanuts reference: 4

People I’ve seen before, back for more: 4

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.45

 

Observations:

No food trucks upon arrival; set up facing east. Super caffeinated. Wind is more intense when I’m sitting on this side. Security-looking guy in the park around 11:40.

Nonhuman animal presences: pigeons and sparrows, a robin, a grackle, starlings, a wasp. A few plane tree seeds landed on my notebook.

Sometimes while I’m sitting at the booth I see people passing by who are just so satisfying to look at.

The wind blew my handtruck over twice today and blew the “IN” sign right off. Someone in the park handed it back to me.

 

Some conversations:

 

[After I removed an inchworm from his shirt and put it on the ground]

I don’t like to kill nothing. I let ’em go. I don’t want ’em on me, but I try not to kill ’em, even the grass. We need them. Certain things kills other things—they all kill each other.

*

 

Well! That Washington Post article about Antarctica.

What did it say?

It’s melting three times faster than expected.

What are the things about that that make you anxious?

Flooding. Coastal areas are gonna be in trouble. I’m okay, I’m 400 feet up.

Obviously you’re worried about it even though you’re gonna be okay.

Well, there are gonna be issues because people are not gonna be ready, and they’re not gonna know what to do. Look it up.

*

 

If we’re on this course, things aren’t gonna be good. I feel like our only hope is if technology catches up with it. Like I saw this thing in the ocean that just collects plastic, it just scoops it up.

Why do you think technology is the only hope?

It seems like it’s human nature to not try to solve a problem until it already happened .. They didn’t put up the hurricane barrier until after the hurricane of ’38. And those are smaller scale. Some people don’t believe in it. You’d have to get every nation on board, and preventing it is gonna be hard because of obstacles—by the time everybody gets on board it’ll be too late. People don’t trust science the way they should. So you get someone saying, “I don’t really believe in that,” and it’s like, what data or what facts—you can’t not believe it just because you don’t want to believe it.

It sounds like you’re having some of these conversations. Who are you mainly having them with?

My parents. They’re skeptical of it, they’re like, “They just want you to buy green lightbulbs,” like it’s part of some huge agenda. They’re starting to move now. The overwhelming scientific consensus, if that’s actually facts, which I believe it is—People who are skeptical don’t passionately believe it doesn’t exist, they’re just apathetic. Probably they’re Republicans, so their main concern is the economy …

 

How do you feel about these conversations?

It doesn’t anger me or anything. These are people I know, it’s not like they’re policymakers. I scoff a little bit. If you’re trying to look into it with an open mind you’d understand that that’s how it is. Some people are saying we’re already doomed.

Do you think that?

No. I think I have a sense of being like a teenager, where I’m invincible. It’s hard to imagine, so it’s not gonna happen, at least in my lifetime. Of course I believe in it and think steps should be taken, but I haven’t seen anything that shows me I should be concerned with my well-being. I read articles about ice melting, melting faster than we thought, and they worry me, but I feel like I’m never gonna understand it fully—the dangerous levels of ice that are in the ocean. I never click, I just scroll past the headline on my phone.

…I spend more time arguing about politics. I don’t consider myself a political person, but I’m against the sitting president, and I think that’s taken the place of climate change [in my consciousness]. When he comes up in the news, some issue or gaffe, or if I hear someone champion the president, I’m like, “Whoa, let’s pump the brakes.” But no one in my daily life is coming up to me and saying, “Climate change isn’t real.”

*

 

 

I’m going through a lot right now with school and work. It’s stressful because I’m halfway through it. I just took my third test, there are four in all. The problem with work is it’s a dead-end job and I don’t want to be there a long time. I have a fear of failure. I want to get into the military, but getting in is not easy. There’s the first test, the ASVAB, and if you don’t pass it you’re not in. It’s got math on it, science—I took it once and I’ve been practicing online, improving it. It’s rough … I’ve tried combat breathing, exercise, vaping, weed, walking—there’s so many things I’ve tried—but the thought just won’t escape me. I just feel like an utter failure. You take it once, then if you don’t pass you wait a month. The third time you have to wait six months. That’s a big time barrier. Things in my life are constantly shifting. Four months ago I had no job, I was sleeping on the couch. If I pass it, I’ll be the happiest person in the world, because I did it. I have issues with social anxiety and self-esteem. There are times when I do believe in myself.

Who else believes in you, that maybe could support you?

My parents, but they live so far away. I talk to them almost every day. They encourage me to follow anything I want–“Oh, you wanna do this? Go for it.” They don’t pass on so much wisdom about it. I was so happy to find a thing I wanna do, a thing I wanna be, because of my anxiety, my confidence, my self-esteem, but there’s just so many unfortunate obstacles. I don’t wanna give up, but it depresses me. I see myself as a good soldier. I just need a chance to prove myself …

Just wearing that uniform of something so honorable and noble. They make you fearless, hard as a rock. I always wanted to be like that because everything in my life is so discouraging. Everything else, it doesn’t seem necessary. Work, relationships, friends—I’ve always been moving from place to place, saying goodbye a lot to friends, girls I’ve cared about. I don’t want to make friends anymore because I’m always going to say goodbye eventually. I don’t want a break. Maybe when I pass this test, then I’ll be like, sit down on the porch, “I did it.”

map 6-14-18

I seeded the map of vulnerable places in RI with “Erosion + flooding” along the south coast.

Someone added, “WATCH HILL WESTERLY PROTECT PIPING PLOVERS.”

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/29/17

Weather: Cloudy, very windy, lowering heat at first, then cool

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 6 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0! Except 1 sort of by proxy? I didn’t get permission to post that conversation, so suffice it to say that it was weird.

Pages of notes: 10

Peanuts references: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.11

 

Observations:

To the kids I didn’t get to talk with, but who wrote “The big tree to the left” on the map of places in RI they’d like to protect: You rule.

I need to fix the part of the booth where my signs fit together—the wind kept blowing it over and I had to use one hand to hold it the whole time.

I’ve changed my spiel slightly: “Climate anxiety is short for the anxieties people might feel about climate change,” I begin. It seems to work a little better to give context.

Two cop cars drove through with flashers and sirens at 3:37. Two cops walked through the park, one leading a man in handcuffs, at 4. Two (different) cops walked through the park at about 5:45.

 

Some conversations:

Climate. Yeah. Too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, global warming.

How does it feel, to know that?

It doesn’t affect me. Glaciers, rising sea levels, more tornadoes, polar bears, species losing habitats because everything is shifting and animals can’t adapt, plants and animals can’t adapt.

I think I asked the question badly. I mean, you have all this knowledge of what’s happening, how does it feel to live with this knowledge?

When I see more and more cars on the road and not enough people taking mass transit. And cities and states not making that a high priority.* Physically, for me, getting caught in traffic every day. I look out the bus window and I see cars filled with one person. There’s no incentive for people to carpool. I can’t say everybody’s gotta take the bus, because people’s needs are different.

*Doctor’s note: Rhode Island is currently preparing its Long-Term Transportation Plan, dealing with every aspect of transportation in the state for the next 20 years. If you want to let the Division of Planning know that good public transportation, carpool incentives, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are important to you, you can leave a comment here. (Get in touch with me at my gmail address, publiclycomplex, if you want some talking points.)

*

People worry: are we going to war? Everybody’s worried about war and terrorists. And inequality, capitalism going on—this new gig economy, start[up] economy, everybody has to adapt to survive.

It’s also like: who is it who wants us to adapt.

The elite! “Adapt. We’re all set, we made our money.” I don’t have anything against capitalism, but there’s a difference between capitalism and just—heartless. Draconian. “Get out of my way our I’ll step on you like a bug.” You can’t afford to go and buy local because you’re on a fixed income. … I’m from Brazil and Brazil is a mess right now. People are very rebellious, they’re not taking capitalism anymore.* People are fighting all over the world for their rights to exist and live a good life. … I don’t hate rich people, they do good things, we need no poor hating rich, no rich hating poor. We gotta come up with something to help each other, because that’s all we got.

*Doctor’s note: I haven’t checked these statements.

*

[This person was one of the first people to speak to me at the booth on my very first day in 2014. He’s the second person down.]

How many people have anxieties about the climate? I think I was more hopeful before. But a lot of people have gone beyond the “it’s a hoax” thing and recognized that this isn’t something we’ve seen in our lifetime. It’s just gonna make things harder, the whole human experience in general.

*

 

 

 

 

There’s a lot of animals that are gonna be extinct soon. Maybe one day we won’t have any animals. I hope not. But it’s like a ripple effect. I don’t know how it would be—it would be weird. We don’t even know all the animals that were here.

But I think change can be good. One you know how change is, how you don’t have control—well, you have some control, but you can’t be mad if things don’t work out your way. Don’t be stressed. Try and keep looking at something else you might wanna save. In life you lose and you get. You shouldn’t be messed up about it, you shouldn’t dwell on it ’cause then you’ll be sad all the time.

*

I’m here with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I meet many people with many anxieties. And I agree. I love the Earth. Climate change is dreadful. But Jehovah’s gonna stop it very soon and get rid of the people who are harming the Earth. There’s a scripture, I don’t have my Bible with me, but it says, “He will bring to ruin those who are harming the Earth.” I look at the ice caps and what’s happening to the oceans and I can’t stand it. I think the difference between you and me is that I have a hope for the future, because I know God’s gonna fix it … I know it’s gonna be soon, because it’s getting so bad. We will ruin the Earth to such an extent that it will be unlivable.

… I feel bad for people with children, and its’s one of the reasons I haven’t had them. It was a conscious decision. I couldn’t bring them into this world. In the new world, when it’s Paradise, I’ll have a football team. They can climb trees, they can roll in the grass. Take a look in the Bible. He made the earth and He’s gonna fix it. And then maybe you and I can climb trees together.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market: 8/17/16

Weather: Hot, sunny and bright

Number of people: 9 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of climate change deniers/trivializers: 3

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 9

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.60, plus one stick of gum

 

Observations:

 

A lot of people wanted to have arguments today. I try not to have arguments at the booth, but not arguing is exhausting in its own way..

There were puffballs in the grass behind the booth and two kinds of oak gall in the little oak tree that was shading the booth, and I spotted a monarch butterfly, the second this summer.

If you are a person of faith, using “like a religion” as a disparaging comparison doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Today I had the second ever climate anxiety counseling session facilitated by a translator! I would really like to offer this more often, and am talking with someone about helping out, but if anyone else is comfortable translating between English and another language widely spoken in RI (Spanish and Khmer, for two) let me know.

 

Some conversations:

What is there to be anxious about climate change? The people who are worried, they have three meals a day, they’re driving around. It’s all marketing.

If it’s marketing, someone must think they can gain something from it. Who gains something from it?

That’s a good question. Political structures–they’re sold on belief in the system. It benefits liberals and secularists: if you don’t believe [sic], there must be something wrong with you. It affects elections, it affects what you buy and consume, what you think, just like a religion. We’re told to be afraid. When I was a kid, you had a bad storm and you ate whatever was in the house and then you went on with your life–now there’s a bad storm and you can’t get into the supermarket.

So it’s not something that troubles you.

Not at all, ’cause I don’t believe the hype.

So what are the things that worry you, that press on your mind?

Not having enough money to take care of my wife and my daughter. I’m going to leave this earth and the sun’s going to rise and set like it has for the past hundreds of thousands of years since God created it. And He is in control of everything, even though man [sic] thinks that number one, he can destroy the earth and number two, that he can save it–I think the latter is the craziest.

See, I don’t separate humans and the earth like that.

Are you saying there’s no difference between me and a snail, or me and the rocks and the mountains?

No, I’m saying all those things are part of the creation. I don’t think we’re arguing. I’m not talking about equivalency, I’m talking about all being part of something.

Part of something, yes. But everything here has been created for our purposes, and we’re supposed to be grateful.

*

I don’t think people pay enough attention, or if they do, they don’t care. “Well, I don’t care if the climate changes, if it’s 85 degrees on February 1st I’m gonna love it, I’ll go golfing.”

*

[This person and I had this conversation with the help of a translator.]

I’m gonna tell you what we should do: put less chemicals in the air. Less deforestation. Produce more organic foods, with less chemicals. Take care of our water. Not overfish–fish help oxygenate the water. We shouldn’t be damaging the ozone layer because God created the world perfect–we are the predators that have damaged the vast majority of it.

[I give him a card with a house spider on it.]

In the Dominican Republic, we have these, but they’re much bigger and they eat cockroaches. They’re called “donduna” because they make that sound at night … I’m a beekeeper, and anyone who works with bees has to work with nature, because nature is an extension.

*

My first reaction is always denial. My uncle from Virginia comes up to visit every summer, and he says, “Every time I come up here it’s hotter,” and my reaction is, “Oh, you’re being ridiculous.” I do think about it. I grew up in Newport and my parents still live there, and if you look at the projection maps of the flood zone, their house is literally on the other side of the street from the flood zone–oceanfront property! [Laughs] It’s beyond our control–to be really honest, the of all the ills of the world, the problem is capitalism and I don’t know what to do about that. Some measure of economic return being the bottom line–we need a major societal value shift. I don’t know how we as a society can address a lot of things without that. But economics is not a natural force like physics–that’s a system we set up. It’s just buying somebody’s story, we can change the story.

*

More of the pollution aspect. The air that we breathe affects us internally–it leads to illnesses, it gets into our bodies, it affects the food we eat, it’s all connected. We can be over here, over here, but eventually it all connects. … If you can encourage people to read independently, to be curious without feeling forced…[they can see how] it’s an issue that affects them. You alone start to ask questions. And there are things like local reps should be involved–education I guess is a big piece…. Start in school.

Is that your son over there? Do you guys talk about this together?

Not really, no. I read things and I file it away until he can talk about it.

*

I would like to not live out my retirement underwater. I don’t have any children or grandchildren, but I have friends and cousins who do, and I feel bad when I think about when they think about their future–we will pass and they will live to experience this.

Do you imagine what they’re gonna experience?

I imagine them having to build walls around New York City, to keep the water out. And Florida, I imagine Florida changing shape completely. The hunger–they say that’s gonna be the worst of it, is people starving. You can walk away from water, but droughts and floods–it’s not gonna be pretty. They’re gonna starve to death over much of the world.

*

[These two came up together]

Person 1: I don’t need to be afraid, because [life] exists so many years. It still exists and is still getting better and better. All the technology and all the people! It’s not my business, all the other things–I can do the best I can. I don’t know they will stop it or not, I don’t know what happened. In my point of view, it’s getting much better. I’m choosing to see it getting much better.

Person 2: In the Jewish tradition, everyone starts with the self. You cannot change the world, but you can change yourself.

Person 1: It’s not a Jewish tradition, it’s a point of view that people can have.

The way we change ourselves is partly by talking with other people, right? By observing the world and by listening to other people around us?

Person 1: The more we connect with people.

Person 2: Not to isolate ourselves. But do you need a doctor or do we need a doctor? Propagating fear of climate problems is very strange–if you have anxiety about climate change, you don’t buy leather, you don’t use plastic, but it’s really a basic thing in economics that you have scarcity: if a certain percentage of people don’t use plastic or leather, that will make it so other people can use them.

Just to be sure I understand you, you’re saying that there will always be people who want these things and use them, no matter if other people avoid them.

Person 2: Yes.

Person 1: Not to do business with the big idea, but to do with the small idea. If I see something on the ground I can pick it, because I want to contribute to a clean environment–it’s not because I’m working for somebody else.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/30/16

Weather: Gray, warm and muggy. Facing east.

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 9 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0

Climate change deniers: 1, sort of (see below–once they got talking, things changed)

Pages of notes: 6

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 2

Number of dogs seen: 4

Number of dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.08

 

 

Observations:

 

This was the end of a week-long stint; I’ll be back in Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park on 6/21.

Leaves were strewn around, from the rain and wind and whatever it is that dries out the plane trees and makes them shed leaves while they’re still green.

 

A cop car rode through at 5:56, but didn’t stop.

 

My last interlocutor from this day stopped by and said he’s doing a little better. Please keep him in your thoughts.

 

 

Some conversations:

 

 

 

So you think global warming is affecting increase in homeless?

 

It seems like it could be. Is that something you’ve seen?

 

Yeah, because of natural disasters, socioeconomic factors. You think global warming could affect economics?

 

Before I tell you what I think, could you tell me what you’ve heard or seen that makes you think it’s a possibility?

 Bernie Sanders said violence in Syria is because it’s too hot, and global warming. That’s my question.

 

I think what you said about natural disasters is probably right–people could lose their homes or if their situation is precarious, a natural disaster could kind of put them over the edge. And for economics, I think that could happen in a couple of ways. One way is that if the climate changes, it might mess up the ways we grow food.

 People here can afford it, but the homeless, or in poor countries like in Central America, Mexico, climate change consequences–fight for resources always is a [didn’t catch the word] in the conflict of the world. When they colonized America, that was for resources. Why people go to emigrate? I always believe that human society is always on the move in order to survive. [When people talk about climate change] they never comprehend immigration. I feel terrible how the world’s being destroyed by pollution. You know the Marianas in the Pacific? They found some garbage in the depths.

 

*

 

 

[These two came up together and looked like they might be related]

 

Person 1: I ain’t anxious about that fake shit.

 

You think it’s fake?

 

I don’t believe that it’s real, ’cause people are willing to lie in order to get funding, but if it’s real there’s nothin’ I can do about it. I don’t waste stuff. You can be one of those people who go around and tell people what to do, but they’re not gonna listen, otherwise the Greens would be winning and they’re not.

 

Why not?

 

[People] know they’re gonna go the rest of their life with fresh air and trees.

 

Person 2: They don’t care because they feel as though it’s not gonna affect them.

 

Person 1: We know we’re gonna have water for the rest of our lives–we can touch it, we can feel it.

 

*

 

 

Person 1: Life. I’m homeless.

 

Person 2: If we lost the Arctic that’s bad enough. Antarctica would put 200 more feet of sea level.*

 

Person 1: The majority of U.S. cities are on the coast.**

 

Person 2: Even a minor change could put us over the edge … I did 26 years with the government in Miami, and central Florida spent $500 million on water ports, hardening wharfs and jetties, uninterruptible power supplies… They could never say “global warming” but they could look the other way when the money’s been spent.

 

*Doctor’s note: I haven’t fact-checked this.

 

**Doctor’s note: Pretty sure this is a mistake.

 

*

 

 

[These two were a couple.]

Person 1: Our daughter just graduated from Brown, and she’s about to be out on her own.

 

Person 2: She makes good decisions and makes good friends. But she’ll be living in New York, it’s a big city.

 

Person 1: We’re in Houston, so we can’t swoop in and see her.

 

*

 

 

Money. I need more of it, always. There’s never enough. Climate change too–I do snow, and this winter there wasn’t much snow, so I didn’t make much money. It all comes back to money.

 

*

 

 

Am I anxious? Not really, not very. I guess it’s a little bit concerning. I think there’s a good possibility that it is to do with global warming, whether manmade or not. Many many years of history show fluctuations in temperature, it’s not something that’s brand new. There’s a good possibility that some of it is cars having an impact on it. The ozone layer’s depleted from all the carbon monoxide from all the cars. And then there’s industry, like especially power plants that pollute, especially in China–I’ve seen a lot of issues with pollution in China, I read that at the Olympics they had so much pollution that they had to order their factories to stop working. I don’t really think about it too often, but it’s really affecting people there.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/16/16

Weather: Sunny, breezy, cool; hard gusts of wind now and then.

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 3 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

People known to me, and I to them, from past seasons: 3

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Number of dogs seen: 1, from afar

Number of dogs pet: 0

Conversations between people who didn’t previously know each other: 2

Drawings added to my notes by another person: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.85

 

Observations:

An interlocutor accidentally knocked over my money jar today, so I will need a new one.

One of the hecklers from the previous day came back and didn’t heckle me at all.

I really screwed up a conversation today. When you read the conversations below, you’ll be able to tell which one it is, I think–rather than listening to the person and traveling with them from their starting point, I positioned myself against them, which seemed to have the effect of driving them further into their own position. I don’t want to do this again, but the damage with this person has been done, and I feel pretty terrible (not asking for reassurance here, but adding to the record in order to cement the lesson).

 

Some conversations:

I think climate change is definitely something big. This is our home–where we gonna go after this? We don’t wanna go into our house and have exhaust there. Or for our kids, our kids are everything.

Have you seen the climate changing during your life?

I don’t think I’ve seen it–I guess when I was a kid it snows when it’s supposed to snow, now it snows when it isn’t supposed to.

And that messes up things for plants and stuff.

Or animals! It was snowin’ on flamingos. Or on Mount Everest–I work with people from 26 different countries, so it’s like I travel without traveling. I work with a lotta people from Nepal, and they were saying there’s no more snow on Mount Everest. They’ve seen it change drastically.

*

Anxieties around people.

What have you tried that helps you deal with it?

I drink. It helps–I go to the Providence Center. You don’t know who’s the good people and who’s the bad people, you can’t trust somebody you don’t know. I mainly stick with my family, and I built some friends over the years, but I’m not gonna trust them like I trust my family. I don’t work, I get a check. The problem with the Providence Center is they’re not gonna give me the pill that works, because it’s addictive.

*

Not being homeless again. I don’t ever want to be homeless. I live in a sober house, but I smoke a lot of pot. I’m most worried about them smelling pot on me. They don’t like you smoking in the house at all. I have a prescription for it, but they don’t care. The apartment is just right where I can afford it. I think I need different friends–they’ll be like, “Let’s do this,” but it’s always, “Let’s go smoke,” it’s not like, “Let’s have a picnic” or “Let’s volunteer somewhere.” I can’t achieve anything where I’m at.

*

There’s definitely change going on and we’re kinda stuck in the middle with climate change–in my mind, the goal should be restorative efforts and for it to be discussed more often.

Do you talk about it with people?

I don’t talk about it too often. It’s just a matter of finding like minds. I’m kinda shaky on the subject. I would be willing to listen to others about it, I might seek out other information. I’d like to see more education on maybe gardening, when it comes to planting things–if I was trying to grow something, I wouldn’t know how to start.

[I recommended the South Side Community Land Trust to this person and the next person, who was also interested in growing things.]

 

*

Working to help said people start some type of farm–there’s not food growing here, why is that? It’s been stated many times that there’s a hunger problem. When I drive down the street and I see people’s lawns–grass doesn’t feed people! I feel like there’s a lot of red tape, it’s not as easy as buying some land. If you’re poor, you can’t afford a yard–you might get a cool landlord but otherwise…

What do you think might make landlords, for example, more willing to let people grow stuff in the front yard?

Maybe if you made it a cultural moment. You create a little bit of hype about it, you show that it is benefiting you, show that it is flourishing and make it something that a lot of people wanna do–“Hey, if you don’t like what the government’s doing…” Maybe not a lot people have the get up and go to do that? A good way would be to have a landlord incentive, see other people down your block doing it.

*

I talked to a meteorologist and he says he doesn’t think climate change is really happening. He says it’s gonna go a hundred years and then go back.

A lot of scientists are pretty sure it’s happening.

Well, he’s a meteorologist, so I think he would know.

Maybe. A meteorologist studies the weather in the short term, but do they study it over long, long periods of time?

Oh, like geologists?

Yeah, exactly. They look at the big patterns over time and they see these changes.

Well, he says it’s not a long enough time to know, and I’m sticking with him.

 

Climate Change Science in an Age of Misinformation

I’m staffing the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth and speaking on a panel at a conference at the University of Rhode Island (Kingston Campus) tomorrow! Come visit me. My panel’s at 1:30; the full agenda’s here. I’m going to try to get the booth set up by 8:30, when the conference starts.

This is sort of an odd event for me to do, because I have no scientific training and convincing people that climate change is real isn’t really what I use the booth for, though if someone asks questions I tell the truth and explain as best I can. I see it as a chance for me to learn a little, and talk with some people I might not otherwise, and warm up the booth before my stints in Burnside Park start in May. I think it’s free to come? If you find it’s not, let me know and I’ll cover you.

 

Public / Participatory Art Post #5: A conversation with Linda Russo

I went to the People’s Climate March, and I walked, and then I came home. I may or may not write something about it here; I will certainly link to things other people write about it, but not right now.

In the meantime, here’s a conversation I had with poet Linda Russo — sort of a semi-mutual interview — about Climate Anxiety Counseling, public making and public listening, and vulnerability.

Thanks to Linda and to Steven Karl of Coldfront.