Climate Anxiety Counseling: Miantonomi Farmer’s Market, 7/1/19

Weather: bright, warm, breezy, delightful

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 2 walkbys, 1 map marker

Pages of notes: 9

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 3

Pictures taken with permission: 2

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $10.30

 

Observations:

This was my first time at this market and my first time doing the booth in Newport.

 

Not everyone at the market was white, but almost everyone who talked with me at length was.

Nonhuman animal presences included seagulls, a tiny iridescent fly, a wasp, a flying beetle, another tiny fly with patterned wings, a green fly and a regular little housefly.

There’s a tree in Miantonomi Park that looks like a butt.

newport market

[IMAGE: People setting up tents and tables on the grass, on either side of a concrete path and under trees in leaf, on a sunny day.]

Some conversations:

I live in Burrillville and I’m also in the fire department. Being a paramedic, I see the effect climate change is having on people with asthma, people with respiratory issues  … We need to educate people so they’re prepared for it. There’s always the question of talking to local government, your state representative, but at the end of the day it’s always the people’s voice. The people are always gonna win. That’s one of the things we found in Burrillville. Eventually the politicians get on board.

Do you think people in Burrillville are activated to do more about other things like this now, or are they more relieved?

I think, more relieved, and dealing with other crap. We already have [another power plant] in town. These things usually operate for 25-30 years, so what happens at the end of that time?

Do you worry about climate change?

Yeah, I do. There’s always that sense of—what can you do anyway? What can we do?

*

Person 1: I was watching an ad for those silly [BRAND] razors for women that go up and down. When you think of all the things that are going wrong in the world, and this company is trying to sell us razors that go up and down! I don’t know—I’d like to see what the percentage of people in 2019 is that’s really concerned enough about it to do something. You’ve got a lot of people thinking, “That’s not gonna happen in my lifetime.”

Are you concerned?

Person 1: I’m concerned. I don’t lose sleep over it, but it certainly is there, I do have concerns about it certainly. All the political yeah yeah yeah and blah blah blah.

Person 2, catching up with Person 1: Do you have climate anxiety?

Person 1: Well, not anxiety but concern.

*

I don’t know if you know about the terrapin turtles in Barrington—I’ve been working with them since I was ten. Their habitat is disappearing. The marsh where they live has halved in size, and there are a lot more roads. I also work with Save the Bay—the water temperature [in Narragansett Bay] is rising.

How are you feeling about all of that?

Not good. Not good. I definitely have my work cut out for me when I’m out of school for sure. People just think they can build whatever they want, wherever they want. It’s not like the Earth can say, “No, you can’t build on me.” I want to speak up for the Earth.

*

I thought you were going to tell me to get lost! I’m interested in the park and housing here. I advocate for activity in the park … My fears and concerns are that the city [of Newport] has ignored the North End and this beautiful park. They plan activities in other parks in Newport, but there’s nothing here. I advocated for this farmers’ market, but there were some people who said no, if we let the farmers’ market come into this neighborhood they’ll be serving themselves, not the neighborhood. So we had a document written up about who can be at the market.  …Some people would say, “Oh, it would be nice to have a craft show,” but those people would be there to make profit for them, nothing for the community.

What do people in the community want more of?

They want more activities. We’re trying to get a flag football program established … A lot of really hardworking people live in this neighborhood. Not enough Newporters realize how important housing is. They think people up here are on welfare. How many people do you think are on welfare here?

I couldn’t even guess.

It’s between 1 and 2 percent.* I grew up on Bedloe Avenue. I went to Sheffield School. All these kids, I knew them and grew up with them… We’re trying like hell to maintain this housing, to make sure physical livability is maintained. These houses date from the Second World War. Some of them are totally empty. And then the rates go up. If you talk to nurses at the hospital, none of them live in Newport. They can’t afford to… It’s pretty sad when a teacher or a nurse can’t live in the community where they work.

*Being on welfare doesn’t mean anything bad about you, and everybody should be able to live in the community where they work. **

**Also ending wage labor would be good, let’s do that.

*

They keep building these gigantic hotels. They’re blocking the view—you’ll have this gigantic hotel and then in the background there’s this tiny sliver of ocean. They’re taking Newport away from regular people, and I’m a regular person. I’ve lived here since I was 16. My daughter and granddaughter were raised here. I’m Newport except I wasn’t born in Newport Hospital.

I have a lot of climate anxieties. Why are people not concentrating on this? People running for office—why are they not even discussing it? The most important thing is the world. … I just see a whole lot of people dying—in fact they actually are … I don’t even have anybody to vote for and I have no idea where to turn. Why? Why are they—how many times do you have to be told? Maybe it’s too late—we pulled out of the Paris Accords.

What does it mean to be too late?

So much damage has been done. It’s as if [to politicians] it’s not real. To me they’re not real. I want some direction. I can’t do this alone, it’s driving me nuts. … Nobody in my family gives a shit. I [suffer from] mental illness—there was a group discussion, but I’m afraid to go. I’m not a professional that can give ideas.* But it’s been a cause for me since I was at least 18—it was apparent, it was quite apparent. I didn’t expect it to happen. I’m leaving a child and grandchildren.

*If anybody has ideas for how this person could participate climate activism in ways that wouldn’t require them to show up in person or talk on the phone, please let me know at my gmail address, publiclycomplex—I have their contact information and will share the ideas with them.

*

I was just listening to someone I work with getting more of an explanation of what climate change is… I heard him break it down to [her], and I watched her face as what he said registered. He really got a good [background] explanation about how gas gets into the atmosphere and everything gets out of whack, how it changes food and where it can grow. And as she was listening, she was looking more and more sad and thoughtful, and she said, “So much suffering.” I think people need to hear it not as a lecture, not in a way that’s “you should,” but it’s so complicated. What’s the right way to come into this conversation? What’s the right kind of information? …Watching her absorb the information on her terms—she asked a question and I watched the answer wash through her. [This is someone who is] quiet, she listens more than people understand, so people underestimate her. She went right to the heart of the matter. I was underestimating her.

*

I have gone past climate anxiety, I am in climate despair. The shit’s gonna hit the fan and people aren’t gonna know how to deal with it. They don’t know how to recognize and respond to the threat, and that’s unfortunately so human. Now we’re all gonna suffer from it. … As it is in most human affairs, it’s going to take the dysfunction to be very consequential before people are willing to deal with it as communities. What I’m used to seeing is people who aren’t addressing it. They may recognize it as an issue but their lives are overwhelming. I really see my power in accepting the limitations of things that are around me, and considering the fact that the question of what can be done when the status quo doesn’t work. How do people stay connected rather than disconnected? It’s gonna get hairy. Probably not in my lifetime.

How does it feel to let your mind go there?

I don’t know what to say. It’s just training me to accept that I can neither predict the future nor control very much. And that’s a good way to live.

How do we build the connection you were talking about?

Doing a lot of it. Promoting it. Again, I recognize the limits. Participating in local community in Newport. In [working with] Aquidneck Community Table, I did it with the expectation that they’d connect people. That’s the thing that they’d really do. Their core issues can’t move at the speed of events. The outcome is not community gardens but connections between people, so that they can maybe cooperate under more dire circumstances.

map 7-1-19

[IMAGE: Map of Rhode Island with people’s localized worries marked on it in dry-erase marker. The new entry is “Too many hotels – not enough parking.”]

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Guest Post! Climate Anxiety Counseling with Julie Beman: City Wide Open Studios, New Haven, CT, 10/14/28

[Note from Kate: Julie Beman held her first ever Climate Anxiety Counseling session last week in New Haven, on the sidewalk next to Violet Harlow‘s studio sale and across from Edgewood Park Farmer’s Market. Here is her account of the day.]

 

Weather: Sunny and cool

Number of people: 7 stoppers (3 sitters) and many walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0

 Pages of notes: 0

 Dogs seen: many

 Dogs pet: 2 goldendoodles

 

 

Some conversation recollections:

 

1. Oh my god, I can’t believe you’re here! I need to talk to someone like you! I just bought this painting of a whale, I’m upset about the report that came out, I use so many plastic pens and I saw all those animals with stomachs full of plastic and there are so many plastic pens in my office…

I was thinking about the pens and remembering that I have fountain pens from my father and grandfather and I’m going to have them cleaned up and give them to younger people in my family and say “here’s a gift from your ancestors.”

(Then we talked about how ancestors don’t have to be from ancient times. Just a generation or two ago people didn’t use plastic, cooked at home, tried not to waste food, used hankies…)

*

2. What’s wrong with the climate? Why should I be anxious about it?

Well, some people think that the climate is changing and causing a lot of problems, and some people don’t. Have you thought about that?

I don’t care about anyone here. I saw a video of people in a cafe and then a tsunami came in and flooded everything. I cared about those people.

So you feel compassion for those people?

Yeah, people on islands. Not here. I think about the environment. I try not to buy a lot of things. I don’t need a lot of things. People buy too many things. We don’t need that many things.

(And that was about how it went until he said “Yeah, I see why you’re doing this. Cool. You made me think. Cool.”)

*

3. A man and a woman. He talked about the government and multinationals and career politicians and “follow the money.” She talked about all of the things she’s trying to do – organizing, making donations, calling/writing politicians. He just kept going and going – very ‘splainy – and concluded with “Well, are you supposed to give us advice before we leave?” I asked if that’s what he wanted, and he said yes, so I said “OK. Try to spend some time with your feelings.”

 

Other folks stopped by who didn’t have time to sit and talk, but said that they would have if they could. A couple of people said they were moved by the question. One bicycler shouted that she’d be back later.

 

On Instagram a woman asked if I’d be doing something similar locally (Hartford area rather than New Haven), and I said I was trying to figure out where to do it.

 

 [This is Kate again. If you’re interested in figuring out a version of Climate Anxiety Counseling that works for you and the people in a place where you live or spend much of your time, let me know at my gmail address, publiclycomplex, and I will help you get set up.]

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 6/27/18

Weather: Hazy, windy, heavy; later cooler and grayer

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 1 walkby

Pages of notes: 10.5

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

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.05

 

Observations:

I was in a different spot today, closer to Elmwood Avenue and next to the food. Unclear whether it was helpful in getting people’s attention, but I felt more visible. Thanks to Julius and Greg and everybody else for lending me the shopping cart to hold up the map in the wind.

I had company for the first hour, a former student of mine who’s interested in “learning the business.”

Someone mowed the lawn since last time and the clover is dull and dry. I saw one wasp, and an interlocutor spotted (as it were) one ladybug.

People continue to sort of…blur together…“climate” and “environment.” I can sort of see why that’s happening but I haven’t figured out how to reset it or if that’s my job.

I made some efforts to connect interlocutors with opportunities to work in concert with their neighbors today. Don’t know if they’ll come to anything.

 

Some conversations:

We can’t stop it—no, we can maintain it now that they wrecked it. It’s like that Billy Joel song. … We need to educate—I don’t think a lot of people know, we have to educate them. And people have to stop listening to this news, that news, and start listening to the earth. Feel the grass—why is this part mushy, why is this part dry? Get to know it! When I visited Thailand, everyone actually talked about the earth. There was recycling on every corner. Every foreign place I went to. We’re the last ones, do you know how sad that is?

… Knowledge is power. Research things yourself, and compare. Nobody does research anymore. Don’t just be like, “Google, what is…” Go out and do it yourself. You cannot change earth, you can’t fix it—no, you can fix it. Look at the ozone, it came down. It may not be quick. No, you can’t fix earth, but you can heal it.

*

Mostly stuff that I try not to think about. I took an environmental science class in 10th grade, and somehow I got the idea that all these policies seemed really clear. Like scrubbers in factories—if that’s implemented, that can fix everything. Then I went into college and literally a few weeks into college, I took this anthropology course, and what I took away from it is that everything is much more complicated. And that applies to climate as well: there’s not one thing that could happen that would change everything. It’s nature, and people are interacting with it in crazy wonky ways—for their own comfort, with gas and air conditioning and stuff, and then also trying to survive and have people here way beyond the time that we’re here. It’s hard to ask people to change their ways. Even just doing a fundraiser. You’re asking people to give up their comforts and a certain worldview, and I just don’t see that that’s gonna happen.

Okay, so, how do you feel when you think about that?

It really, really terrifies me. …It’s kind of discouraging to think that if all of us changed our everyday ways, there are also bigger things that are preventing action in terms of climate change. That’s not to say that I’m just going to give up, but…

What are some of the bigger things?

They’re almost nebulous to me. Things that happen in the seedy underworld of whatever we eat at the grocery store—the sense that there’s something bad out there but I don’t know what I can do about it, or if there’s anything I can do about it. It’s hard to see how being against something collectively can do anything—I wish there could be an alternative solution.

Have you looked? 

I’ve just been in this nebulous state of everything is really complicated and I’m scared.

Do you have a sense of what the qualities of an alternative solution would be, like what would it have in it?

Working against climate change or whatever we’re putting out into the world. Something to collectively change the mindset of people to think beyond themselves…All our actions seem so contradictory. People will go to their environmental science class, then they’ll stay in someone’s room till late and then say, “Let’s go to Wendy’s.” I’ve become kind of discouraged in a way—I’ll say, “No, I’m not going,” but now I’m in this weird space where I’m just sad. … It seems like whatever policy is implemented is harmful to somebody.

Okay, well, if that’s the case, who do we want to suffer?

I just don’t like the idea of suffering at all. I’m not really in-your-face to anybody. I’ve been in these communities where people have no idea. It almost seems unfair to be like, “Fuck you, you can take this.” They can’t fathom how much harm they might be causing.

Well, you changed your thinking about it. How did you do that?

Without an academic setting, I guess it was family and friends caring about stuff. And personal connections are important for me and everything, but people are too afraid to talk about politics at the dinner table . Especially if they’re older than you—in Korean you even use a different tense to talk to people who are older than you, and even though I consider myself Korean-American, that part of it stays alive in me. … As someone who doesn’t want to be confrontational, this is a hard thing to be passionate about.

*

I just got a text saying that Anthony Kennedy is retiring. For another generation, we’re gonna have conservative justices. There’s already the abortion thing–and then also, climate change. My dad lives right on the water and I worry about him in hurricane season. He has good windows and everything—I saw another house down the street that looked close to falling down. He’s 82. I was gonna volunteer somewhere—I was looking at Dorcas, I’ve done library ESL classes, and then on the East Side I was looking at The Providence Village, for elderly people who want to stay in their homes. I want to volunteer, but I also need to make some money. I live near [the market] but I don’t feel connected to people around here.

*

I know it’s gonna happen and I know it’s gonna hit the poor the worst, the first. We have enough people to respond in these crises. My hope is that fear isn’t gonna come down—from the state, from the military—before we create the organic structures that’ll help us through. We’re the power. We’ve been convinced by these others, by the state primarily, that it’s the opposite. This is where change is gonna come from. But when the power structure gets challenged it always rears its ugly head. When the “wonderful” structures that globalization and militarization have given us fall apart, I hope we have enough of a running start to help others so they don’t get picked off.

Where do you see examples of this kind of running start?

[Points at the Southside Community Land Trust tables] Growing in our yards! The integration of white activist culture with the [strengths] of different populations here in the West Broadway and West Elmwood neighborhoods. I don’t think it would be very hard to transplant that* to the Cape Verdean Association, have them disseminate it to all their population. I think in these types of cultural pockets, people have working community where a lot of white neighborhoods don’t. Everybody has more capacity because you know who has strengths and who has needs.

*I wasn’t totally clear on what the “that” was here and neglected to follow up.

*

War. I’m so scared to go to war. I’m thinking about our country going to war, about these kids out here going to war with each other—they send a bullet through my store—the smallest war to the biggest war.

*

Year over year, I think my own pending mortality becomes closer. My anxiety about the environment is replaced by my own fears about the afterlife. The way I have to give it all up. It’s a cruel joke. Mother Nature allows us to be parasites and enjoy it all, but at the end you gotta give.

Has thinking about this changed the way you try to live your life?

I try to be present. Take a cue from the animals that live long, the turtles—they stay pretty cool. Try to slow time through meditation. Just be. I enjoy the rain a little more, getting caught in the rain. Of all the souls that are out there, you got to be a person for a little under a hundred years. Eat good, drink good, live good—and you still gotta make room for all the other ones. Did you see Annihilation?

Yeah, I did. I really love the book.

We rub off on the things around us and those things rub off on us. You remember, out of the four of them, one wanted to kill it, one was scared of it, and there was the one that just wanted to be a part of it. Like cancer, the beauty of things that grow. You see a beautiful yellow flower and you like it, but then if there’s a beautiful yellow flower growing inside of us—it was meant to grow. It’s just our perspective.

… That’s why these rich guys get into politics—they’ve made all their money, and they’re like, “I’m still gonna die.” … People are scared, they try to get control. People that aren’t scared, they’re comfortable with their situation—they’ve seen things happen enough times that they know things are gonna be okay. But scared people need to feel some control. These garages I rent out for storage, I’m in the storage business, and it’s all about people not being able to recognize their mistakes. Rather than recognize it and get rid of it, they keep it—everything they put in storage is an attempt for them to push off recognition for their mistake. “Oh, I never needed it, I just bought it for the feeling,” but they pay for storage until they reach that.

…[When you change your life], it’s different because you don’t know that the next thing is gonna be the right thing. With what you’re doing now, you lose a little bit, but if you change you could lose a lot.

 

*

 

What do we do about it? Once the climate is like polluted, it’s like the water—when they polluted the water, like the oil where all the birds died. But it takes a lot of people to do that work for the climate. It takes more than one person. … People don’t care about that and then they wonder why everything’s so dirty. A lot of people gotta get involved.

[After making a circuit of the vendors and coming back] They don’t have that much at the market today. Last year they had a better selection.

I’ve been hearing people say it’s a bad season.

That’s the climate, that’s global warming. The strawberries are not growing right…a lot of things.

map 6-27-18

On the map of worries, people have written:

Fair Housing

air pollution

Equal Rights

clean water

THE POOREST AMONG US

Bird sanctuary

My family’s house in a future flood zone

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

Weather: Hot, breezy, bright, big moving clouds

Number of people: 12 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 9

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 2

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 0

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

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

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

 

Observations:

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

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

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

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

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

Some conversations:

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

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

*

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

Where do you get your information now?

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

What do you do when you feel that anger?

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

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

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

What would smooth your path to volunteering?

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

And what do you usually do after you feel it?

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

*

I heard 11 feet by the year 2100.

Where’d you hear it?

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

*

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

What would they sound like?

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

*

 

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

map 5-23-18

Description: This (somewhat impressionistic) map of the state of Rhode Island says, “Put your worries on the map,” at the top, and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” at the bottom. People have written:

Woonsocket

The box of Eddie St

Coventry

Massasoit Ave

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sustain PVD Fair, 5/19/18

Weather: Gray, warmish and drizzly; the event was inside

Number of people: 17 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 11.5

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 3

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

Photos taken with permission: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $6.33

 

Observations:

Because this was a sustainability event convened by the city, many/most of the people there both as visitors and as presenters had an existing preoccupation with a livable future. This can sometimes give an event the feeling of preaching to the choir, but if you’re in a choir, you might as well sing together. (I said this on Twitter also, but I thought it was good so I’m saying it here as well.)

Possibly related to the above, especially at the beginning of the day, a lot of people wanted to talk about the booth but not have a session.

I’m redacting things like where people live and the organizations they work for, to keep them anonymous, but it also means I miss chances to spread the word about an organization or to let people know that someone else cares about what’s happening to their mutual home.

People often ask me if I’ve noticed changes over the 4+ years I’ve been doing the booth. This season so far, people seem to be talking a lot about a futureless world, a futureless life. Other themes: electoral politics and the connection between “lifestyle” and identity. It’s also worth noting that so far, people imagine their houses being broken into in a time of (for example) extreme food scarcity—but they never imagine that they’d be the ones breaking in.

 

Some conversations:

Roadway flooding with sea level rise. I’m a civil engineer, and I live close to the Providence River down at [REDACTED]. You can visibly see the change, even just when the tide comes in and out. It’s easy to imagine it. Because of the industry I’m in, I hear about it a lot. At the ASCE conference, they announced that their initiative for the next fifteen years is focused on resiliency, a switch to resiliency. So it’s in the forefront of my mind.

At a conference like that, how do people talk about climate change?

There’d be a workshop on a project that’s innovative in terms of climate change resiliency, one on how to get stakeholders on board. That can be tough, because stakeholders will be like, “Why are you talking about this thing that’s not happening when we need to patch this pavement? That’s crazy talk.”

How do you and your colleagues respond to that?

We try to be understanding, put ourselves in their shoes. It’s important to have a good moderator. I’m strictly an engineer, I don’t deal with policy, but you try to get everyone coming to the table and talking about the approach before the projects even start. You don’t hear about resiliency hardly at all right now, especially in the public sphere. I was on a climate resiliency panel for this climate and transportation seminar with Prep RI, trying to just educate our members who are various transportation people in Rhode Island. How is this going to affect traffic signals, roadways, bridges? What is the state doing, what is Boston doing?–these water-adjacent cities

*

The whole economy needs to focus on long-term health and climate change—not just ‘corporate responsibility.’ But I don’t think we’re going to see that kind of mindset unless [something drastic] comes … Are we doing the right approach by only focusing on development plans? … I think we need to focus more on education. I work on policy and development, and it’s an intrinsic thing to be able to think long-term. What we try to do is develop policies [for] cities and states to have more aggressive plans, so that they will be forced to change their behavior to some degree.

What do you think keeps people from changing what they do?

The idea of the good life. People want to enjoy their life, so it’s hard for them to admit that climate change is a problem, because they would have to change their life. We need something that’s really able to show the impacts in a very strong way—make them touch it. Or else—I think people at this age are very set, so they need something to open them up. I do yoga, and it opens you up as a person, it makes you think and feel differently… So you either do it by fear or you do it by sensitivity. I see my friends, they just want to have a good life, but they do care about their kids. But unless a big thing happens somewhere and they realize, like, it will come to you—Some people feel like they’re just immune. I spend a lot of time with people who think about it the way I do, but I also have friends who are in the oil and gas sector.

How do you talk with them about it?

I try to be unbiased, I try to talk mainly factually. I see everyone as a human being. If something doesn’t make sense, I will tell them.

*

I’m glad I’m as old as I am, ’cause I don’t like the way things are going. A lot of people my age feel that same way. My wife does too.

*

From such a young age I didn’t want to have kids. I first found out about global warming through An Inconvenient Truth … Nature is really in danger, and I want to spend all my time protecting it. But it’s hard to get a job doing that—there’s not a lot of funding. I’m working full time and then 20 hours a week with [ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANIZATION], and I’m wondering if what I’m doing is even having an effect. It feels defeating. Politicians aren’t protecting the environment the way that they should. I went to [LOCAL CANDIDATE’S] barnstorm and I’m gonna host a party for his campaign, but I’m having mixed feelings about it because I don’t trust politicians. I’m doing it because I want to be like, “I’m here, holding you accountable!”

What are the things you want to hold him accountable about?

Fields Point cannot happen, the power plant [in Burrillville] cannot happen—and the privatization of water.

This is so pressing, so urgent, I feel it in my bones. The things I connected with people over, I almost feel this disconnect from now. They’re like, “Oh, these conversations are depressing. We’re fine.” But we’re not fine. I want to not just talk about the problems, I wanna talk about the solutions, but people are like, “I have my own things to protect.”

What do you think they’re trying to protect?

I think it’s their leisure—relaxing, and peace of mind. They’re kind of all part of the same music scene, they identify with this concert scene, that’s where they get their sense of pride. That’s supposed to be about coming together. Music is for people to relax, but what are you relaxing from? What work did you do?

… In the back of my head, nothing is good enough. We need such strong action. We’re not there yet, but every step toward it is a victory. We’re crawling, but the more we have people crawling, the stronger the movement’s gonna be. In my head it’s a struggle. I want to tell people, “It makes me happy that you wanna help, but that’s not enough,” but if I talk to someone who doesn’t understand, they’re like, “This is why I didn’t want to get involved.”

*

Convincing suburbanites. I’m retired, and I got a fairly good situation, but I can’t seem to get people in that environment to take this seriously. I talk to people, they’ll recognize that it’s important to—oh, to not litter, or not pollute. But the use of fossil fuels, they really don’t want to hear it. “Oh, I won’t be able to drive my car, I won’t be able to take an airplane to Florida.” As bigger storms happen, as there’s more environmental impact, then it’s gonna be, “Oh yeah, I guess I’m gonna have to be thoughtful about my use of plastics.” People get takeout food from restaurants, all kinds of plastic containers. I know they’re trying to do a ban on plastic bags.

The Sierra Club is terrific, but they’re not a political or an electoral group. Whitehouse and Reed won’t talk about it. The corporations own the Democratic Party. I have a grandchild, a couple of kids, they’re adults now, and I worry about the future for them. I call it brinksmanship—push the problem right up to the breaking point. In the suburbs you can ignore it … But we live five or ten miles away from where they want to build that power plant.

 

*

You gotta have a talk with Mother Nature. She’s been—she doesn’t even know whether she wants to stay hot or cold … I noticed this year we’ve already had a few of those high heat days and here it is the beginning of the season. I went to a five pm service for Christmas and all I had on was a thin sweater. It’s not supposed to do that in December. You got people saying it was a terrible winter, but how could it be a terrible winter? When I was younger we had winter. Poeple have adjusted to the climate.

Do you feel like it affects you in your everyday life?

I don’t know what to wear. I’m thinking, Okay, I leave the house with two layers on and carry another one. I’ve added stuff to my CNA bags—I have bags where I keep a box of gloves, wipes, an extra uniform—and now I should put in a heavier sweater? Maybe better put an umbrella in there? We’re trained to be prepared.

Do you think it could also cause problems for your clients? Like getting to your clients?

The very worst was back in the mall flooding. I live in [REDACTED], I have a client in West Warwick, an 8-10 client. I’m coming out of the client’s house at 10 and I’m noticing that downpour, and the sewer drain is actually lifting. I remember getting home half an hour later and seeing on the news that the mall had flooded. I had to call another CNA who lived on that side to take my client in the morning.

*

All the construction that I’m seeing, particularly on the East Side, but all over Providence. There used to be empty spaces and now they’re being filled with these enormous glass buildings—there’s no empty space anymore between buildings. On Charles St., there’s no space between the sightline from the state house to the park. I’m claustrophobic to begin with, and this is adding to a grander claustrophobia. And all this construction is ignoring the fact that this is still stolen land, so the historical stuff that was there was already an aberration because it was built without any collaboration or blessing from the people whose land this is. All these new homes—everything that’s housing—is being built for people with giant incomes. The housing I’m in is toxic on so many levels, but I can’t afford to get out of it, and so many people can’t afford to get in it, to get placement in a toxic place like I’m living in … and they’re filling up every available space with colonizer steel, concrete and gas.

*

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: I’m worried that buying a house in Rhode Island was a terrible idea because of sea level rise. People close to the coast will have to migrate.

Person 2: I checked and our house is 75-80 feet above sea level.

Person 1: But what about all the people who aren’t 75-80 feet above sea level? You can’t live in a world where your neighbors are flooded out and you’re fine. And then am I gonna have people breaking in because they’re starving? We can’t survive unless all of us survive.

What are some things that we can put in place right now to set up a different path?

We’ve been planting food in our yard. The solution to scarcity is to offer freely, so you have to become a producer and have something to offer. I can’t feed everybody, but maybe I can feed people enough to keep someone from hurting me.

*

My beaches are disappearing. The last time I went sailing–I sail on the coastal waterways and down past the Great Dismal Swamp, where enslaved people used to hide when they escaped. There are all these little islands, beautiful little pine forests. Last time I went there, all dead.

It’s wild how a dead tree is its own gravestone.

Yeah, you can’t hide it.

*

Do you have any anxieties about climate change?

Well, I’m sure we all do. Not the Trump crowd. My family itself are a bunch of right-wingers.

Do you talk about this stuff with them?

I avoid it to some degree and get into it to some degree. When it comes up, I speak my mind. I’ll say, “The glaciers are melting the world.” They try to be more politically correct and say climate change. Not just glaciers but droughts, floods—there’s flooding in Miami, but by the time it gets bad it’s gonna be too late. They’re saying 2040 is gonna be catastrophic. I have a sister in North Kingstown, one in East Greenwich, one in Florida. Our dad was a big right-winger, and I was the only one who was a rebel. Even my mother was like that. [SISTER] is the only one who doesn’t like Trump, but she still goes along.

*

My Maine is gone, it’s there but it’s gone.

*

I don’t think I have that. But my son, he’s seventeen years old, and he’ll say, “You see the weather? That’s because the world’s gonna end.” He just blurts it out, he’s so casual. He may be anxious but I’m not detecting it. You gotta think about it at some point—I don’t know what part of the day he starts thinking about that. He might get a rise out of telling you, but if you ask him he’s not gonna bring it up.

… Death is a part of life. My [vision] is to live out to 100 or whatever in peace and harmony. That was always my vision from when I was a little girl.

*

My climate anxieties are the same as they were last year and the year before and I already talked to you about them.

map 5-19-18

Description: This (somewhat impressionistic) map of the state of Rhode Island says, “Put your worries on the map,” at the top, and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” at the bottom. People have written:

power plant 😦

RADON

State parks

RIVER ROAD + SMALL FOREST

West End Bucklin Park

Rocky Point

Beach erosion

Climate Anxiety Counseling at AS220’s Foo Fest, 8/12/17

Weather: Heavy, humid, cool but with underlying warmth

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 6 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1 video!

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 7

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $20.20

 

Observations:

I did the booth at Foo Fest a couple of years ago, and I was inside the perimeter (where you have to pay to get in, and where other activities and the bands are). I talked with 23 people. This year, I asked to be outside because I don’t like to do it in places that people have to pay to get into—part of the point of the booth is to keep access to it very easy (even the 5-cent donation fee is optional). I only had 11 conversations. My (totally unscientific and untested) hypothesis: that people who are paying for an experience (e.g. an arts fair) are more likely to stop and see me if they understand me as part of the event they’re paying for.

Possibly relatedly, I always make a ton more money for the EJ League when I do the booth at an arts event or an event labeled “green”, as opposed to doing it on the street or at a market.

Also relatedly, I moved from one side of the gate to the other about an hour in, so that I’d be more visible and so that there wouldn’t be a police officer standing behind me.

A bunch of sweet friends had a drawing session with me to make RI organism cards to give out, and that evening felt amazing to me and made me recognize my love for and rootedness in my city. Also, one friend and her daughter and sister stopped by and brought me a container of tiny tomatoes, and another friend shared her cucumbers with me.

 

Some conversations:

I’m troubled by the fact that we’re moving closer and closer to a point of no return, where we’re not able to reverse the damage that we’ve done to this planet. Everyone has the right to have a family. An amazing and vital part of our humanity is to have children. But it’s sucking up resources. The population is growing large enough that it’s not sustainable. Plenty of people try to live in an environmentally unharmful and neutral way, but regardless of that there are just too many people on the planet. I don’t see education about how to live more sustainably—people are still eating beef, for example.

Do you talk with people about this?

Not in any activist type of way. It comes across in conversations with friends, like, “Oh shit, what are we gonna do, what can we do, what’s the point”–those conversations don’t necessarily lead anywhere productive. I guess it reinforces my commitment to how I live, how I teach my children. … We all have the right and we all have the instinct to reproduce. It’s very difficult to say. There are many reasons why people choose the size of family that they choose. I know in China they have ordinances around the number of children—that doesn’t feel right.. I don’t have daughters, I have sons, and I teach them about birth control … I think all you can do is live as mindfully as you can and support efforts and shore up people’s energy for making efforts to do right by the earth.

*

How often do you have to do this to feel better?

*

We won’t be able to change things fast enough to have a bicycle-based society in time—to change our infrastructure. Even in my own habits and where I live—how am I going to get to work? How to enjoy relaxing without using a car? My parents live in Little Compton, and when I go out there I try to stay for two nights—I’m not zipping all over the place—but still.

How could you be involved in making some of these changes?

I would need to start going more to city planning events. In DC, I think, they have a tax on nonpermeable infrastructure, for any new structures. But as the the climate’s getting wacky, I worry about people not having reliable access to food … It’s a limited world with limited resources, and we have a culture operating as if it was still a frontier with the potential for unlimited growth. If you’re a person with me, with low productivity, you can work less, drive less. But I have no retirement savings. … If I felt like I had less wealth and resources in my social network, I wouldn’t be so comfortable with it.

*

[These two came up together and had similar fashions.]

Person 1: Donald Trump is worrying me.

What about him?

That he exists! That he represents 30% of a once hidden population, so that now you know just how much you are hated. And behind him, you have a theocrat who wants to dismantle the [US] Constitution, saying there’s no such thing as global warming because there’s no such thing as science. “Don’t drive your car, don’t go to the doctor.” They’re cutting arts funding—and art and design come into all of that.

Person 2: What do you recommend for someone who feels hopeless in the face of all of this? When you do what you can, you go to marches, you sign things, but you feel like it’s just not gonna do any good?

Person 1: [Those events are] preaching to the choir.

Person 2: They have absolutely no effect at all. I feel like I’m just biding my time till something changes.

Can I ask what else you’ve tried?

Person 1: I’ve signed every petition there is. Senators aren’t gonna listen to me, the governor isn’t gonna listen to me … If you see someone who you think might be targeted, it’s a good thing to smile at them. You don’t let people around you be abusive in words or actions. You don’t add to somebody’s burden.

Person 2: If I can’t do anything to alter what’s going on in DC, you can be civil and generous to people in your environment.

*

I’m really worried that humanity, even though it knows what’s going on, just loves its creature comforts better than giving up one or two things. I see it in myself … Maybe a huge marketing campaign, but if that’s what it takes for the human course to shift, maybe we’re doomed, if truth and information and knowledge isn’t enough in itself. It has to get packaged up and delivered. Maybe it’s always been that way. There’s always been wars, there’s always been people becoming parents. Maybe the marketing thing is more the positive, the love, and war is more like the fear. We have the concept of the planet as our other parent—we’re inside of it, but there’s not that much connection today. Maybe we need another psychology, where the planet is the child.

*

I see the LNG trucks down on the water there. I live in Olneyville, and I remember when Merino Park was just a brownfield. Now people have a place to take their kids and ride their bikes. I’m afraid that they’ll just dump it. One of the things about that park is that it was given to the neighborhood without gentrifying the neighborhood. So many times, they just kick everyone out—why don’t you just do it for the people who are already there?

*

The fact that we all die. And also that we’re destroying our planet, and that future generations will look back on us like, “They had so much and did so little.”

Do you imagine what it’s going to be like?

It’s hard for anyone to put their imagination to exactly what the world would look like. I tend to go towards the apocalyptic. And a regression of the life that we enjoy, of the plenty we enjoy in US consumerism. We feel guilty, but we still do it.

So is it that you’re worried about not being able to get hold of things you need?

Every leisure activity I do is casual consumption. I use products that are made to be thrown away. … I just don’t have the willpower or mindfulness to go against society. I don’t necessarily believe that society will make choices for the greater good. Buying things is an easy way to feel better. My joy comes from my family and my friends, from creating things, writing, reading—but when I’m lonely and there’s no one around—I think if resources are available people will go toward them. Our best hope is the expansion of technology and the ability to create solutions.

*

I’m worried that I’m part of the problem. Everyone plays their part, but I could do a better job of fixing my carbon footprint. I used to really care about what I ate and how it affected the environment. But I had an eating disorder, and not being vegan is part of my treatment. It’s just difficult to go between being hardcore vegan and not, and I get worried that I’m not doing enough.

*

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: Finding clean water sources. And saltwater intrusion.

Are you from Florida?

I lived in Florida for five years. I struggle a lot with the whole climate change idea in general. Most people think climate change is just warming—they don’t realize that it’s killing the oceans. It’s a lot bigger than people think it is.

Person 2: A lot of people in this country are very isolated. They know, but they don’t want to know so they can keep living their lives.

Have you ever had to make a big change in your life? You don’t have to say what it was, but what was it like?

Yeah, I made an impulsive decision that then I had to live with. I don’t know how to put it into words. … I think it’s gonna take something drastic.

Drastic things have happened.

Yeah, but then they pay scientists to say it’s bullshit.

How do you handle it when you have these feelings?

I kinda go into the abyss of my brain.

Person 1: We’ve had some discussions and I still think people can work together to solve the problem.

Person 2: I’m a little more pessimistic about human nature.

Person 1: I think that if we can get over our petty squabbles and unite as a [species]–if we put your faith in solving this problem and not destroying the earth–

Person 2: But people have different priorities. If we don’t fix this in the next 5-10 years–

Person 1: As a species, we’ve solved every problem we’ve ever encountered. I guess I just hope we can solve this one.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/21/17

Weather: Muggy, breezy, clouds and sun, humidity lifting as it got sunnier

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Pages of notes: 6.5

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 2

People who recognized me, and I them, from previous years: 4

Number of dogs seen: 4

Number of dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.80

 

Observations:

While I had a few conversations today, for a few different reasons I only ended up getting permission to post one, which is below.

I responded very disproportionately to someone today. I’ll reflect on it at greater length later, but what I’m taking from it at the moment is that the more responses I have prepared, the less likely I am to be a reactive dickhead whose mental habits lead me to use my power badly.

Beginning of shift, cop car parked at the Dorrance St. end of Kennedy Plaza. 3:03, bike cop ran through the park carrying a sandwich. 3:17, three cops in uniform walked through the park. 4:34, cop SUV drove down Washington St.

I saw 20+ skateboards today, some people riding them, some people carrying them.

Speaking of overcoming mental habits: C., if you’re reading this, I think my suggestions to you were okay and I stand by them, but I forgot another thing you could do and that we can all do: start learning about efforts and methods to abolish the police.

 

A conversation:

Probably I have five years to live. And I know my life doesn’t mean that much in the span of the Earth’s existence, but I just feel bad for all the families who are having children now. I totally get it, but it’s kind of selfish to have kids. I really wanna travel, but I don’t have enough money, because I live in this capitalist society where I have to make money to sustain a dying life. … Even if I started living eco-friendly in my regular life, it wouldn’t matter because the permafrost is just gonna come and kill everyone. I’ve grown so nihilistic. Human beings are just a cancer on the Earth. I just want to smoke as many cigarettes as possible and then die slowly and horribly, I’m sure Mother Earth will really enjoy that. I just put it really dramatically because … I coud be like, Oh, we’re all gonna do just fine, but no one’s gonna do just fine. I picked five [years] because I don’t know a ton of scientific evidence so I picked a low expectational number. I set my bar low so I can try to force myself to do the things I want.

… The way I was raised was super hedonistic, just monstrously gaining things. I live with my parents, and when I’m just living in my home it’s like, Enjoy this polished exterior that life has to offer—I’m really privileged but I live with people who [couldn’t] give less of a shit about the Earth. … But I’m not gonna run into my parents’ living room screaming, “We all have to kill ourselves. Hey, mom, wanna go out and get some cigarettes and smoke until we die?”

I love my family, they’re great, I wanna protect them. …Imagine trying to love someone to your fullest ability in the shortest amount of time. You can do it by communicating, expressing your love, and you can even do it by silence, but the people I’m dealing with don’t know silence. I just don’t want to have to do it. I don’t want to have to do it all now. I can do it, but I realize how much love I was gonna have to give when I was older—and I hate it that I’m not gonna get to do that—