Rally Tonight, 5/30: Stop the Burrillville Power Plant!

Rally to stop a fracked-gas power plant in northern RI and protect the water, air, forest, and livable climate! 

6-8pm TONIGHT (5/30)

Rhode Island State House

If you haven’t yet signed this petition against the plant, please do (especially if you can’t make it tonight). In both of these cases, it’s good to have lots of people. Burrillville BASE, the FANG Collective, the Burrillville Land Trust/No New Power Plant and many more people and groups have worked extremely hard for a long time to stop this disastrous project. Let’s follow up on the work they have done and are still doing. Hope to see you there.

Image may contain: 1 person


No Fracked-Gas Power Plant in Burrillville: Two Ways to Stop the Clear River Energy Center

For several years now, residents of Burrillville RI, along with environmental justice, conservation and climate justice advocates, have been fighting the Clear River Energy Center, the fracked-gas power plant that Invenergy wants to build in their town. You can help them, and help slow down climate catastrophe, by submitting public comments on two upcoming permits.

The most important, because it is likely to be final, is the Energy Facility Siting Board decision. The EFSB decides whether energy companies can build in their chosen location; here’s some background on their role in this case. They are open to public comment on their decision until June 1st, 2019. Commenting through this petition is probably the easiest way: Stop the Burrillville Power Plant!

Come to the RI State House at 6pm, May 30th, to speak out against the plant.

The other opportunity to comment is through the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management: they are taking public comments through July 15th, 2019 on an air quality permit (aka a “major source permit”). Email your comments to dem.invenergyairpermit AT dem.ri.gov, and include the words “formal comment” in your subject line. The RI DEM will also hold a public hearing about this permit; bookmark this page and check it for the date and time.

Here’s a simple but thorough breakdown of the damage this plant would do, and you can use this information to support your comments.


This article shows how Invenergy handles air quality at another of their plants, in PA.

Stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure is a key piece of creating a livable future. If you’ve been feeling helpless, this is something you can do to help.


A Letter to the Woonsocket City Council

Dear Councilmembers Gendron, Sierra, Murray, Cournoyer, Brien, Fagnant and Beauchamp,

I know that on Tuesday, January 10th, the Woonsocket City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to sell Woonsocket water to Invenergy to operate their power plant in Burrillville. Although I’m from Providence, I attended the public hearing on January 6th, and heard many people from Woonsocket speak, mostly against the deal.

The comments that struck me most sharply were the ones about being good neighbors: about Woonsocket being a good neighbor to the many people in Burrillville who have declared that they don’t want this power plant in their town, and to the other towns that have joined Burrillville in opposing the plant. About Woonsocket standing with Burrillville, one town supporting another, in the hopes that in your time of need Burrillville will stand with you; about the ways that with this support, Burrillville could then turn around and support Woonsocket by participating in your city’s economy.

I came from Providence to try to be a good neighbor, to support the Woonsocket and Burrillville residents who don’t want this health-endangering and environmentally disruptive power plant to be part of their homes—people who recognize that its long-term costs outweigh its short-term benefits. I was struck by Woonsocket residents’ other reasons for objecting to the plant as well: their fears for their health, their resentment that Woonsocket is the “dumping ground of Rhode Island”, the desire to protect the air and water and woods, their concern that Invenergy would not keep to the original terms of its deal, or that they’re being disingenuous about the amount of water the plant needs to run safely; their concerns about committing potable water to this usage, especially in light of the drought conditions that are predicted to become more common in the Northeast in the next few years.

But when Leslie Mayer said, “You have the opportunity to be heroes” to the people of your city and your future—to make the right, the neighborly choice—that rang true to me. If the people and towns of Rhode Island are able to collaborate with one another, to work together, to have each other’s backs rather than competing with each other or treating each other as enemies, our chances of surviving and thriving are better when conditions are difficult.

Please be a good neighbor to Burrillville.

Please be a good neighbor to the other cities and towns of Rhode Island.

Please be a good neighbor to the water that the people of your city drink and bathe in.

Please be a good neighbor to the trees and plants that filter the air all Rhode Islanders breathe, and to the air itself.

Please be a good neighbor to your fellow Woonsocket residents, who have given so many reasons why they don’t want the city to agree to this deal.

Please reject Invenergy’s proposal.

Kate Schapira
[my address]


I just sent that letter, as an email, to the people on the Woonsocket City Council. Except that for about five of them, before I caught it, instead of writing “Please be a good neighbor to the other cities and towns of Rhode Island” I wrote “…cities and towns of Providence.”

Typos happen. But this typo is particularly unfortunate, because I’m writing about cities and towns working together throughout the state, keeping each other in mind, not being at odds. And I typed the name of my own city instead of the name of the entire state.

I hope it won’t invalidate my investment in this question; I don’t think it would make anyone change their minds, that mistake. But it’s careless, and chauvinistic, and I apologize for it, and will try to learn from what it has to show me about paying attention.

Still, please, help prevent Invenergy from building this power plant, because it’s bad for everyone–even the people who work for Invenergy, in the long run.

You can write to the members of the Woonsocket City Council (via a form) here.

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




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: 5/28/16

Weather: Hot, but okay in the shade. Heavy wing of gray cloud to the north and east.

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 3

Offers of food/drink: 3

Number of dogs seen: 1

Number of dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $6.32



I saw the person who likes horseshoe crabs from my first season, and we chatted a bit to catch up. Here’s the alternate history I wrote for her.

Today, a pair of evangelists–neither of whom were this evangelist or these evangelists, or even from the same church or group, as far as I could gather–set up on the opposite side of the Burnside Park entrance. I did have a conversation with one of them, which I’ve excerpted below, and took a picture of them with a renewed acquaintance. Because I’m competitive, I also kept track of how many people spoke with them: they got 12 stoppers to my 11. Their approach was very different–they mostly didn’t buttonhole people either, but they had an “intelligence test” of trick questions (I overheard some of these but couldn’t see them) set up under a poster of the 10 Commandments and they used this to draw people in, and they seemed to be at least as interested in talking as they were in listening.

Please direct your well-wishes and your thoughts of calm and steadiness to Lucinda of the delicate feet, who spoke to me today.


Some conversations:

I just keep havin’ nightmares about strangling Donald Trump … My worst fear with Trump is that he is what he says he is, and he’s just gonna make money for himself. [After talking about John F. Kennedy for a bit, segued into speaking about the Vietnam War.] I had a brother over there.

Did he survive?

You could call it that, I guess. He won’t talk about it. Doesn’t like it when you bring it up. He was a guard at the airport. They blew it up … I guess all that shelling gets to you after awhile, among all the other things that happened.


I’m anxious about climate change. The polar ice caps are melting, they’re flooding everything, everything changing. And what can we do to stop it?

[After she ran out of things to say about that] I don’t like the way they have the police presence in the park. I want to be able to sit on a bench and smoke a cigarette.


Fracking, for starters. The amount of toxins being released into the ground, the air, and the groundwater.

How did you come to know about the damage that it causes?

I’m involved in a couple of different groups–most recently Democracy Spring. But I’ve always followed Greenpeace… [Fracking] was one of the things we were trying to pay attention to, not the main focus, but the leader of the Sierra Club got arrested with us.

What was the main focus?

Our group went down specifically for Bernie Sanders. His campaign’s been blacked out by the media…This election’s been rigged from the start. We were petitioning against the removal of children of illegal immigrants [sic], just trying to get corruption out of the government. 1400 people were arrested on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington, DC, and there was no media attention.

So do you feel like you didn’t achieve your goal, or–

No, I do. It’s gone viral on Facebook, and a lot of independent media covered it. It’s just that the mainstream media didn’t. I feel like we accomplished what we set out to do, and we have more actions planned. The same group is marching in Philadelphia at the [Democratic National Committee], more [to focus on] the media blackout of Bernie Sanders and by extension that that kind of corruption is legally allowed to continue. It’s a perfect example of how things are going down in this country right now.

Most of what you’ve told me so far is kind of the official, unified explanation of what you and the people you work with are concerned about. Is there anything that you, personally, are concerned about that doesn’t fit, that you guys are not focusing on? [I had to ask this twice in slightly different ways before it was clear; this is sort of a combination of the ways.

No. Not really. I feel like we’re getting pretty much everything … All these different groups came together. The Sierra Club and Greenpeace were there for what they’re doing to us with Monsanto and destruction of forests.


I’ve been down here 10 years working with the homeless. Last year they had a sign that said there was no smoking in the park, so then of course people came and smoked out here, but now people are smoking in the park again. … I’d like to see people down here motivated to clean up the park.

What do you think might motivate people?

I think people need to take ownership of it.

But what makes you take ownership of something? Like, do you own your house, what makes you feel like the owner of your house?

I think you have to tap into what people can do instead of what they can’t do.


I’m anxious to get on with my life farther, but I don’t wanna go too fast.

What might get in your way?

Old habits, old friends, old ways of thinking. You travel down that road so many times and you keep making the same mistakes. The same pattern is just destroying and ruining everything all over again … You gotta be on guard constantly, especially if you hang around down here. I try to hang around with positive people, pick and choose who I hang out with. Homeless people are a target for the police.

What do you do to help yourself keep your vision in sight?

There’s not much light out there in the vision. So I gotta focus on the smallest little things instead of the big picture. The fewer options you have, the harder it is to make it work … [Of people who get high/are addicted] They’re suffering from something inside and they’re covering it up.

What’s it like to come down here and see people in that state?

Honestly, it’s a relief, I’m like, “I’m glad I don’t have that person’s problems.” I’d rather be silent and sane.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/27/16

Weather: Hot in the sun, fine in the shade, light breeze, wind picked up around 5pm. Facing east.

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0, but see below

Number of climate change deniers: 1

Pages of notes: 4

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 3

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

Number of dogs seen: 2

Number of dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.64



Today I had one of the very, very few climate anxiety counseling conversations ever in which I might be in danger. I am fine and I’ll write more about it another time.

I came up with a pretty good spot definition of the weather vs. climate distinction, “Climate change is a change in weather all over the world and over a very long time,” but I’m still not totally happy with it.

I never think about the big beech tree in the center of the park when I’m not in the park


Some conversations:

Person 1: Actually, climate change is getting harder and harder. I’m starting to sweat more and more each day.

Have you noticed differences from year to year?

Yeah, it’s different this year. Instead of spring, we went from winter to summer. You see the change. I went from long pants to shorts. The seasons are off.


Person 2: It wasn’t that cold a winter and it was a very cold May.


Person 1: Two days ago I had a coat on. Yesterday, I had a coat on and I’m sweating. If I’m cold, I act a certain way and if I’m hot, I act a certain way.


I’m particularly worried about what we’re using for energy and water sources, and mass deforestation as a result of the agricultural industry. We think we’re getting smarter when we’re constantly repeating our mistakes, being aggressive toward each other and destroying everything … People try to distance themselves from the implications of their actions. I try to be conscious of how my actions impact other people around me. I know how capitalism works, I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I see how businesses have to do it, but I don’t see how governments can buy into this. They’re thinking about short-term benefits, not long-term implications …

What do you think could help people work towards putting something else first, besides money?

There are cultures, I feel like there’s fewer and fewer, cultures that cling to a community sense of living, a relish in that your community is doing well. But that would require a complete change in our perceptions of ourselves and each other. I’m trying not to be pessimistic.

What would it be like to just be pessimistic?

I would consider that my spirit breaking. I’ve seen firsthand and through a lot of stories the shitty things that people do … but I’ve also seen a lot of good. To be who I am, to continue to be proud of who I am, I can’t give in to my negativity.




Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/24/16

Weather: Cool, gray, muggy. Started sprinkling around 5, full-on raining around 5:30.

Number of people: 13 stoppers, 3 walkbys, one bikeby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

People known to me, and I to them, from previous sessions: 3

Conversations between people not previously known to each other: 3

Number of dogs seen: 3

Number of dogs pet: 0, not for lack of trying

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $3.30



Because I screwed up a conversation last time, I made an extra effort to assert things as little as possible, but to listen and ask questions (the way I’m supposed to). I think it went well?

I can’t figure out if people are more likely to come up if they see someone else talking with me, or less. Maybe it depends on what they presume about the person based on what they see.

The guy who was worried about keeping his housing stopped by to tell me that they did, in fact, kick him out for smoking pot. On the other hand, K stopped by to tell me that her cat had diarrhea from eating lawn treatment chemicals but is getting better, and that she just signed her lease for another year.

The way people use the map (of places in RI they would like to protect) changes based on the way previous people use it, and the more that’s on there, the more people are likely to add.

A cop walked through the park around 5:05, and two more walked through around 5:15.


Some conversations:

Honestly, I’m living couch to couch. Without [the guy he’s staying with], I don’t know where I’d be … I’m coming over to people’s houses and I’m spending $20 on a bottle and then being like, “Oh, I’m too drunk to go home,” not like, “Oh, I need a place to stay.” You’re doing what you have to do but you’re really hurting the other person. You can’t just ask, you gotta have something they want. It’s hard out here. Family’s tough–everybody has their own issues, they have kids, they have their own lives. My friend could lose his place and I’d be back on the street … I come down here and I see how it is for people, I do, it’s hard out here. That’s why I wanna get rich, I wanna make like a hotel for people who want to help themselves to stay, so they don’t have to be homeless.


[Person 1 and Person 2 came up together; Person 3 was already talking with me]

Person 1: I’m anxious about taxes and I’m anxious about Trump becoming president. I heard on Facebook that he’s trying to start a cotton-picking program for Black children and–if he becomes president I’m moving away or hiding. In my free time I like to read and research government so when I get older I know more about it, like how taxes work and how to file taxes when I have to do it.

What do you do if someone is like, Oh, Donald Trump, blah blah blah?

Person 2: I laugh at ’em!

Person 1: If it’s someone older than me I’m gonna be polite, like, “Well, I disagree.” If it was a kid I would go all day.

Person 3: Do you vote?

Person 1: I’m 16 so I can vote in the city, like for Mayor.

Person 2, earnestly patting Person 1: When you’re 18 you can change the world. Every generation has a chance to change the world. [Changes tones] But ain’t nobody tryna do all that work!


[Writes on map] “Give a piece of land to be used for homeless camp & use as a temporary space until able to find rent.” [Speaks to me] There’s more to it. There could be some problems. There’d have to be–don’t cause trouble, be respectful, don’t make predicaments for other people. If we police it ourselves… People can come around and be like, Come do a day job, I’ll help you get where you want to go.


Bills–rent, utilities, I’m trying to save for a car ’cause the buses are killing me. I spend more time on the buses–I go in for four hours a shift, and I take one bus from almost South Attleboro and then I take the 28, Atwood Avenue. I’m training right now, so I’m getting $9.60 an hour for three and a half, four hours. But I’m grateful for the job. And I’m not anxious right now ’cause I have tomorrow off and it’s gonna be hot.


[Person 2 came up while Person 1 was talking]

Person 1: I feel bad for the animals. I feel like it’s really bad that people are destroying their environment, their habitat. Me and my grandma, we took a walk today and where the woods used to be, there’s all this development, these houses. I was telling my grandma how this is really messed up–whoever did it had no compassion for the birds, their homes, their families. The skunks, the squirrels–all their homes.

How did you get to have that compassion? It seems like you’re really aware of all these animals and their homes.

My first memories was in upstate New York, near Monticello. There was a lot of forest, a lot of nature out there. The house we lived in was out in the middle of nowhere and behind the house was all woods… We moved to Providence when I was four and it was a different environment, it was a different world. That’s what kept me in touch with nature, like I had a comfort with nature. I’m with all these city kids and I’m the one running around picking flowers and tryna catch bees, watching the ants… [Animals] have feelings too, and they have families. Like, they used to say on TV, Oh, animals can’t feel, and we believed it, but the more we’re watching them and analyzing them …

Do you talk about this with people?

I do share my opinions on things, about how I feel about the environment and animals, and I’m not afraid to speak my mind. On Facebook the other day I wrote, “The trees are sick, pay attention.” My friend was like, “You okay?” I was like, Yes, I’m okay, but people have to start paying attention to the vibes from trees, really looking at them–the trees are sick, they don’t feel good. They’re not growing as tall as they should, if I look at trees from when I was a kid and the trees right now, they’re not growing to their full potential.

Person 2: And the leaves are getting smaller ’cause they don’t need to be as big to absorb the carbon dioxide.


It changes the ecosystem, definitely. If it’s happening, things will die, species will probably go extinct, including us. But people try to sugarcoat it, like it’s not our fault. But it’s always gonna be there. Something drastic might happen, and scientists might predict it, but the consequences can never be for sur

Do you think about it a lot, does it freak you out?

I don’t really think about it. People are so secluded in their own lives. Some people make an effort to know what’s going on, it’s all on the internet–there’s someone, a senator or a governor, he’s been working on this since the ’70s and only this year people are taking him serious about it. Now that it’s getting serious all these industries, all these political people are taking him serious … We rely heavily on nature for our resources. There’s something about the bees, I don’t know what it is, nothing pollinates, there won’t be vegetation. We just take and take from it.

Why do you think people don’t take it seriously?
Because nature’s not bothering me, I’m standing here and it’s not doing anything to me–but it hasn’t been the same. Every year it gets crazier in New England … But it doesn’t bother [people] personally in their life. So these industries and people in political office, they’re trying to find ways to do something about it but they don’t have much support. “Someone else will do something about it.” It definitely goes on everywhere. … I feel very small compared to seeing this on the news–bigger people, people in power, our industries, they can do something, not me. But it’s never gonna–the power and resources we rely on, we try to reduce it, but we’re not gonna do that, because humans are always [demanding]. They say by 2050 there’s gonna be 10 billion people. How are the other species that we rely on gonna do? How are we gonna contribute to nature itself? We’re ever-growing, just taking and taking.


Alternate Histories: 4/22, 4/29

(If you’re a new visitor to the blog, you can read this explanation of alternate histories.)


Tipping points. Deforestation tipping points. Tipping points of rising seas, tipping points with ice melt.



The next day, C went to the library to return one book of dire predictions and take out another. On her way, she stopped the car by the salt inlet and looked out over the eelgrass and mudflats, the ways the water and soil and roots and dead matter and sand meshed with and ate at one another. She thought about the delicacy of their arrangements, the ways in which they were never still, growing and dying, eating and rotting, silting up and subsiding—the small changes that couldn’t survive a big change. She thought of the inlets swamped and choked by rising water and never coming back. Her mind didn’t even get as far as the wider world. She leaned against the warm hood of her car and sobbed.

C wasn’t afraid of loss or change in human civilization, or human culture. She was afraid of human disappearance; she knew that for that to happen, land, water and air would have to alter so drastically that they’d take hundreds, thousands, of other creatures and relationships with them. She knew that to prevent these alterations, other things would have to alter drastically instead: systems of production and exploitation, the supply chain of her wine and bread and salad greens, people’s imaginations of one another and of other living creatures. She wanted to support the second kind of alterations; hence the books, hence the conversations she tried to navigate, hence some of the small choices she knew didn’t do much but helped her feel connected to efforts of change.

What she feared, what she was crying for by the side of the road, was that no support she could give mattered—not just that she couldn’t do anything to hold off the deadly changes, but that no one could, that even the second kind of alterations would not replace the first. That the future was not a delicate and changing saltmarsh but a static, settling graveyard.

Why work toward changes that don’t matter, that won’t save anything you love, C thought? Why not just wait for the dead water to cover everything?

What is it too late for? To save ourselves. To keep ourselves going forever.

What is it not too late for?

In the weeks and the years that followed, C behaved like a person with an illness that they know will kill them soon, and so did many other people. They didn’t hoard much; rather, they gave things away. They made various kinds of amends, not just to human people, but to trees and insects, birds and waterways. They were kind. They sat down in strange places—in front of tanker trains, on the hoods of police cars, in front of the houses of lawmakers. They drank what was left of the wine, and didn’t ask for any more.

And the trains slowed and stopped, because the drivers didn’t know if they would live to collect their pensions. The cop cars rusted out, because there were so few years of human life left total; who’d risk their own, or take another’s? The lawmakers didn’t bother consolidating their power for their next term; they might not get to have one. They worked to make amends, to heal beyond damage, to nourish the present, while they waited for the dead water to cover everything.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Climate Change Science in an Age of Misinformation

Weather: Warm and sunny, but I was inside, in a warm airless fluorescent-lit room.

Number of people: 4 stoppers, probably 9 or 10 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 1, kind of? Does “Of course you’re a trained professional…You get what you pay for” count?

Pages of notes: 10

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Picture-takers with permission: 4

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.05



This was a conference, with speakers, so most of the time I was set up people were sitting and listening to someone else. People could only really talk to me in between things. I took notes on the speeches, but I’m not going to post any of them here. I also noticed that the conference setup seems to bring out a lot of self-justification and defensiveness in people, including me.

I hate doing the booth indoors. It’s too echoey and I feel cut off from the outside air and light.

Theme of the day: the idea of “doing what I can,” which is a very tricky one for me; worrying about the world that one’s kids or grandkids will have to live in. Relatedly, I’m very out of practice at probing people’s assumptions without putting them on the defensive.

Spotted: a URI student retwisting her twist-out while listening to a speaker. (This was, however, quite a white crowd generally.)


Some conversations:


I’m anxious about Gina Raimondo and Sheldon Whitehouse not speaking out against the proposed power plant in Burrillville . Escaped methane doesn’t know about borders … I’m upset. It’s discouraging, and there’s some hypocrisy–“We’re doing something about the environment,” but they’re supporting this huge plant that encourages fracking. Methane is 100 times more deadly than the emissions from coal.

Why do you think they’re supporting it, knowing that?

It’s political, it’s a “jobs program.” I’m a union person, but I’m not in favor of a jobs program that will ultimately be unemploying a lot of people because of loss of land, rising tides and so forth. … I’ve been at demonstrations, my friends have been arrested–Lisa was arrested a couple of days ago  … We’re all in this together. The biggest motivating factor is my grandkids–or their children, I really, really worry. It’s frightening.

Have you noticed the climate changing in your own lifetime?

 Oh yeah. When it rains, it really rains. When those storms come, with the extraordinary high tides, I’ve never seem that kind of flooding. I’m not so much here [at the conference] to educate myself but to be in solidarity–I mean, there’s always something to learn–but I’m here to bring up the plant. I hope that they would put pressure on the political people on the stage today. The representatives from Burrillville came out against it because of pressure from the organizations and the people in that town–they were just inundated by the people. …You can see how difficult it is for politicians to be [in favor of] something that’s perceived to be a job loss. It takes courage and if people don’t have that, you have to apply pressure.


I just think it’s great that someone’s keeping in mind that the trauma that’s gonna come with the change in weather is gonna need some kind of response

What are some of the things you expect will come along with that trauma?

Trauma rewires the brains of young children–if we don’t set them up adequately, it affects them for their entire lifetime. That’s for children. And for everybody else, stress and anxiety makes mental and physical health problems worse.

So this more chaotic, more uncertain time is coming–how can we take care of each other in this time?

We need better infrastructure for the health care system writ large. We need to build enough sense of community so that we do continue to care for each other, so that people won’t be left helpless and alone [in the face of] coastal flooding, fires… I think as academics we get somewhat siloed. We know a lot about how to help people change their behavior, but without policies that support climate [action]…

Let’s say someone came to you, as a psychologist, and said, “I’m feeling this anxiety about the future, how do I deal with it?” What would you tell them?

I’d probably try to find out if there’s anything going on personally that’s feeding it.

But this is personal, it’s affecting people personally.

But it’s not acute, it’s not happening right now. When people are freaking out about it they’re not being effective, they’re not separating what can be done from what is a fear–separating the fear and the reality.


[This person came up while another person was telling me they work for the Rhode Island Sea Grant; they stood by while this person was talking to me.]

I have four kids, between 18 and 26, and I worry about the kind of world they’re going to have. For the first time it’s made me almost wish I hadn’t brought kids into the world. I go back and forth between thinking there’s a reason to be hopeful and thinking there’s reasons to not be optimistic. I keep telling them, Your generation has to figure this out, because mine really messed it up.

People often talk about it like that, but you know, you’re still here and you’re going to be around for a while.

But I’m almost 55, and I feel like the politicians who are now in office who are around my age are not being responsible, and it’s going to take the next generation to come in and make change … These days it’s just really scary. On the one hand I think it’ll be okay, everything’ll work out, but then you see what some of these people post on Facebook. I can walk on the beach and it seems so far away–

[The listening person]: There’s a lot of things happening on the beach.

What do your kids say when you say that to them?

They’re like, Thanks a lot … Hopefully they’ll all contribute. I feel like I’m doing what I can to raise good citizens. I don’t want o be super anxious and make them worry–they think I worry too much, but then I wonder if that’s just youth, when you’re not responsible for anyone other than yourself.


Do they feel responsible for each other?


I think they do feel responsibility for each other. [The 18-year-old] wants to make a difference. In your own little corner of the world you can make a difference, or you can actually get involved, you can try to make change. You can be a Senator Whitehouse. I guess it’s maybe a matter of coming to terms with what you’re actually in control of.





Tipping points. Deforestation tipping points. Tipping points of rising seas, tipping points with ice melt.


What scares you about that?


Every species will eventually come to an end, whether it’s when the universe ends or the sun turns into a red giant. The human condition will come to an end, but we’re doing so much to make it happen faster.


What do you do when you feel like that, or think about that?


I keep reading books, I always have an environmental book going. Or I go to lectures or conferences like this. I study it, I study it, I study it. I try to be an example to people, but I do not tell people I know what to do. …I try and avoid conversations [with climate change deniers], but if I have to have them, I say, This is what I think, it’s my point of view, but it’s based on research. I explain the scientific method. I ask them where their information’s coming from. And I have seen people come up to me and ask a question. I pick up books for people–I’ll just give them a copy.



Today’s poem


It’s not acute, it’s not happening right now

it is acute, it’s happening right now

in the here of our woods

in the where of where you were

liable to go for predictive suprise

of news that comes from elsewhere

if you’re actually acute

if you’re here it’s not news

where you’ve lived for years

for thousands of years

in your own self-interest

of painful action

if you’re already alive

if you’re asking for hurt

it’s a demonstration

if all of us are right

to be roared through horribly

before it’s not news

Alternate Histories: 6/13, 6/23


I remember in 1978 Louise and I were discussing, and I said, It’s justice, we gotta work on justice, and she said No, we gotta work on the planet. She said, If there’s no planet, what’s the goddamn point? Well, I went and worked in the justice system, in prisons, tried to clean things up a bit. I did good work, but now I think she was right. I’ll die before it’s dead. I’ve got about 15 years, I think. But it’s just getting more and more dead. My generation lives with it all the time–I don’t know about this generation, I don’t know how they see it. I can’t bear to see the trees being cut down. I can’t watch anything about the Amazon. It distresses me.



The next day, JL stood at his kitchen counter holding a framed picture of Louise in the same hand as one of her armbands, which he had kept, and asked for her help in thinking about the Amazon rainforest. He had never felt so foolish except in retrospect. Pointlessness, the fear of it, settled on him like a damp blanket. Thinking about it, his mind jeered at him, what good is thinking about it going to do? He felt the edges of the picture frame, the canvas seam of the armband. He turned his mind heavily toward the picture in his mind: a burnt brown stubble, ankle-high, bordering a tall green haze.

JL realized that he didn’t know what the Amazon was made of. Words like “canopy” and “understory” seeped into his thoughts: where did they come from? He did know enough to know that once he separated it into its parts, he would need to reassemble those parts again in order to know it, that a forest lives in relationships, in root-nodes, in flights and deaths. What good will knowing it do? sneered his mind. He blotted it out with green.

A week later, his head stuffed full of dams and farms and villages and cities, watersheds and weather patterns, symbionts and food webs and the sense that what almost overloaded his mind with green and brown and flashes of bright color was the tiniest, most inadequate scrap, JL quit his job. He signed his house over to the Narragansett tribe and cashed in his small 401K for his travels. He folded scratch paper together to make a book with fifteen pages.

In the first year, he stayed with a friend’s cousin and wept daily outside the Nike offices in the Flatiron building, picturing Mato Grosso forest cleared for cattle grazing. A small crowd gathered. The Humans of New York guy took pictures. But JL didn’t know about any of this. He was a statue with tears streaming down.

He used the second and third years to make his way toward the Vale Mining and BNDES offices in Rio de Janeiro. Sometimes people walked with him, and wept with him outside a Whole Foods or a lumberyard, a maquila or a superfarm. He worked on learning Portuguese on trains and buses, when he didn’t fall fast asleep with a skyline of brown stumps etching his inner eyelids. He lost his fifteen-page book back in northern Texas.

In the fourth year, he reached Rio. Someone said (in Portuguese), You’re the crying guy. Have you seen this? and handed him a phone with a cracked screen. As he slowly thumbed downward, puzzling out the sentences about weepers slowly seeping into corporate headquarters in San Francisco, in Houston, in Orlando, standing there eerily, like the walking dead, with ashes on their faces into which their tears carved rivulets, making it nearly impossible for the people who worked there to get anything done.

In the fifth year, while police and national guard forces were occupied with the weepers, Aweti, Kayapo and Wauja people sugared the gas tanks of building equipment, sent disabling lines of code to project computers, accepted donations of all the company food supplies from Belo Monte dam construction workers who were on their side. We turned around and it was gone, the men said, shrugging. No, we really couldn’t say what happened. We didn’t see it, but you know, we can’t work without anything to eat.

In the sixth year, JL was too sick to travel any more. Three families in Belem took turns taking care of him. A line of weepers moved southeastward to Bolivia, carefully picking up their trash as they went and occasionally, burying someone who died of hunger or snakebite or a bullet fired by a cop from a passing armored car. They learned from each other how to move well in the forest. They made lines and rings of human protection around the trees.

In the seventh year, JL died, worn out by hard travel and stress and grief. In China, people who couldn’t themselves go out to the shale gas fields in Sichuan Province to be weepers themselves tended old people and children, kept up farms and gardens, substitute-taught for third-grade classes, even stepped into factory shifts hoping devoutly that the shift bosses wouldn’t notice. Some didn’t; some did, but let it go.

In the eight year, microbes and beetles ate and digested and excreted JL’s coffin and body, and tree seedlings began to sprout undisturbed. Some died off, infected by blights and rusts, or eaten by tapirs and cows running loose after the people raising them had pulled up stakes and either joined the weepers or left the country in disgust. The cows and the tapirs were wary of one another but came to be companionable.

In the ninth year, the BNDES, unable to recoup its investments in Belo Monte and without the help of outside loans, collapsed in on itself. The weepers of Rio wiped their faces clean of ashes and took in many of the bank’s former employees, giving them a chance to let their old lives go. Some made the transition; one or two took their own lives; a few became violent and the young people of Rio drove them out of the city, where most died.

In the tenth, eleventh and twelfth years, small and very patient coalitions of forest families and their city cousins established indigenous settlements and mixed teaching settlements in and around Altamira, Fortaleza and Mujui dos Campos. Some of these thrived, others dissolved; cholera gutted one, one had to move because a spring dried up, one was washed away because it didn’t account for extreme flooding when a drought broke in three successive superstorms; a leading Matipu family lost patience and returned to their home. Babies were born, fevers cured, parasites adjusted to.

In the thirteenth year, weepers in Kuala Lumpur successfully shut down a logging company there, but this news didn’t reach Brazil and Bolivia until the fourteenth year, and spread only slowly, because many phone companies went under after BNDES and its affiliates collapsed, and people relied more and more on highly localized cell networks and runners.

In the fifteenth year, pacu and their food and their predators were thriving in the river, terra preta was forming again in some of the clearings, and in others, seedlings were bristling like hair.