Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/17/19

Weather: Gray, little wind, warm & muggy; cooler, breezier & more pleasant as time went on

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 4 walkbys, 1 map marker

Number of hecklers: 0!

People who got the Peanuts reference: 3

Pictures taken with permission: 2

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 3

Dogs pet: 0

Postcards against the Plant: 3

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $1.50

 

Observations:

It was my last day in this spot. I’ll be at the Sankofa Market (275 Elmwood Ave, outside Knight Memorial Library) starting TOMORROW, 6/19, and Wednesdays thereafter, 2-6pm. I’ll also be at the Miantonomi Farmer’s Market, at Miantonomi Park (named after the Narragansett Sachem of that area) on Hillside Avenue in Newport, Mondays 2-6 starting 7/1.

Cop and park ranger cars both at the west end of Kennedy Plaza when I arrived. The cop car left just after I set up. Another car, or the same one repositioned, parked at the corner of Dorrance and Washington, with two cops out of the car and leaning on it; they too left soon after. Yet another was parked at the old Greyhound bus stop 2:45-3:45.

Nonhuman animal presences: pigeons, sparrows, starlings that I heard before I saw them, tiny fly, even tinier translucent unknown bug who landed on my hand. One of the interlocutors reminded me to look up at the Superman building every now and then for peregrine falcons, who are nesting there, but I didn’t see them.

Of the 10 stoppers, 3 were looking for information—about climate change, about how it could cause anxiety—and demonstrated interest and illumination, which was nice. And one wanted to make sure that I knew about an action opportunity: the DEM’s public hearing for the air quality permit for the Burrillville power plant. Please do come if you can, or send a comment before July 15th if you can’t.

 

Some conversations

I’m not gonna be dead by 2050, and I heard on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” about a study that says civilization is gonna collapse by then.

Do you imagine what that’s gonna look like? What do you imagine?

Large scale epidemics, famine, drought. Government systems becoming more and more authoritarian in order to control the social effects [of those things]… My mom lived through a dictatorship in Portugal, the Salazar regime.

How do you feel when you think about this?

It’s frightening. Very frightening. I was just in New York visiting someone, and they had no issue talking about it, but I didn’t want to, because I was just trying to have a nice time.

Does your mind kind of go to it and go away from it? What do you do when that happens?

Sometimes I just let it run. But mostly I put on music and start singing along—it’s mostly music, or art of some kind, that gets me away from it. It is regularly on my mind, because [my job means] I need to travel. I drive all over the state fairly regularly, and I have to fly to conferences. It’s a requirement of my job and how I can contribute. I can’t just take a RIPTA bus to where I need to go.

What would make you more willing to talk about this with people?

People not being assholes.

Who have you had that happen with?

A cousin…I tried to contradict their points and they were just like, “No, I’m not listening.” And, “You think you’re better than us ’cause you went to college.”

*

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: We talk about it a lot together, and we talk about it with our friends.

Person 2: We’re vegan—I think going vegan is one of the best things you can do.* Factory farming is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. If you’re serious about stopping climate change and you’re not vegan, are you really serious?

Person 1: We go to rallies and protests—we live in the Berkshires, so if there’s anything happening anywhere in the country, there’ll be a rally in support. … We do a lot with the Farm Sanctuary, we support them with donations.

Are there things where you’re like, “Oh, I wish I could do more”?

Person 1: You want to do more but you don’t know where to go or what to do or how to do it.**

Person 2: Person 2: We run a gift shop, we really work 24-7. It’s hard to get away even for a weekend like this. It’s hard to go to things. But everything in the shop is vegan, if you see something that looks like leather it’s synthetic. We talk about veganism with people in the store, we sell a vegan cookbook.

Person 1: It’s true, I feel like we’re really more on the education side than the activism side. We’re more about doing the personal part.

 

*It’s a little more complicated than that.

**If the two of you happen to see this, or if any of my other readers live in the Berkshires/Western Mass, here are some “where to go or what to do or how to do it” things:

The Stockbridge American Chestnut Preserve could probably use some financial support and loudmouthed praise! This Twitter thread outlines the role that American chestnuts could play in feeding people, storing carbon & restoring forests; this article focuses on carbon sequestration and is a little more technical.

The Berkshire Environmental Action Team lists community events relevant to conservation, waste reduction and environmental justice.

MA Power Forward is working for a just transition to clean energy in Massachusetts; here are their legislative priorities for 2019-2020. Can you call your reps and senators about the bills listed here?

The fracked-gas infrastructure I mentioned is in Dover Plains, not Amenia, but it appears to be on track for construction; infographic below; here’s some recent coverage. People are picketing it this weekend and every weekend till November, if you want to go.

No photo description available.

[An infographic listing flaws and risks of the Cricket Valley Energy Center, a fracked-gas facility scheduled to be built in Dover Plains, NY in 2020.]

Sankofa World Market at Southside Cultural Center, 5/5/18

Weather: Bright, breezy, a perfect day to be outside

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 1 walkby, 1 bikeby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 6.5

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 1

Photos taken with permission: 2

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.10

 

Observations:

The Sankofa World Market will be at the Southside Cultural Center on the first Saturday of every month as part of Sowing Place. This was the first of these; the next will be June 2nd.

I count someone as a “stopper” if they have a multi-sentence conversation with me, whether or not it functions as a “session” and whether or not they give me permission to post our conversation here (I only post conversations if I ask for and receive permission). A “walkby” or “bikeby” comments but doesn’t stop. This time, I only had two postable conversations, but a lot of people marked the map of Rhode Island with places they’d like to protect (see below).

A theme of the day was isolation—which is both a reason I started the booth and something it’s only medium-good at responding to—and the need to practice communication.

Nonhuman animals spotted: mockingbird, bumblebee, someone singing whose voice I should know but didn’t, pigeons in various configurations, cabbage white butterfly, a small flying insect (not biting) unknown to me, a couple of swallows high up at the very beginning.

 

Some conversations:

My main anxiety about climate change is related to sea level rise, and what it means to live in a coastal community that’s already had major sea level rise in the past. In Olneyville, you get a perfect storm of high tide and full moon and rainfall and the banks of the Woonasquatucket just wash over. I get some hope from the way people pull together when these things happen, but we shouldn’t need a crisis to pull together.

How do you feel when you think about these things?

I don’t want to keep thinking about it. You know you need to, but you don’t want to, so you push it away. I try to sort of stick my finger in the wound every once in a while so it doesn’t close up—answers may emerge over time if you don’t let it disappear.

And what do you do when you think about it?

Some of the smaller things. I take small actions to mitigate my own impact. Even if it’s not appreciable on a seismic scale, it makes you feel better, like, “At least I didn’t drive today.”

Is it also part of the stuff you do with other people, have you made it part of the collective stuff you do?

I feel like in the collective stuff I do it’s more of a constant undercurrent. Like on the board of the public library, we’re talking about how the building could be underwater, and how do you build all the systems that go into a building so they’re not destroyed? I feel like it’s moved into a place of acknowledging the inevitability and doing new thinking about how to respond to it, rather than denial. But denial is a comfortable place to be in, in some ways … How in the things I’m involved with with racial justice does climate justice play a part? How does that always have to include the injustice of climate change? Like this LNG facility, and whose neighborhood is most at risk. It’s not one of the things that you’re always gonna hear me bring up, but I’m always excited when someone else does.

… I think the shift from “global warming” to “climate change” is helpful. And I think that creative people have an important part to play in our conception of the terms, to put pressure on how we’re thinking about it. That’s what I admired so much about Holly Ewald’s work [with UPP Arts], how she’s like, “I’m an artist but I’m also a researcher and I’m a convener. How can I bring other people to this and not just bring it into my [artistic] practice?” … And then as someone with access to resources and how they’re dispersed, how can I support, spot, amplify what others are doing? Contribute to the thing, whatever the thing looks like?

What are some things you’d like to contribute to?

I think–people coming together in intergenerational spaces to build trust and vulnerability. It’s hard to find an affinity around a negative, like fighting something we don’t want—what are we fighting for that we do want?

What would you want to come out of these spaces?

I guess policy is the thing, but local? I feel really paralyzed by a lot of what comes out of the national level, like if the EPA decides it’s just going to take all the regulations off polluting vehicles. And like, what California does on the local level has a much bigger effect than anything we could do. But if we could be part of a groundswell in New England—that’s another kind of collectivity. These nested scales, like people thinking about these questions together, then taking that to the civic and municipal level, the state level—I’m more and more drawn to going block by block than trying to make change in Washington.

*

I’m worried about the soil. It gets more and more acidic all the time. I’m worried about neighborhoods in low-lying places, and I really worried that people are sort of isolated, so if disasters happen we won’t be prepared to take care of each other. If the communication technology that we use gets broken down, especially, I’m afraid we won’t know how to work together. I’m also worried about drought. When I’m farming, my anxiety has to do with what I’m seeing on the farm—unpredictable weather patterns stress me out more. I always thought the longer I farmed, the better I’d get at knowing the pattern, that I’d become someone who can predict weather. Now I’ve been farming for ten years, and it’s more like I’m just more in touch with the chaos. I have a bigger record of how much things have gotten wacky. I started out thinking that farmers were kind of a repository for climate patterns, but we’re just repositories for climate anxiety.

… I have found that paying that close attention also results in observing lots of moments of resilience. Seeing plants under insane conditions thrive—I’ve become more sensitive to wild plants that live in the city. And I know that a lot of them are medicinal, so that makes me happy. There are a few plant buddies that inspire me in particular. Mullein—it’s good for the lungs, and it often grows along the highway, so it’s like it’s the lungs of the highway. And St. John’s wort is abundant in the city, and that’s for depression. I’ve been learning a lot about plant medicine lately and the idea that plants pop up where we need them—partly because my dad is depressed, but also, there’s a pervading sense of anxiety on the planet, and I’ve been realizing that it doesn’t work to cure depression by saying, “It’s gonna get better.” We need a different set of mantras, and plants suggest some—the way plants grow in community.

…Right now I’m my dad’s main connection to the world. And as much as the farm teaches me about the compassionate end of things, it’s different and almost criminal to apply that to my own father. But another thing I do at the farm is let plants and animals pursue their own life cycles, and just try to create conditions that hopefully allow things to thrive, or mitigate the pressures—if it’s a drought, I try to water things. One of the big lessons that plants have for us is reciprocity—there are no sacrificing plants, or martyr plants, although when a tree is dying it shoves its resources down through the mycelium layer so that other plants can use them.

I’ve been learning, when I’m feeling a need, to ask for help. This is kind of what we were talking about at the beginning of this conversation, having the communication patterns in place to support each other. If we practice that in our major or minor crises in our private lives, maybe we’ll be better at it in an environmental crisis. I’ve also been trying to receive care by creating the gatherings that feed me, and going to the gatherings that other people create. I always forget that because I think, “Oh, I need quiet time.” … I’ve been yearning for clarity on what the role of artists is in the moment. I feel in myself that poets have an essential role, in documenting, in mitigating, in envisioning—but it’s not everyday-obvious to me.

20180505_143308

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:

I wish the water in Roger Williams Park was clean enough for wading/swimming by the bandstand

Trinity Sq Neighborhood!

SCC [Southside Community Center] RI

Waterman St dog park

Sabins Point

Scituate Reservoir

Lincoln State Park

Little Compton

Two children have also drawn on the map, and one of them has written, “No LNG in PVD or anywhere. Take care of our ancestors.”

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

Weather: Hot, sunny and bright

Number of people: 9 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of climate change deniers/trivializers: 3

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 9

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

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

 

Observations:

 

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

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

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

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

 

Some conversations:

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

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

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

So it’s not something that troubles you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

Do you imagine what they’re gonna experience?

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

*

[These two came up together]

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

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

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

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

Person 1: The more we connect with people.

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

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

Person 2: Yes.

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

Climate Anxiety Counseling in Burnside Park, 10/15/15

Weather: “It’s fall weather, I can’t explain it.”–a young woman, on the phone

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5.5

Alternate Histories: 0

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

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

Self-induced hair colors spotted: old turquoise, new hot pink, deep purple braids, lavender pixie cut

People who I recognized from last time, and who recognized me: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.25

Observations:

I’ve found that during “for one night only” appearances, relatively few people come up to me–maybe they need time to get used to me being there?

Also, a Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy music-and-beer event was happening in the park itself, so people were maybe mostly in a different mode.

A woman who spoke up for me once when someone was harassing me was there, but she didn’t give any recognition of me.

Some conversations:

[These two were friends.]

Friend 1: Is it like people are worried about the climate?

Yeah.

[To friend] That’s smooth, right? I like that.

You got any anxieties?

Not about the climate. But it just goes to show there’s somebody for everybody that needs somebody.

Friend 2: Is it like global warming and the glaciers are melting faster than they’ve ever melted in the history of the earth?

*

I’m having trouble getting a bed. I have an apartment, but in the place I was staying in before that, they had bedbugs and roaches. I moved and I had to leave everything behind. I’m sleeping on a futon and it’s real uncomfortable.

*

I’m a little concerned about the lack of rain. It’s different from what I’d expect this time of year.

Are you a gardener?

I do garden, but in the long term I’m worried about the trees.

*

I’m discouraged by a lot of things outside of my control.

What do you do when you feel that discouragement?

I do something else–I think I circulate the anxieties. I leave the house, I do another job. It’s like the way I think about deep space–I think about deep space too much.

Do you talk about it?

I talk about it with my housemates, but there’s a lot of science I don’t understand, information I don’t have or don’t know how to approach. There’s a book [about climate change] I haven’t read yet… There are concessions I can make–it’s not that hard. I don’t have to have a car, I don’t have to use a lot of heat. I read an article that was talking about shooting this chemical cloud into the atmosphere–rather than solving any of the issues we’ll attempt to build some more technology, like, Oh phew, the scientists will save us. Like, We made the problem and now we’ll make the solution. It’s just this idea of progression.

*

Work. I work for a nonprofit organization, [NAME]. Fundraising can be stressful, but when you meet the families it’s worth it. We don’t receive any state funding, we’re all donor based.

*

Everyone in the world today recognizes that we’re on a path that’s not sustainable, except here. Even if somebody else recognizes it, nobody’s willing to take the drastic steps that we really need to take, but at least we could take half-steps and we’re not even doing that. I start thinking about where I could move that I could be more in control of. When you live in a large city like Providence, pretty much everything is out of your control. I rely on electricity that comes from thousands of miles away.

Today’s poem:

“Why should I cry” the music keeps saying

well if you won’t I can’t make you

any making I can do would wear

away the second we all turned

from each other into meat and bone

pick up our detritus with a grabber

something to make sure you never touch

word on the park is barrier after barrier

send the bums to that side

do you want the park or

do you want fast music or

to hold yourself in the back of the heart

some piercing point or other for the sun

to enter but never escape

after we matter and are all over

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Providence International Arts Festival, 6/13/15

Weather: Hot and bright, windy at times.

Number of people: 38 stoppers, too crowded to really hear walkbys

Number of people who read the sign out loud without coming close: at least 13

Pages of notes: 18, but I had to use the fat blue marker again because I forgot to bring down spare ink cartridges for my usual pen

Alternate histories: 2!

Pictures taken with permission: 3

Pictures taken without permission: at least 8

Dogs spotted: too many to count

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Flyers for other concerns proffered and accepted: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $16.85

Also contributed: a handful of chamomile flowers

Observations:

The parade included many beautifully costumed contingents, marching and dancing; even more delightful for me was seeing people in their costumes after the parade was over, walking regular, back to wherever they wanted to be.

Something I noticed in another context was also striking here: when some people feel overloaded and helpless, their attention jumps around, so that they start talking about one thing they can’t really handle and then, when I try to respond to that, jump to another thing they can’t really handle either. I’d be interested to hear if there’s anything other than anecdata that has tracked or studied this response.

I got more irritated with more people than I usually get, and showed it. This may have been partly a volume problem. I apologize. I also got very, very sad and helpless-feeling again toward the end of the shift. My poet-friend Brenda Iijima and I have been trying to talk about sadness and stillness as potentially generative, potentially fertile, instead of just something to try to avoid; I tried to bring those ideas into a couple of conversations, but I don’t think it worked very well.

I saw the Mayor, but he didn’t see me.

Special thanks to Thompson Webb III and S. Hollis Mickey for being part of this day’s session in multiple illuminating ways; to Rachel of the Free Pass Project for the generous and unprompted gift of a blueberry lemonade; to Yesica of the Avenue Concept for incredible facilitation; to Jen Long for holding onto the umbrella for me, for the loan of your jambox, and for your lovely and lengthy company.

Some conversations:

Money. The fact that I–obviously we need it to survive. I’m afraid that I won’t have a dime in my pocket again, it’s happened before, and I have to figure that out. But sometimes you have to question it–some people have so much, and some people have to decide whether or not to buy food.

Can you imagine what a world without that worry would look like?

It would be more primitive [sic], more focused on sharing each other’s talents, instead of being such a self-centered society. But if you just started doing it by yourself, it wouldn’t work–you need other people to join with you. They need to see how they can benefit too …

What are you good at, what could you contribute to something like that?

My time, my art. I’m good at writing, listening, dancing.

*

Climate change doesn’t bother me that much, but then I think, I wanna move to parts of the country that are close to water, and when I’m thinking about that I don’t think about the fact that the sea level is rising and that the coastlines will be–not where they were.

When you start thinking about it, why do you stop thinking about it? Or like, what if instead of stopping, you kept thinking about it?

I feel hopeless, like, Well that’s a thing that’s probably going to happen. If I thought about it more, then I think it would become this dystopian fantasy, and then it might get exciting, kind of morbidly thrilling because then I could write a story about it.

*

You wanna do it?

Well, I did it before.

That’s right, I forgot. Do you wanna give me an update on your anxieties?

There’s still so much trash. I was on the east side when Brown and RISD students were moving out, and they were just throwing out so, so much, and that’s just one or two small schools in one small city. I’ve been out to the landfill before, that’s not getting any smaller. I know that the Johnston landfill upgraded their recycling so you can just put everything in the bin together, and that improved recycling by like 25% or something. I think it’s about tackling stupidity, how do you do that?

Well, how come you aren’t–like you obviously don’t do this thing you’re noticing, how come?

My mother is something of a packrat, but she would always be like, This goes in the recycling. I can’t say what’s keeping people from doing it. Maybe there’s a stigma, like it’s like a hippie thing? A lot of [why people change things] comes down to cost. Like in manufacturing facilities I’ve been to, the distance between 2 machines will be more efficient because it saves money, not because of some holistic [didn’t catch the word]. How can we make it cheaper to recycle?

*

The drought in California. I joked about it, but then I was like, Maybe I shouldn’t joke about that. Maybe joking is my way of coping or maybe of being ignorant, using jokes as a way to hide my ignorance.

*

[This was a family who came up together]

Daughter: I know it’s the Ocean State, but I don’t want it to be an ocean state. It’s hard to evolve the ability to breathe underwater–it’ll take us at least four, five generations. I can’t swim very well. I can doggie paddle but I can’t swim, like, strokes. I’ll just have to sit on a log raft for the rest of my life.

Dad: I’m gonna put Mashapaug Pond on the map.

Mom: It’s already a toxic waste dump.

Dad: I know, I wanna protect it.

Can I ask–since you know that the things you just described are probably not what’s gonna happen, why do you bring them up that way, instead of things that are more likely to happen?

Daughter. Because a lot of people are very complacent, people aren’t paying attention. Hyperbole is a way to get them to see that it’s totally affecting them, it already has affected them. Maybe they don’t need it, but maybe they should.

*

Little Compton would be an awesome place to start conserving.

Can you say why Little Compton in particular?

Personal reasons. My brother and I used to go there together in the summer, and we called it the Shire, from the Lord of the Rings. It looks like the Shire in summer bloom. I hope it stays that way.

What could you do to help it stay that way?

My life is full–I could make more room in my life [for conservation].

*

I worked at Apeiron, I worked in Woonsocket. Life is so totally out of balance, so disconnected. We’re all implicated. It makes me so unutterably sad.

What do you do when you feel that sadness?

I try to put parts of my body on the grass and connect with Mother Earth … A lot will survive, but I think it might not be us. I try to breathe. I think about the bad things I do and how they contribute … I believe that everybody cares, given the opportunity to care.

I’ve been trying to think about what sadness might make possible.

Sadness leads to the desire for connection. Sadness informs reaching out. But I don’t share sadness often, because I want to make opportunities for people to perform their own responses, to facilitate a journey to authentic response. I want to be careful how I influence people–to promote why it’s good to be green [sic].

*

Once I dreamed that penguins were walking on the frozen ice of Lake Erie. They were zombie penguins, and they were hunting. People–not other penguins … There are a few dreams stashed in my memory about Lake Erie–I grew up on Lake Erie, and it usually registers strongly in my dreams. I like the name, Erie, the eeriness of it. I remember seeing something on TV about a place above Toronto that was melting, and people were seeing the opportunity to create economic profit from climate change, like, Bring on climate change, it’s gonna be good economically. My dream did the opposite–it froze the lake. I also dream about tornadoes, and when I dream about them, the air pressure in my ears always pops. I don’t know if that happens in a tornado, but I know the air pressure change can blow out windows. I’ve seen a lot of tornado aftermath–I remember working one night in the design office [in Ohio], I heard something, and I came out and there were trees all over the road. There was a lot of tornado anxiety–we lived in a ranch house with no basement. One took off my grandparents’ porch, and a fireball from a tornado burned the house across the street from my aunt’s house … Tornado season in Ohio is mainly in the spring–warm air and cool air just collide together and the sky just starts to roll over itself. That’s something every Ohio kid knows–the sign is that the sky turns green and it turns sideways.

*

Not having water, and burning from the heat. I come from another country, and in my village, we show respect to nature. We make sure that we use the land in a proper way. I’m quite aware that it isn’t done the same way here–the same level of respect is not applied. People here make fun of me–I even save my dishwater, and put it on my plants. Now I see that people are actually doing these things here more, and it makes me happy. I’m not such a weirdo after all … I’m not going to let ridicule undermine me. I do it out of love and care. If I can influence one person I will have won. Only for them I feel bad–I’m okay! I have Mother Nature’s approval and that’s much more.

*

[These two were mother and daughter.]

Mom: Warming in general. Typical stuff that you hear all the time. We’re connected together, so once one thing gets out of sync, the whole thing falls apart. I live in Pennsylvania, and this past winter was so cold, and a lot of people in the neighborhood suffered–they lost plants or trees. Nobody has any time to do anything. I just keep on going. But–I know how it sounds to say this, but I have faith in the next generation coming up.

Daughter: They say you’ve already screwed it for us.

Mom: Anything they tell me to do, I would do.

Daughter: We learn the limitations of humanity. In Rochester, the winter there every year is like this winter tenfold. I live up here, and this winter, we had federal emergency aid, we ran out of sand twice–if something actually catastrophic happens, we’re hosed. We’re not ready. We’re comfortable.

How can we get better at being ready?

Daughter: We’ve been conditioned out of it. It’s not an education issue, it’s an agility issue. “Here are the things that are in my capacity to do.” … And the media hype–I was at the grocery store before one of the big snowstorms, not because of that, I was just like, “I need some food, let’s go to the grocery store,” and there was someone from ABC in the parking lot asking me, “So, are you terrified of the big snowstorm?” We have the tools we need, it’s a mental thing.

Mom: I turn off lights, I do those kinds of things. It’s just the scientific things–now this is approaching, what am I gonna do? Now they’re saying that ethanol is not the solution because they may not want to use corn for fuel if they can use it for food–

Daughter: What, because you read one article? We’re really uninformed, and there’s not somewhere to get informed about this stuff clearly. We’re being slackers.

Mom: I’m being serious, I’m not being funny.

*

[These two came up together.]

Him: My big anxiety is that if you look back 65 million years, when the temperature jumped, it jumped in a span not of 100 but of 15 years, 8 degrees Celsius. We couldn’t adjust for it.

Her: The sea level rise from that–

Him: Basically if you melt all of [the] Greenland [Ice Sheet]* you get 8 meters of rise. If you melt East and West Antarctica, you get an automatic 300 feet. Countries other than the U.S. are gonna push for geoengineering, but that has massive negative consequences. And the other thing is methane. There’s a tipping point with methane release as polar ice melts, and it’s greenhouse gas with 27 times the power of carbon dioxide. That’s really the thing that’s gonna put us over the edge. No policy can stop that. Barring geoengineering, this will happen.

Her: Based on the models.

So if this is definitely happening, what does that mean–

Him: For civilization?

I don’t think you know that. For you.

Him: It would be very sad, because we’re of the generation that actually had a chance to have an engineering impact for future generations. Cheap agricultural production is gonna collapse, and there’s gonna be an expansion of people who are denied their basic human rights.

Her [to him]: I’m done, I’ll see you later. [Leaves.]

Do you think there’s structures we could set up now that would reduce the chance of that?

Him: When I was younger, I went to Cuba and I looked at agricultural reform that was part of the reaction of the government to Russia’s collapse. All the imports of things like grain stopped. So they had to move from an agriculture that was focused on producing coffee, sugar and tobacco to a diversified local agriculture that could feed the population of the island. They were overall able to adapt the food supply, shift away from state-run agriculture. If we could facilitate such a shift–but agriculture runs off fossil fuels and glacial meltwater … I got burnt out on international development. Now I’m just trying to make money enough to make sure my family is safe. I’m building nonmilitary drones–they make 3D plans of buildings … I don’t see a total extinction event, I just see a very rough period for human rights. We have a tendency to hunt till there’s no more, drill till there’s no more. I personally think that humans are awesome, because humans make awesome things–humans are grasping the fundamental nature of reality in a way that no other creature has.

*Doctor’s note: Follow Ruth Mottram on Twitter to learn more about the Greenland Ice Sheet.

*

I work with fishermen–for example, I try to develop different fishing gear to solve some sort of problem, ways to catch this but not that. So one guy tells me that the times when he’s allowed to fish for whiting have shifted away from when the whiting are actually running–he wants me to help him shift the season so he can target these fish.

So let’s say you were successful in doing that. What other changes might you expect to see?

I can’t answer that, because if the population is changing because of something other than what he’s doing–there’s just too many factors. There needs to be a step back before that question. One of the buzzwords right now [in the fishery] is switching from population-based management to ecosystem-based management, but no one has defined the ecosystem they want. First you need to define that–if you don’t know where you’re going, what are you doing? So in fisheries management, we know historically the highest population of cod, and we also know the highest population of dogfish. But were they ever the same? Can they both be at their peak at the same time? Instead of the maximum sustainable yield, what do you want your world to look like? We have a strong dogfish population right now, but we have problems with other species–it’s not even necessarily that one’s eating the other. They could be competing for the same food. As a fisheries guy I try to take an unbiased stance–not saying this is good or this is bad, but let’s make things sustainable … if it’s not sustainable, it’s a losing game for everybody.

*

My sons are gonna be adopted. I have two sets of twins and they’re all gonna be adopted, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t stop drinking every day. Other than that–I just got a job, I’m okay.

You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want, but is it the kind of adoption where you can see them?

I can see them one day every month, and that day I can see them all day long. I’m friends with the lady who has them–she’s my babysitter.

*

I have several anxieties. I can’t grow stuff in my garden–there’s too much lead in the soil. I just got a notice from the water department about lead in my water at the same time as a notice about a rate increase. The environment is so compromised that it’s beyond repair. But then there’s the people who rebuild Jacob’s [Point] Saltmarsh–they rejuvenated a thousand-year-old ecosystem. I wanna be involved with something like that.

*

Person 1: I recently decided not to have children, and I’m worried that no one will be able to take care of me. I think it’s partly the influence of society–when I tell people this, they’re all, “Who’s gonna take care of you when you’re old?” I have two elderly friends, and I’m actually their caregiver. I’ve been a CNA before, and one of the things that made it hardest for me was actually the lack of compassion and creativity in my colleagues–and losing friends.

Person 2: There are a lot of professional caregivers in my family, and I’ve learned that the caregivers need as much stress relief as the patients do. The people in my family who do it have high blood pressure, they’re overweight, a lot of them smoke–

Person 1: I’ve started and quit smoking several times.

*

I have a job interview on Monday in account management.

What are you doing to get ready for it?

I’ve talked to someone who’s a current employee, and I’ve been doing meditations. I’ve been listening to those subliminal ones about confidence.

*

When people can’t afford to just move away from problems–like, when the sea levels rise and you can’t afford to just leave your beach house because that’s your house … Have you done anything with iSeeChange.org? You could send some of this stuff in to them.

*

More storms. But it doesn’t feel personal to me, not like a personal fear. It’s more like the collective weight of an increasing level of disaster. It feels like a heavy weight, a collective weight of too much–too much happening at once. I have some sense of the fallout of that kind of [event]. I think there’s a lot of people that would vanish, would fall away, would die, and then the few people who are left would have to sort it out.

*

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.

*

[While talking with me, Person 1 saw her friend, Person 2, and called her over.]

Person 1: Are all the trees gonna go away?

I don’t know. That’s one of the things that scares me the most, and I have the hardest time thinking about it.

Person 1: It’s even hard to be in New York, where there are trees, but just so few. It feels like dying when I think about it.

I’ve been trying to figure out what to do when I feel sad and scared like that.

Person 1: I personally have to heal first and then do things. Sadness is not an action on its own for me–I’m still, I can be quiet, I can listening, feel whatever I can–but I can’t act out of that. I wish I could desensitize a little.

Person 2: Today there was a dead seal on the beach, and it didn’t have a head. I think maybe some scientists came down and decapitated it? Would a human decapitate a seal? I feel helpless when I think about [climate change], I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.

Person 1: When I’m in traffic to Boston, for my job, I feel so helpless. How many trees am I killing, just sitting here? Like who am I now? That’s when I get angry.

Person 2: I just landed this lifetime in this world, I didn’t make it this way. I can’t allow what I’m not doing to [didn’t catch the word].

Person 1: I feel so overwhelmed by all these years of, Let’s have a garden! Let’s ride our bikes! I don’t wanna say I wanna give up, but I’m exhausted.

*

The East Bay Bike Path is done for. It’s too close to the water, and it is my daily commute. I think about it a lot. … I think it’s not really valued enough–these are the types of things we’re gonna lose first, because things that can be profitable, people who can profit from them will protect them.

I didn’t write a poem for this day.

Alternate Histories: 5/7, 6/5

5/7/15

I live in the forest in southern Oregon and each year, we get less rain than the year before. Two summers ago, it was raining embers from the Brimstone Fire all summer long. They said if visibility was less than half a mile, the air quality was hazardous–I couldn’t see 50 feet through the smoke. I don’t have anxiety, I have straight-up PTSD from these fires. Two months ago in Portland, Portland normally gets tons of rain, it was just like this, the cherry blossoms were just like these. In March. People were saying they enjoyed the weather but they couldn’t enjoy it because they knew what it meant. There’s no snow in the mountains, and that means extreme drought, and that means extreme fires–forest fires there are like blizzards here.

What would have to change for reforestation to really take hold?

The heads of the timber industry would have to not be in charge of it. It’s a conflict of interest.

6/5/15

When his treatment was complete, P went back to Oregon and offered his cabin as headquarters to the relatives of the receptionist at the clinic where he used to go.

A few months later, a group of Klamath and Modoc families showed up at the offices of the Associated Oregon Loggers’ office in Salem. They said, We’ll manage the forest for you–we’ll do the burns, we’ll handle reforestation–if you support the legislation to un-dam the Klamath River and cede the forest land back to us over the next ten years.

This could be a barbecue pit over the next ten years, the forest policy manager said.

Then it’ll be our barbecue pit, said one of the spokeswomen. But it won’t be.

It’s national forest, he said feebly.

We won’t tell if you won’t, she said.

Trees grow slowly, and the rains and snowmelt have been changing along with the temperatures. The conditions that nurtured trees now mature don’t exist for today’s seedlings and their commensal species; the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin foresters consulted people in northern and central California and made decisions about what to heavily protect, what to let go and what, even, to introduce. There was more western juniper and ponderosa pine than there used to be, and hairy woodpeckers tapped disconsolately in the stumps of mountain hemlocks. Students from Rogue, Southwestern Oregon and Klamath Community Colleges helped keep down invasive plants–“They’re just like you,” the grandmas and aunties half-joked–and spot tree blights. On burn days in the fall, some Umatilla volunteers and even some Portland residents came down, and they fanned out grimly through the understory, ready to leap on a spark that might betray them.

Alternate Histories: 6/6, 4/23

6/6/14

I’d rather talk about global anxieties than personal anxieties! I have to talk about it! Auuugh! I just wanna shred things! I think the most impending one seems to be that there are a lot of people and places that could quickly be gone and nobody seems to give a shit about that. Like is this just another form of watching people die because they’re different from you. What island cultures will be gone? And people are just like, “Yup, that’s the deal.” And the other thing is seeing people talking enthusiastically about the profits to be made from water. Like, “How can we monetize this? Here’s the opportunities in this.”

*

4/23/15

In the following year of the drought, growers in the San Joaquin Valley agreed to phase out their crops over the next three years. As they’d involved and tangled so many other people in creating the drought, they prepared to untangle them slowly.

Individual farm managers worked to learn what else the people who’d been picking fruit could do: medicine-mixing, carpentry, speaking with the dead, tinkering with machinery, sign-lettering, smelling out a lie, butchering a goat, sorting out a dispute, weaving a rope, preventing a pregnancy. Some of the older people had grown food in their home towns, enough for a few people at a time. Could everyone who was on the land at the moment stay there, if they wanted to, if they let the monocultures wither, planted and foraged with care, lived more in line with the temperatures and the weather and helped the soil to recover? Would there be water enough for that?

If you’re dishonest with us, said the people who’d been picking fruit, if you try to hurt or shoot us, if you bring police or soldiers in to destroy us, we’ll kill you. You understand, we’ve never known you to act right. You need to prove yourselves to us.

If I tell you that the growers said Yes, we understand, will you believe me? You believe me when it goes the other way–the menace, the suspicion, flowing from strength toward weakness–because you’ve seen it, or maybe you’ve lived it, or someone has told you about it. But there’s nothing natural about that. It’s not gravity itself, but alignment with a certain set of forces. There are others.

Yes, we understand, the growers said.

On the loose and crumbling rocks of the Great Divide, on the mountains that cast the rain shadow, rivers flow downhill both ways, and female grizzlies climb up with their cubs to protect them from male grizzlies, who want to kill the babies that aren’t theirs. The rocks are too loose, too slippery; the males can’t manage there. The females barely can–they have to walk carefully. The babies are fine. Of course some of them do die, and of course some of them do grow up to prowl, frustrated, at the edge of the loose rock, where they can’t climb.

People aren’t the same as bears. After all these years, people aren’t even the same as other people. We can choose what we learn, the forms and sites of our danger and our safety, the direction of the flow of our justice and our mercy.

Alternate History: 5/17, 4/5

5/17/14

I don’t think we understand how much energy the sun provides us. It’s clearing out the devil’s terrain and it’s polluting the air up here … Stuff can be recycled, the rest of garbage can be used as compost, we need reusables, less plastic. My thing is to [word?] that there’s only so much we can do with this oil that’s penetrating our waters. I was in the Bahamas, it was so pristine, the water was so clear–I don’t think it’s like that anymore. Warwick, Cranston, some parts of Providence is in danger. EP is more elevated so we’ll probably be okay. Narragansett, all of that is gonna … The bugs would not be getting this virus if the gas prices weren’t so high. They should spend that extra gas money to dispose of this stuff properly! And how we’re getting sick from a little tiny tick, a mosquito–we can’t go outside past a certain time, we can’t play baseball. My father had a recycling company and he actually got caught polluting the Woonsquatucket. Women are getting cancer, they wonder what’s going on with the frogs … They have no compassion, they’re livin’ large.

*

4/5/15

When the fuel companies, straitened by lowered consumption and left without subsidies, cut everyone’s wages, there was no longer any reason to live in the oil or shale boomtowns, and no one in their right mind would stay on a platform in the heaving, troubled ocean. Meanwhile, floods in the river valleys and droughts in the high plains and chaparral had people, animals and even plants on the move. Everyone from the Girl Scouts to the National Guard helped with the convoys, which most people knew could only happen once–after that, the fuel ran out, and travel would be slow.

Who was living in the land of Canaan? Did they make the travelers welcome? Did they invite them to come there?

In the wet places, the people from the high ground opened their houses to the people from the low ground and the dry ground, or moved in together and handed their houses over, meeting exodus with openness. They brought their skills and their illnesses. Doctors were so busy that banks began forgiving them their mortgages and loans, and medical schools began training students for free. Healers and herbalists took apprentices.

Fifty years later, here and there around the world, people spilled on the earth one drop of water for each of the plagues, for those that struck them and for those that passed them by but struck someone else:

DROUGHT

EXPLOITATION OF LABOR

CARCINOGENS

FLOODS AND DISPLACEMENT

INSECT-BORNE ILLNESSES

REFUSAL OF MEDICAL CARE

DEHUMANIZATION

DEFAUNATION

DEAD WATER

COLONIZATION AND GENOCIDE

They told the stories and then ate together, sharing what they had found.

Sand blew across the dry places, the tan cities. In the wet places, with human sewage and human synthetics slowed down or diverted away, insects emerged from their pupae and the few remaining frogs began to prosper.