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

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

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 6 walkbys

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

Pages of notes: 10

Peanuts references: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.11

 

Observations:

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

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

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

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

 

Some conversations:

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

How does it feel, to know that?

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

 

 

 

 

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

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

*

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

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

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Out of the Woods On Climate/Borders/Survival/Care/Struggle

This conversation with Out of the Woods, a collective investigating capitalism and climate change, gets at the heart of a lot of what I’ve been trying to do with the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth, the alternate histories, and the Interdependence Day gatherings (now on hold, but these writings may help us reinvent them).

“To say ‘yes’ to what we want,” they say, “and what is already created in cramped spaces – necessitates saying ‘no’ to the world that dominates save for those cracks or openings.”

I knew about Out of the Woods, but hadn’t spent a lot of time with their ideas and questions. I’m going to do so now.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market: Reflections

During my third stint at the Sankofa World Market, a woman around my age came up to the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth and spoke about the stresses of her present living situation: her sister with five children had moved into a house originally intended to hold the speaker, her mom and her brother; they were short on space and long on noise, and there were other circumstances within the family that made it harder for everyone to live together. As I listened and asked occasional questions, it seemed to me that I’d seen her before, but I wasn’t sure and I hate to be wrong about that. When we reached what seemed like the end of the conversation, she asked my name.

“Kate,” I said, and her face changed and I said the name I thought was hers, as a question. Then we shrieked, and I came around the booth to hug her.

She and I met when she was working in a social work or counseling capacity at a charter school, where a girl I was mentoring* was a first-year student; the three of us met together a few times, eleven years ago. This time it’s only two weeks before we see each other again. She tells me things are going better at the house, presses a variety of snacks upon me, gives me her card and flyers for the CSEA, where she works, and makes sad sounds when I say it’s my last day. We like each other.

The CSEA of Rhode Island holds literacy and citizenship and ESL classes, offers assistance to women and girls suffering from domestic violence, helps people with their taxes, provides interpreting services, works for voter registration. They do this for Laotian, Cambodian, Hmong and Vietnamese Rhode Islanders; that’s who they serve, though they do some of it with the help of organizations that also serve other people.

I was thinking about this and also about July 22nd, when I had three separate booth conversations about religious faith and practice. I have neither of those, but even I know that the fact that they provide a reason other than affection to look out for people is a fringe benefit, not their purpose. I’ve been thinking more and more about that benefit because, like the CSEA’s mission and practices, it leads me in the direction of relations within and between structures, as well as between people, that are or have the potential to be sustaining rather than exploitative. Love and liking are powerful, but they can’t be the only ways for a person to get what they need–what they actually need–any more than money can be. Cleaning a person’s house because they share your faith, or helping them successfully escape a violent situation because they share your history, is an alternative to doing so because they are paying you, and doesn’t depend on you liking them. And alternatives are what we are looking for.

These things are obvious, but I mention them because a good way to be sure something happens is to have a redundancy of systems set up to do it, and to achieve that redundancy, a lot of beings have to be part of making it happen–they have to agree or “agree.” That is, it must be built into their they, their we, whether or not that agreement is what humans call conscious. In the present, our human we is limited and impaired, perilously close to I, so it’s hard to get to the simplest answer of all: we’ll do this because you need it, or rather, some of us will do this because some of us need it. In the expanded, ecological sense of “we,” it’s even harder: proportionally few humans now know, or are even equipped to listen for, the alpine or arboreal complement or parallel to a “need” or a “decision,”** to recognize it, and to act in accordance with it. It’s become almost a truism, a sourly regurgitated tidbit, that as we live within extractive*** capitalism, we serve it by default; that our easiest actions are most destructive to ourselves and others. Yet surely this is true mainly of humans at the moment, more than it is of other living beings. By continuing to grow, to root, to bloom, to allow itself to be fed and to be digested, is the purslane resisting?

Another interlocutor at the market spoke bitterly about “actions” like changing light bulbs from incandescents to fluorescents–“distractions,” she said. We talked about arguments we’d heard for and against the fossil fuel divestment path boosted by 350.org and others. “If someone would say to me, ‘This is definitely what you and a lot of other people should do,'” I said, “I’d do it.” This puts me almost exactly where I was more than a year ago, and realizing that–that I still have no clear sense of a path to truly collective action and, more importantly, being–spurs my frustration and anger and sadness. One small side effect of that impaired “we” I mentioned above is that I turn those feelings back on myself. **** These reflections are fumbling, hampered, and slow. I’m sorry. Like you, I live in the world.

The second, related truism that sticks in my craw is exemplified by this quotation from Naomi Klein:

The hard truth is that the answer to the question “What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?” is: nothing. You can’t do anything. In fact, the very idea that we—as atomized individuals, even lots of atomized individuals—could play a significant part in stabilizing the planet’s climate system, or changing the global economy, is objectively nuts. We can only meet this tremendous challenge together. As part of a massive and organized global movement.

She at least makes the distinction of atomization–the “I”, the impaired “we.” But my point is that unless we follow this up with what each “I” must do in unison with a bunch of other “I”s, to make a less impaired “we”–what it is that “we” all must do together, or what some of us need to do while others of us do other things–that atomization will remain and we will be where we were before, which is where I am now. That’s why I’m looking at articles of faith, at organizations that turn externally imposed affiliations (“Southeast Asian”, for example) into sources of internal mutuality–the different “we”s that people are using, that might teach us how to say it better and for more reasons. I believe this will also be more helpful, not less, in making us responsive to the differences within the “we” (a carrot does not need what an oak tree needs, and it may be equally resistive for a person with one history to embrace what a person with another history eschews).

The Climate Anxiety Counseling booth is, in one sense, a one-woman show. (Someone recently rejected my suggestion that I “train” and send someone else to do it at an event I couldn’t attend myself.) There are reasons, detailed here, why it’s possible for me in a way that it might not be for other people. If it has the potential to be more than that, I haven’t yet successfully accessed that potential in what I’m doing or inviting others to do. This is a confession of frustration, but not of resignation. I will continue to try. I will continue to listen and ask questions.

* People who know me know about this person, who is a grownup now. I’m not going to say anything else about her here except that she is a terrific human being whom I love and admire.

**Robin Wall Kimmerer’s essay “Learning the Grammar of Animacy” describes learning to listen in this way. Expect me to refer to this work again: it’s important.

**Thanks to Gene Bernat of Living Systems Laboratory for this word, which possibly everyone else has already been using but which is the perfect name for what it is.

****For more about why this has a social or exterior valence as well as an interior or chemical one, Ann Cvetkovich’s Depression: A Public Feeling is a good resource.