Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY at Millerton Farmers’ Market, 10-1, with Joel Schapira, my actual dad

Today (Saturday, 8/17), for the first time ever, I will offer Climate Anxiety Counseling in the area where I grew up: in Millerton, NY, just over the state line from my hometown. The farmer’s market there runs 10am-1pm, and I will be there to listen to your climate change anxieties and other anxieties. My father, Joel Schapira, will also be there sharing art buttons, as he has for the past few years, and my mother, Diane Schapira, will be selling the pottery she makes. Come and see us.

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Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY at the Sankofa World Market! With special guest!

Today I’ll be at the Sankofa World Market (275 Elmwood Ave, Providence) 2-6pm, and so will my youngest sister. (We may be a little late getting there if her bus is late.)

My sister is the best: a maker of theater, an educator, a noticer of plants, a mender of clothes, someone who through care contributes to justice. I learn from her and look up to her every day. Here’s the pea fence we put up in her front yard planter boxes.

pea fence

[IMAGE: a wooden planter box on a city street, with garlic coming up on one side, and a pea fence made of old curtain rods and yellow yarn.]

Day 1: Locating Ourselves & Racial Identity Formation

For the Food Solutions New England 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge; prompt here. I did the signup wrong so am starting late. (Some of this seems a little…potentially burdensome for people of color? “Consider talking with someone you know, who would be willing, who identifies as being of a different race”?)

I feel like the number of words that anyone wants to read from a white person about being white is limited, no matter what the words are, so I will try to keep it short (for me, this is short):

When I was a kid I knew I was Jewish, because my family talked about it (and so, occasionally, did other people). I didn’t know I was white; most of the people I knew were, and none of us talked about it.

Thinking critically about whiteness and white supremacy started for me mayyyybe ten, twelve years ago? (I am 40.) The work of a number of online writers, mainly Black women, mainly writing for readers of color, laid some groundwork and so did the act of participating in the conversation ONLY by listening. This enabled me to both read more deeply and learn more from people I know as well.

My sense of myself as a colonizer or settler, or at least as someone who reaps the benefits of those enterprises, is much younger, maybe three years. The pattern is similar: this is a lesson started for me by writers and thinkers online, on Twitter and elsewhere, in a way that has enabled me to continue reading more deeply and learning more from people I know.

Between these two, I would say that my present sense of white people is something like, “People who, when we live someplace, make things worse there.” One way I try to address this is by not going very many places, or into very many contexts, unless I am invited–though sometimes I ask for an invitation.

The prompt asks, “How do you think about your own racial identity and its relevance to your life, work, studies and/or volunteerism in the food system (or as an eater)?” Certainly my class, as shaped by my race, affects what I can afford to buy to eat. This also affects the time and energy I have available to volunteer with Hope’s Harvest RI, which I do from time to time (maybe you can too?). And the food that I eat is grown/raised on land shaped by colonization, genocide and enslavement, and in many cases grown by people who–partly because of white supremacist interference in their or their ancestors’ countries of origin, partly because of the way capitalism and white supremacy work together now–are trapped and depleted by the work that they do.

For four years now the Sankofa Market in Providence has kindly hosted the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth (they’re looking for gardening volunteers! Email dresendes AT westelmwood DOT org!)–and I infer that my being white, in a neighborhood mostly dwelt in by people of color (at a farmers’ market where most of the vendors are people of color, which is an offshoot of a housing development corporation that has a high proportion of both staff and participants of color) affects people’s willingness to speak with me–as well as activating my own background racism, though I try to be aware of it and not let it shape the way I’m interacting with people. Here is a picture of me, so you can see what people see when they look at me.

my face mom hat

Passover is coming up, one of the two Jewish holidays that my family celebrates as a family. I love it; I love the way that my own family has made room to acknowledge the holiday’s complexities and complicities, and the format of the Seder has been a huge influence on the way that Climate Anxiety Counseling works. There is a long email thread about who’s going to cook what, which I have mostly been ignoring, but I just made a deal with my mom about the brisket (grass-fed, organic, expensive, probably from McEnroe Farm), on Matabesec Mohegan land–which, full disclosure, I never knew until I looked it up to write this): if she teaches me how to cook it, I will do the part she hates, which is slicing it up before putting it back in the gravy.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Armory Park Farmers’ Market, 8/24/17

Weather: Temperate, with clouds and sun, cool toward the end

Number of people: 10 stoppers, no walkbys that I noticed

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

People who recognized me, and I them, from previous booth sessions: 3

Dogs seen: 23

Dogs pet: 4

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.60

 

Observations:

Still didn’t line up an interpreter. Bad move on my part, and not fair. A friend who also works at the Sankofa World Market says that he can do it next time if it’s a language he knows.

I was in a different spot than my last time at this market—in the shade, over by the busiest vendor.

I had a long conversation with someone that I didn’t get permission to record. She came back with an apple: “’Cause you helped me out with some advice so I’m helping you out with something to eat.”

Two girls added their houses to the map, and a grandma marked the park itself and talked with me about dog attacks and plums. She came back to show me the plums in her walker compartment. And a little boy added a number 1. When I saw him pointing it out to his parents, I held up one finger and he did it back.

 

Some conversations:

I actually had a very bad day with climate anxieties last week. Too much New York Times and spending too much time on Twitter. A lot of doom and gloom, a lot of false insistence that the end is very very near.

What happens when you read things like that?

I get scared instantly, and I dive into it one thousand percent. A whole day is lost. It’s hopelessness coupled with an underlying desire/understanding of—it’s harder to live amidst the changing world rather than be like, “It’s all over.” It is way way harder to imagine the world not ending than the world ending.

What do you imagine it being like—the world not ending?

Things getting materially really difficult for a large number of people. It’ll probably include a lot of geopolitical conflict over who gets what resources and who is allowed to go where in light of restricted ability to [inhabit] certain areas. We’ll have to fight people who are trying to claim resources and then sell them back to us.

And what do you see yourself doing in this world?

That’s a harder question to answer. I’m moving to LA next month. I grew up there … In a locally specific way, LA was built on making a grab for resources. It exists the way it does because someone was like, “We can bring water here.” I’m thinking of focusing in on that as a site of action, while trying to keep an eye on everything else. In focusing in on one area, there’s this inherent feeling of failure that you’re not doing anything in all the other areas.

Is there a way to combat that?

I guess talking to people working in those other fields and understanding what’s on the horizon. More reading, more conversation. It also helps when I think that this earth was around before us and it will be around after us. But it hurts a ton. It’s just hard—and it’s hard to grieve for something that’s in progress.

*

I’m worried about coastal communities. I’m a geology student, and we used StormTools —you know about that?–to do a project on Misquamicut Beach. It’s gonna be gone very soon. It’s really concerning to me–it doesn’t seem like anyone is that panicked about it, and we should be. Down there, there are a lot of second homes, vacation homes, but there’s also lower middle class communities, people who can’t afford to pick up and move, and those houses are gonna be worth nothing.

Do you feel like people know about this?

I’m only aware of this because it’s a big topic in geology. The general public is not well informed. I went to that talk on gentrification, and the guy was like, “Who’s heard of StormTools?” and when people put their hands up, he was like, “Now everybody who’s a professional, put your hands down,” and I was the only one who kept mine up.

Is it hard to use?

The labels are kind of confusing. People wouldn’t necessarily know the abbreviations. It could be cool to have a workshop on it at the library. And I would love to do one on energy, with this rate hike.

*

I read the article that everybody read— “Here’s all the horrible things that are gonna happen.” All my friends texted me, and I texted everyone. Everyone was just like, “There’s nothing to do. None of us should plan for the future.” But then I talked to my girlfriend’s dad about it, he’s a climate scientist and a lawyer, and he was like, “It’s gonna be fine.” But he’s into engineering climate science so that everyone can continue not changing their behavior. He’s into nuclear energy. I don’t know if I believe him

… I’m thinking about where I wanna live. My partner’s buying a house—do I stay here and help her paint the bathroom? Maybe the best thing she can be doing is running a cooperative house and keeping the rent really cheap. And then I read another article that was like, “Do not move to New York if you’re a white person with a college degree, we don’t need any more of you.” But that’s another question: where are people going?

*

I’m always moving too fast. They call me “the turbo.” When I start a job, I’m anxious until I finish it, and what I don’t like is I don’t get the same treatment back. Someone else will do it, but it doesn’t come fast enough out. It’s always a fight– “You don’t move as fast as I do, so I think you don’t want to.” It’s not as important to them.

*

It seems like everyone I know is getting seriously ill. My mother had breast cancer, and I’m convinced that much of it’s environmental.

Are you worried that it might come back?

All the time. Everytime something goes on [with her health] that’s my first thought. And then I was supposed to hang out with a friend today, but she called me and she was like, “I can’t, I’m panicking, I got bad news from my doctor.” All I know is she has to go for tests.

Yeah, the uncertainty–

–adds a whole extra level. Each piece of news get worse. With my mom, I got to the point where I dreaded taking her to appointments, and even though it’s been four years, you drop back into it. It’s like emotional anaphylactic shock … It felt ubiquitous for a while. I’m also getting older, so things like this are happening more.

How do you respond during these times, what do you do?

I guess I just try to be helpful. With my mom it was a different thing. With friends, I try to help on the day to day. Making food, that’s always good. Walking dogs. Checking in if they need to talk.

And how do you deal with it for yourself?

Doing what I can to help people helps me deal with it. I’m also glad I have the job that I have. With my mom, I did not take care of myself in a lot of ways, it wasn’t just the cancer, she had a nervous breakdown and I had to take care of her, but in Rhode Island we have TDI. So I talked to a doctor to get time off work, and I would not have been able to continue doing it without that.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market, 8/16/17

Weather: Hot and bright, with some help from big puffy clouds

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 6

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 1

People who recognized me, and I them, from previous booth sessions: 2

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.05

 

NOTE: As I type this, the Houston area is undergoing terrible flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Their emergency services are at capacity. Please watch this space in the coming days for how to get money and other resources to people there. One to start with: Portlight serves people with disabilities during and after disasters like these. There’s a donation button at the bottom of that page.

 

Observations:

A cop car drove by with flashers, no siren, at 2:23.

I took a break at 3:15 to buy blueberries, goya/bitter melon (the official vegetable of Climate Anxiety Counseling), collards and cilantro. I ate the blueberries while sitting at the booth. They were very good.

Two small girls added “The Pool” and some art to the map of places they’d like to protect. One of them likes to step in and one of them likes to jump in. The one who likes to step in says she’s afraid of sharks and the water is cold. Another child added “I love my house and my mom” to the map. Later, a little boy came up and asked about the map, and after I explained it, he said thoughtfully, “So if someone put the pool it means like not to dirty it. And somebody put their mom’s house so no bad guys come there.”

I have to get better at not crying when the conversation is about what should or needs to be done.

 

Some conversations:

My background is in environmental issues, but I’m not working on climate directly, and I feel really guilty about that.

Why aren’t you?

‘Cause I took this job. There weren’t jobs directly related to climate in this area, and my family’s here. When I hear about issues about climate in the news, or talk with other people who are working on it, I have that jealousy. What do I want to have accomplished in my life? Before, I worked on mountaintop removal mining–“stop the bad thing.” Now I’m looking for action happening at the city and state level. It’s hard for me to even imagine working in the private sector, so it’s got to be government or non profit.

What are you good at?

I’m good at synthesizing. Thinking big, putting information together, making sense of it. Research, writing, learning how to manage things and people, which is actually really hard. I’m good at learning new things …

… I get mad at myself for not getting involved.

*

 

I’m waiting to get my account done so I can get my car and go to work again. If that don’t work, I’ll go out in the middle of the road and never buy a watch. It was a year ’cause they did the claim—I got the car, got my license renewed…What’s impressive is that I don’t just jump.

*

 

Have you heard grownups talking about climate change?

Yeah, on the news. I’m gonna go to the Caribbean.

If it happens?*

Yeah, I’m gonna ask my grandma to take me. She lives in Florida, but that’s where she’s from.

 

*Doctor’s note: In retrospect, I realize that this was a really unhelpful, not to say dumbass, way for me to put it.

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

Weather: Heavy, humid, cool but with underlying warmth

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 6 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1 video!

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 7

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $20.20

 

Observations:

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

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

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

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

 

Some conversations:

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

Do you talk with people about this?

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

Person 1: Donald Trump is worrying me.

What about him?

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

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

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

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

Can I ask what else you’ve tried?

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

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

[These two came up together.]

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

Are you from Florida?

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

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

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

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

Drastic things have happened.

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

How do you handle it when you have these feelings?

I kinda go into the abyss of my brain.

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market, 8/9/17

Weather: Warm and bright

Number of people: 2 stoppers, 3 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Number of children: Approximately 1000

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.05

 

Observations:

A good day for the food part of the market (which is important!), a slow day for me. I’ve asked if I can put my booth nearer the front to see if more people will see me and stop to talk.

I could smell the clover. And when I bought parsley, collards and limes, a wasp came to investigate them.

Wiser people than I have written about the flaws in the most common understanding of overpopulation, but of course I didn’t bookmark the places where they did it. If I can find them, I’ll come back and link.

 

Some conversations:

I was thinking about this because I knew I’d be able to make it here today. It’s not anxiety. It’s sadness, just a lot of sadness. I’ve been trying to focus on it more since November. It was never my thing, I was in land use and conservation—it felt like there were enough people interested in the climate thing. A lot of the dialogue is in terms of human goods, and conservation is a harder sell. Since November, I’ve had this feeling of, “I just need to be with people doing something.” I was never sure that we would get it together, but it seems so unnecessary that we would take over all the resources in the world for human benefit. I mean, there’s a conversation that needs to be had, but “Why wouldn’t we boil ourselves to death”–except for billionaires–I don’t understand your game theory here, people.

I’m not in denial but I’m in avoidance. Someone made the point that I’m not in the category of people that’s gonna be most affected. It’s going to be be incredibly harder and less avoidable for the majority of other people. And the social problems that’s gonna cause, I can’t contemplate that—I’m baffled and sad that people would make the world meaner.

… I don’t stay with the sadness very often. It took a lot of thinking for me to get to naming it as sadness. That wasn’t conscious. I became more interested in looking at the maneuvering and social capacity for change. I worked on policy and legislation, and it started to feel like banging my head against a wall. I don’t wanna be banging my head against the wall, talking to a different version of the same city councilor! How can we increase the social capacity for change in other ways? I don’t mean I accept it as inevitable—I very much hope it isn’t—but things are already happening and they are going to keep happening. Even without climate change, there’s this inequity of access to opportunity, the resources of living in a way that’s possible and pleasurable. …. I acknowledge that humans as a category are already using too many resources, so it’s a question of fairer distribution, which seems pretty easy. But what do we do when we start coming up against the resource limits?

What are the things you’re saying people should have?

A place to live that feels nice and safe. Good food. Knowing that there will be continued and sure access to good water. To be able to relax—not just be fighting through trauma, not having that take away your opportunity for something more. People don’t have to do more than survive. If we continue with the orientation of US society– “We will give you fertility drugs and food, but not birth control”–it’s not reasonable for an ever-increasing population to have everything that everyone would need. We need caps on population and if they’re not self-imposed, they need to be externally imposed. …

[What I’ve been drawn to is] “This is where we focus on the community that we have here”–organizing for a generative purpose. Speaking up, being heard, that’s important, but it doesn’t feel like a whole answer. I want something more like, “We’re gonna clean this space, we’re gonna grow food.” My big project that I come back to is: how does one respond to someone else coming in and claiming space that you don’t think should be claimed? “Don’t mine the fossil fuels, this is a preserve, this is off limits.” How do you do that? Is there a way to do it?

One way to do it is what we’ve seen with water protectors, at Standing Rock and in other places.

Yeah, but when the other side wants to obliterate them, is willing to—I mean, maybe that’s what it takes, you keep doing it and you keep showing up, maybe you just need more people. But what does that look like for people who don’t have the physical ability or the transport abilition to be there and show up?

A question that I’ve been asking is, what are we holding back and what are we willing to give up?

That assumes you’re holding back, or that you have to give something up rather than gain something. It depends who you’re speaking to and why … It’s not about people feeling the lack of things so that we can survive, but there can be a limit on where we settle, a limit on population growth. Historically these have come in the form of resource limitation—fasting and amenorrhea, for example—or resource non-use, like marine protected areas where there are stories about that being a cursed place where you don’t fish. Things built into how we live, not a penance. … But in terms of giving up—I use fossil fuels to go see my family, but cutting myself off from my family that way is not where we necessarily are. And then—my husband just got his greencard renewed, and so I’m thinking twice before doing things, or even tweeting things—we just found out that he’s eligible for citizenship, and until he has that—on one hand, it’s playing into exactly the reasons that people do it. This is the person I have my life with, and I don’t want to put that in jeopardy. Even though he’s among the least likely to be targeted and stigmatized. Is that selfishness? I wouldn’t go lie down in from of an ICE truck. Is it reasonable for this to take space in your like? I don’t feel like being me and living my life is compatible with going to pitch a tent. One of the things that troubles me about the two sides is that the money and oil powers get to have proxies. They have the police, they have the army. And the expectation on the other side is that everyone to be fully involved should bodily be there. And that’s not fair. What are we really weighing or examining?

What our responsibility is to our fellow creatures?

I want that question to go with “…that works for me also? That respects myself?” If it’s not going to, what’s the reason? That’s just this incredible choice between self-harm that’s chosen because you have the compelling goal to reach and self-harm that’s chosen just to harm, and harm that’s imposed. … This feels really important to me for someone who has to be goaded into thinking about it: what’s the best use of you? My hope is that it can be a moment of recognition, not an imposed asking. It’s a matter of people, in dialogue or because of realizations, saying, “This is not the best use of me.”

*

Sometimes you get overwhelmed. Every little thing is like maximized. I come home from work, and I’ll hear the water running or something, and out of nowhere I just get overwhelmed.

How does that show up? What do you do when you get overwhelmed?

I lash out, I scream. I feel hot.

What do you do after that happens?

I try to make myself change the mood.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market, 8/2/17

Weather: Hot, bright, humid; later, got windier and cooler, but no less humid

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Number of children from BRYTE Summer Camp who crowded around me gleefully asking questions: 8

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island: $2.12

 

Observations:

The clover in the library lawn, which last week was mowed short, is somewhat back and so are the honeybees. The hula-hoop providers are also back, and the kids are stoked.

There was a small amount of dogshit near one of the benches, and everyone was constantly warning everyone else about it.

My shoulder and arm continue to hurt, and the proprietor of The Curve and Line Co. helped me lift the handtruck down onto the sidewalk.

I ended up having to spend some time texting to try to coordinate doorknocking for No LNG in PVD and the community meeting this Wednesday, which meant there were many times when I wasn’t looking up.

The first person I talked with today had a lot of overlap with me in the way our climate anxieties affect us. In a way I feel like she’s where I was when I started offering Climate Anxiety Counseling, and yet I don’t know that I’ve made much progress, exactly.

I chickened out again on telling the real reason I’m not having kids—this time, it was a kid who was asking, and I felt like I’d be telling them I didn’t think they’d survive.

 

Some conversations:

You see a lot of things changing. We get more natural disasters going on. It’s scary, because I didn’t think I’d see it in my lifetime. The whole thought of it—you see people polluting and doing things—maybe it’s too late, but we could do things now to keep it held off. You hear people saying “The world’s gonna come to an end” who are not crazy. But I feel like the government doesn’t care.

Do you talk about this with people?

My sister has some of the same problems and the same fears and I talk about it with her. But I don’t get any answers from talking about it. It doesn’t make me feel better.

When you say “the end of the world,” o you imagine it, how it would be?

Everything would fall apart. Something similar to what you see in movies—people start freaking out, panic. Maybe I shouldn’t think that, but when you watch the news—Would I be strong enough or would I give up and hide? People turning on each other—I’m afraid that if something ever did happen, no one would wanna help anyone else. It’s so hard to trust people, so I stick to myself … You tell people how you feel about this and they look at you like you’re crazy. But I’m not. The weather’s different. Those rainy days we had, that’s not normal. If people stopped littering, started caring about the environment—we gotta stick together.

*

[This was a parent and their two kids]

Parent: Lots of anxiety around water safety. We have okay drinking water but with all that lead poisoning that’s cropping up—even with the filter on we’re probably getting something. I had lead poisoning when I was really young, from paint chips, and I turned out okay, but if kids have ongoing exposure–

Have you looked into Clean Water Action at all?

I haven’t yet. I’m just starting to get back out of the house … They [indicating kids] just went to two weeks of nature camp.

What did you guys see?

Kid 1: I saw a red-tailed hawk at Conanicut Park and a bald eagle circling.

Kid 2: I saw plovers. They looked like puffballs.

Oh, did they have part of the beach roped off?

Kid 2: Yeah, so you don’t walk in their territory.

*

 

Most recently I’ve been thinking about Waterplace Park because of sea level rise—that’s just because it’s what I’ve been talking about at work this past week. All the nonpermeable surfaces and stormwater runoff—I do not, unfortunately, see many people addressing that. Asphalt is easy—people don’t even question it. And I’m worried about this all the time, yet my driveway is giant. I should chop it up—yet have I done it in three years? No. I don’t know how to do it myself—it’s not knowing how to use a jackhammer, not really having a plan. I need someone to work through it with me. And of course I don’t have a lot of time or money.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Armory Park Farmers’ Market, 7/27/17

Weather: Gray, warm, damp, then straight-down rain thinning and thickening throughout the shift

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 1 walkby

Pages of notes: 7

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Photos taken without permission: 1

People who recognized me, and I them, from a previous session: 1

Dogs seen: 13

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.50

 

Observations:

It’s insulting of me to be at this particular market, a busy one where a lot of people attending speak Spanish more than English, without an interpreter. I apologize for this and will reach out to someone for my next stint here, in late August.

I asked a couple of good questions– “What do you already know about yourself that could help you?” and “What do you already know about the situation that could help you?”–that I want to make sure to use again.

One of the dogs I pet also lay down on my foot, which is a nice place for a dog to be.

One person who spoke to me mentioned current and upcoming attempts to clearcut Rhode Island forests to build solar farms. I think this is something that I need to talk about here, but I need to learn more about it first.

 

 

Some conversations:

I had a meeting today that was set up for me, but the other participants hadn’t been notified. I started crying at work. It’s a new job. I have a problem with crying at work, not ’cause I’m wimpy, it’s just the tears—I find it very difficult, especially in situations of authority.

What do you know about yourself that could help you prepare for these situations, like if something like this comes up again? How could your self-knowledge help you?

I get frustrated and I can’t blindly follow someone I know is doing the wrong thing. I get very angry, I get very upset when I’m not taken seriously.

Okay, and what do you know about the way this office works that could help you kind of prepare for these situations?

I don’t work in offices very often. I’m a chef, and I’ve mostly worked in kitchens, and you’re right, I don’t react like this in kitchens. They try to make you do dishes if you’re a woman, and they’re always ready for a fight. I have techniques to get past that moment without making me cry. You can’t let anything stop you. In an office it seems like all anyone wants to do is correct other people’s behavior, impact other people’s behavior. I’ve avoided working in situations where I have someone who’s my boss. I really bristle at people trying to take authority. I live a righteous life, there are certain things I do not do, and people think I think I’m better than other people, but I just don’t give a shit about what other people thing. I don’t think I’m better than other people. I think I’m pretty broken.

*

Living in a toxic relationship [and having] a child. Believing that it’s my reality. I never thought that would happen.

*

I feel like I’m getting used to the idea that the world is falling apart. I’m less reactive, I’m more complacent. I was wanting to talk about it more and be more active in different ways, to do stuff with organizations and change my behavior to be more conscientious about it. But more and more I’m just feeling like we’re fucked. I don’t have a lot of hope. It feels like numbness, like complacency. … I want more to take care of myself and take care of my community in whatever capacity I can—I’m drawn more to local efforts, hyperlocal, I’m less and less wanting to look at the news. I open it up and I’m just like, “No.” I’m seeking out tangible things—it’s too overwhelming to tackle the coral reef and the melting of the ice sheets. My ecosystem that I can impact is a hyperlocal one.

I think there’s a burnout. It’s difficult because in order to get things done, you need a good dynamic, you need to be able to put ego and personality aside—which is ironic because that’s why we’re in this mess to begin with! Even when there’s really good intentions, there’s a lack of accountability—people need to be pulling their weight [and] caring about the relationships, and the thing you’re not doing might add stress to [someone else’s] life. Even though it can be seen as kind of frou-frou, I think those things like team-building, spending time, can be really—Do senators have any relationship with each other? I feel like in the center is a huge ego. So many of us get distracted by ego …

It does spiral me downward. Some of my friends, and my sister, are thinking of having kids, but they don’t want to raise a child in this world because it’s going to be painful. After the [2016 US presidential] election, I would see a pregnant belly or a newborn baby in this grayness, this cloud that was cast over us all, this new life in such a somber setting. And I’d think about the shit hitting the fan for this fresh life who’s totally naïve to everything. It’s kind of mindblowing to me. One friend spent years saying she wants a kid, and it’s like, “What, are they gonna die of dehydration? Malnutrition?”

We don’t know even for our generation what it’s gonna be like, and I don’t think I’m being dramatic, I think I’m being extremely realistic. We’re looking at a pretty steep decline once we hit a certain point. The ecosystem, whatever it is that’s holding us together, is gonna crumble. My sister was visiting and one morning we woke up, we’re making eggs and toast, having a nice morning, and I’m like, “I wonder how many more mornings like this we’re gonna get to have.” Especially if you’re privileged in certain ways—are things gonna blow up in our face? How much longer are we as humans gonna have access to all these things?

… We have to say something, we have to think something. I used to climb a lot, and I’d see trees growing on the side of cliffs and be like, “How are you even doing this?” Like they’re saying, “You can’t tame me. This is where I’m meant to be.” How do we embrace it?

*

My worry today is that there’s been a lot on the news about [Secretary of the Interior] Ryan Zinke reducing the borders of national parks and monuments. You keep hearing and seeing things and it’s like, “Oh, almost forgot about that.” We don’t have enough untouched and wild land to begin with. I was just out in Colorado and Utah and I spent some time in national parks there, and it’s alarming that anyone thinks there’s too much of it, or they just see it as potnetial for more human exploitation.

What do you feel when you read those articles?

First I feel despair: what can I do, just me? It feels pointless to even react. It’s a full-time job just to react to everything. I have been writing to senators and congresspeople who are representing my interests– “Thanks for standing up to the administration”–and that makes me feel like I did a little something. My sister is in Colorado, my cousin is in Pennsylvania—I wish I was closer to people in red states.

*

I’ve been anxious lately not about the natural world but the built environment. If you look at downtown Newport, there are these structures from the 1600s that are gonna be underwater. They’ve been there such a long time—it’s such a stark thing. If you look at the sea level rise maps, the whole historic district in Newport—when you think about sea level rise along the coast, the beach, it’s not as tangible, but when you see 300 buildings that have been there for 400 years—that’s where I feel it. …

The natural environment is resilient in a way that the built environment isn’t. In the pre-settler time, hurricanes came through, and there was a certain level of impact—but now all the systems we depend on, pipes, utilities, raw sewage, buildings are facing utter destruction. My family has gone to Block Island since I was a kid, and I haven’t seen the maps that combine coastal erosion and sea level rise with additional wave action and storms. This has the power to erase our past—things that have survived for so long as permanent things in our history.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market, 7/26/17

Weather: Hot (but not crushingly so) and bright, with a small breeze

Number of people: 10 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7.5

Pictures taken with permission: 1

People who recognized me, and I them, from a previous session: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.20

 

Observations:

I think I’ve figured out a good sunbrella configuration.

More people overall were shopping at the market today than during the previous weeks I’ve been there.

They mowed the library lawn and the clover, which was alive with honeybees last week, is gone. I saw one wasp butting against a dried flowerhead.

I still need to be better about switching from listening/questioning mode to talking/advice mode—I did it too soon twice today.

At one point, a giant bus with a graffiti painting on the side including “Powered by Youth, Run on Veggie Oil” pulled up and about 15 kids and a few adults got out. A couple of them did come over to talk with me, and many more clustered around to listen to one of the ones who was talking.

In the last conversation, I was out of my depth.

 

Some conversations:

I’ve been thinking about you! I saw you what, two years ago? My life has changed. My brother moved out, so now upstairs is my mom, my boyfriend and me, and downstairs is my sister and her kids, and it’s so much better, because we all have enough space. Now whenever I meet someone who’s going through it, the first question I ask is, “Do you have enough space?” I was ready to push my brother down the stairs and be like, “And don’t come back.”

*

My long beans are not growing this year. I’ve noticed this summer has not been as hot, but there’s extreme hot, like the last few days, and drastic cold. Last year there were so many veggies, but this year things aren’t growing.

*

 

 

I live by the bay and [the stretch where I live] is entirely controlled by Johnson and Wales. We can only go in the summertime. And the JWU students are destroying it, they eat there and then just dump everything on the ground. The blunt wrappers, I’ve seen so many blunt wrappers–When I first moved in, I saw our other neighbors picking up trash, and that’s how I started picking up trash. And now we can only go in during the summer. During the [year] we cannot get in there—and there’s an actual walkway, a state-run greenway … But the students are ruining that place.

*

A lot of the climate stuff I think about is more around food. I totally feel like I hear this all the time, talking to farmers, thinking about the resiliency of—things that people have done for years, start times for things, things that used to be indicators are now out the window. We haven’t gotten to the point where frost dates have shifted, but moisture, temperature, that’s where we’re seeing it, especially people who’ve been doing it for a while. It’s not even “a good season”, it’s just there’s no predictability. … Clearly there are always fluctuations in weather, but when it gets warm and a tree is starting to bud and then it freezes—a late frost will just wipe out the buds.

How do you see farmers reacting to this, are they just like, “We’re going to try to pull out of this in five years,” or are they like, “We’re going to try to figure out how this works…”

I don’t see that community being like, “Throw in the towel.” What’s hard is it affects—you try to look for patterns, but patterns are harder to see now. And for example, if there’s a warm winter, then pest pressure next year is much higher because they didn’t get killed off. How do you adapt to this? There are a good number of plants that can adapt to relative extremes, but they’re still gonna show signs of stress. I guess there’s the human comparison: yeah, we can tolerate it, but there’s these stresses, and at some point you’re gonna start to see shifts. There’s already been some talk of [growing] zones shifting, and then also we could see invasive [species] that [currently] can’t survive in New England—The plant profile will change. There’ll be stressors, and then at some point certain things won’t bounce back or won’t be able to survive in this microclimate. That, to me, is always the interesting one—you can say it’s “natural evolution,” but what’s hard is, it is not exactly a natural transition. It’s much more of a shock transition.

*

Oh, I’m anxious about everything today really. I just have to stop paying so much attention to the news. Today I’m anxious about transgender rights in the military. I heard an interview with this woman, she’d been in for 18 years, she was a staff sergeant. That’s her whole career. It’s tragic on a personal level but also for morale, for the people in the military who feel that they themselves could be the next target. It could be any group, anything. My dad was a military officer, a decorated pilot in the Second World War, so I grew up in that whole atmosphere. But you can’t let it ruin your day. There isn’t much I can do about it.*

… [My dog] Lucy has end-stage heart disease, and her medicine is so expensive. It’s been the best year of my life, having this incredible animal. I had to go all the way to Massachusetts today for her medicine—touring the countryside for dog medication.

*Doctor’s note: I wrote out a version of the list in this thread for her.

*

Education and school. They give us too much work, there’s too much pressure. They want us to get all As.

Why do they say they want that? I mean, why do they say that’s important?

They say, “Oh, if you don’t do this you gonna be like the people on Broad Street.”

They say that?

They don’t say that, but that’s what it sounds like. “Oh, you’re not gonna be anything, you’re never gonna succeed. Oh, you’re not gonna go nowhere in life.” It’s not me, they say it to other people. But they don’t know what’s going on in their daily lives.

*

My parents dying. Growing up, me and my parents don’t get along, and now I’m starting to get along with them, and I start thinking about how they’re not gonna be here. How when I need someone to talk to, they won’t be there. I have anxiety and I have depression, and I get panic attacks. Once in a while I try to commit suicide.

Do you know what brings the panic attacks on?

It just comes. I freeze and I just start crying, then I randomly just start laughing, like a crazy person. Then after it passes, I take deep breaths and listen to some music and just stay there, just frozen. And just thinking.

Do you see a counselor?

I went to the Providence Center, but they had no interpreter. I like to talk in both Spanish and English. I went to the guidance counselor at school, and they took me to the vice-principal and he said he would try to get me a therapist for the fall.

That’s great. Is this something you would tell your parents about or do you want to keep it private?

I keep it private. I only have two or three friends who try to keep me calm … I call my friend, and he breathes with me and talks with me. What I like about him is that he listens and he tries to help the best way he can. Not a lot of people would do that, they would talk about it. He keeps it to his self.