Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 10/3/18

Weather: Cool, gray, then some blue skies but the sun still covered.

Number of people: 2 stoppers, 0 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.35

 

Observations:

I brought cookies today and shared them with the vendors. Rani shared a chicken empanada with me.

A person drove by blasting “Beat It,” which was good.

Nonhuman animal presences: yellowjacket, who landed on my notebook; honeybee, who flew past; seagulls and pigeons overhead; sparrows in the grass; ant crawling on my notebook too; squirrel posing on library steps.

 

Some conversations:

I feel like I’m gonna explode. I’m from Utah, and I keep thinking about how Utah is just on fire and nobody in the Northeast thinks about how the West is on fire. It feels like all the power is concentrated here, away from the impact, and all the impact is in the places that have no power. It’s so scary. Utah has less than one million people in it, but so much land and really really horrible politicians. It’s always sort of freaky to be in this part of the world [the Northeast US]… When I was a kid, we’d have to build our Halloween costumes over snowsuits. Now it doesn’t snow till mid-December.

How do people in Utah talk about it?

Not like it’s a futurity. Like it’s already happening. The tenor of it is apolitical. A lot of people are ranchers and farmers, and they’re noticing what’s going on. We have no water anymore. I think it’s more like people are adjusting to new normals—there’s not really the sense that there’s anything that’s possible to do about it in a substantial enough way, which I kind of think is right, I think that’s probably true.

So they think about it as something more concrete.

More concrete and less changeable. It’s almost a relief to be in it in that way. Like there [was] a fascist rally this Saturday here, and that’s freaky but these’s also a sense of relief. It uncovers things we know are already there. With the climate out West, it’s more alarming and visible and tangible, you can see it for what it really is, it’s not clogged by all this other stuff. There’s so much concrete—I feel disconnected from my body out here. Out West I feel like I have a relationship to the land. It’s fraught in all kinds of ways by whiteness and colonialism, but it’s also a real relationship to place. Here, I forget I have a body. But also, here, I sort of have to work for it and I think there’s something really beautiful and special about that. The Northeast doesn’t offer itself to you very easily. When I moved back to Salt Lake City I felt alienated in a different way because there are these very easy and superficial relationships to place: you can drive for ten minutes and be at the foot of a 12,000-foot peak. You don’t have to work for it in the same way and there’s something special about that spiky exterior.

How do we live with this feeling?

It feels like a disservice to not feel it … The question of scalability feels important. I want to resist individualizing crises, and also, what does it look like to live consistently [with your principles]? I don’t know if you know the book Joyful Militancy, by Carla Bergman, but she writes about prefigurative politics, the effort to build the world that you’re trying to live in in the immediate present.

What are some ways that you do that, or try to do that?

I work with [REDACTED]. That feels concrete and meaningful, helping people get access to BAs. I live in [a collective] house, and we grow a lot of our own food. Living collectively feels really important, practicing reciprocity that’s not one to one. Making bread for people.

What would you like to be doing?

I’d like to dance more. I’d like to find more somatic practices. I’m more able to do the work that I’m doing when I feel in my body … I’m thinking about adrienne maree brown saying, “A flexible body is a strong body.” Fight or flight makes our bodies rigid.

*

What’s the thing you can’t say in a public context but that you can say to me now?

We’re so fucked. We are losing. We are going to lose this.  In the movies, you always know that things are bad when the scientists are saying they’re bad. But scientists are saying that and nobody really cares …Miami is already flooding, California is already burning. You go about your business, you hang out with your friends, people come over for dinner, and then you check the weather report.  I think letting people know in enough time, so that displacement isn’t traumatic … The more sudden it is, the more traumatic it is. If you go to a psychic and they say, “In two years, your whole block’s gonna burn down,” if you believe them, you have time to prepare. But if they say, “Tomorrow your house is gonna burn down,” or if your house is already burning—How can we say this in a way that people might be able to use…?

[Image: a photo of sporangia on the bottom of a displaced fern, seen in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.]

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Sowing Place, 7/7/18

Weather: Bright, breezy, feels almost cool compared to the past week

Number of people: 7 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island: $0.15

 

Observations:

There weren’t a lot of vendors when I got there. Two came later.

Nonhuman animals: seagulls and pigeons overhead; bumblebees, cabbage white butterflies and a black swallowtail (?! I think) in the South Side Cultural Center’s flower garden.

Normally, I don’t include much of what I say in these conversations. But I had one on this day where I clarified something that a lot of people who talk to me seem unclear about, so I’m including the part of the conversation that has both the explanation and why I think it matters.

 

Some conversations:

I’m concerned about my grandson. When I went to pick him up from daycare, they told me he’s been play-fighting too much. We’re trying to help him learn to make good choices for himself, limiting TV time and time with the phone. And part of the problem is the daycare isn’t an exciting environment. He’s bored. There’s too much reading and sitting still for him, not enough playing … I’m the grandma, so I get him once a week. He wants to fight me! He’s getting bigger, so his punches hurt now. We used to play-fight, but now he doesn’t know his own strength. I wonder if that’s part of why—and then sometimes he goes to his dad’s, and that’s an uncontrollable environment. We just have to keep communication going with both his parents, and be diligent about getting results. I know he’s bored … And he’s good at school, he just needs an outlet.

(I give her a card with “small cranberry” on it.)

Oh, I know cranberries, I grew up on the Cape. I know the cranberry bogs. We used to skate on them, because they flood them in winter, and you’re not gonna fall through, ’cause where you gonna go? We used to try to cut through the bog to other places, but we’d get in trouble for that ’cause we’d be smashing the cranberries. We’re cranberry people. My family worked for Ocean Spray.

*

Why are people not more concerned about long-term change?

Do you have an opinion about it yourself?

Because people are built to live on a day-by-day basis.

*

It’s so pressing, it’s so stressful. I don’t know a lot of the science behind it, but it’s just so apparent—I don’t know how people can still be in denial about it. Look at Puerto Rico—what do you mean, this has nothing to do with what humans are doing? I think it has to happen to these people—the water has to rise up to their doorstep. If it’s not an issue for them, it’s not an issue. Just here in Providence, it’s gonna hit the more affluent parts, but there’s only so much further they can go. And people living in the West End—it’s not like they can go to the next town over—when you come in and take their land because you can? Right now they know that they’ll be fine, because they have the means to put their house on stilts or move somewhere else. Or Seattle’s banning plastic straws, which is great, but it has a lot of issues—you have people who use plastic straws, but then you have huge industries taking up so much. It’s like saying that people are poor because they get Dunkin’ Donuts every week, like there are no systemic issues keeping people poor. And there are folks with disabilities who need to use plastic straws.

Also like—here we are talking about plastic, and a lot of people come talking to me about that, but do you know the connection between plastic and climate change?

No, I don’t.

I can tell you if you want to know, but my point is that we’re all walking around putting these things together but we don’t necessarily know how they’re tied together. I do it too. Do you want to know?

Yeah.

So there are two things: the first thing is that plastic is made out of oil, petroleum, and all the work of extracting and making it uses fossil fuels. And the second way is that when plastic sits around in the ecosystem, it puts a strain on that ecosystem that’s already strained by climate change.

[This person had to go do something else and another person came up and spoke to me (I didn’t get permission to post that); later we resumed our conversation.]

So the plastic bag ban—that’s kind of regressive too, particularly with low-income communities. I definitely don’t want to be that person that’s like, “Every idea is bad,” but—and it’s not something that gets brought up in these conversations. It’s like, “Oh, we banned plastic bags and plastic straws but a coal lobbyist is the new head of the EPA.”

How do you think the conversation could go, or should go?

I guess it would be like: how are you going to address—for every initiative that you do, what are you going to do to change the structures that created a lot of these environmental damages? And the other thing is, what are you going to do to prepare communities that will be of course impacted? … In DC they also have a bag ban, where you pay a fee but they take it and they let you choose an organization to donate to, so it’s not perfect but maybe it’s better?

Yeah, especially if it’s an organization that benefits communities that might be strained by the ban, maybe? What about in the work that you do, where could you see these things happening?

At [WORKPLACE] it’s pretty easy. Like we were applying for a grant, and one of the questions was, “What are the green components of your work?” So I did some research on food transportation, and it made me actually think about it—it turns out food transportation takes up so much energy. But when I think about my other job … I can’t really think of a way that we could incorporate being green in what we do.

*

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: I guess I feel like there’s a downward spiral. As the heat rises, more energy is used in cooling. If we’re not generating that electricity in a sustainable way– I read that they’re trying out Syrian strains of wheat because they’re supposed to be more fly-resistant. They’re from this seed vault in Aleppo. It’s because flies are a much severer problem in the Midwest. But destabilizing our food raising regions is scary and weird. For a while, sure, but when it’s the Sahara, you’re not growing anything.

Person 2: Are you gonna forgo capitalism entirely? And if not, where are you gonna make your changes and set your boundaries? As long as you’re participating in capitalism, it’s a ripple-wave effect.

map 7-7-18

Today, kids decorated the map of Rhode Island with pictures of an angry monster and a more cheerful-looking monster.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market, 7/12/17

Weather: Started out sunny and hot with sporadic showers, then POURED

Number of people: 3 stoppers, 0 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.00

 

Observations:

As in previous years, I don’t get as many walkby comments at the market as I do in Kennedy Plaza. If people are going to interact, they stop. At the market, I also look more like the things around me—other people have tables, signs, etc.–so I’m less of a visual surprise and it’s easier to just kind of skip over me.

Also, nobody (other than the vendors) has to be at the market, so the total number of people around tends to be smaller. This was especially true today, when the torrential rain kept a lot of people away (and made most of the vendors pack up early) …

… but I didn’t even care because the vendor next to me allowed me to hold her 9-month-old, and I sang to him while she went to buy some sweet potato greens, and he fell asleep in my arms.

Should I start asking people what they think they’ll take away from the conversation? I did that today, but it was with someone I know.

 

Some conversations:

I used to, but then I got over it.

*

Because it’s long-term, I think we miscalculate the impacts of some of these things. We tend to deescalate some pretty seismic shifts—famine and disease and resource wars. But it seems so distant still. I think we minimize and don’t face hard or tough decisions: “If I stash this away, it won’t affect me.” …

Do you picture it?

I can picture a couple neighborhoods in Providence flooding, a couple neighborhoods in Chicago. There are those days in winter where it’s unseasonably warm. I don’t really think about changes to crop rotations, food supplies.

You clearly know about them, though. What’s the difference between knowing about them and thinking about them?

I’m really disconnected on average from where my food comes from. I know that data is out there, but it hasn’t been in front of my face. I don’t see that information about how this is gonna change how we raise crops. And even things that people don’t think of—terrorism and terrorism recruitment. I’m pro-refugee, but an increased refugee crisis …

I did debate in high school and college, and climate change was the basis for lots of arguments about issues that are gonna come up. The recent EPA secretary is atrocious. After Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreements, I know all these mayors and governors have gotten together, and it’s defnitely endearing but it might be too little too late, sad to say.

Is it? I mean, are you sad about it?

Maybe sad is the wrong word for me to use. Disappointing wouldn’t be right either. But it’s-we’re all on this globe together. You’d think we could agree to—not “save the planet” but at least work to make it habitable. Like, what are we really here for?

*

I work in forests and forestry, so I think that’s something that can help be part of the answer. I work with the Rhode Island Woodland Partnership, so we work with professionals and woodland owners on land conservation, recreation, water supply. Forests can be a source of oxygen, they can counter heat islands. We just put out a position statement on the value that the forest brings [to the state]. Rhode Island is the Ocean State, but we’re still 50% forested, and we want that to be at the table along with coastal communities and energy.

Is it okay to put this up online?

We have a website that expresses it more eloquently than I can do right now. It’d be great if you could link to that.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market! Wednesdays July-September

Starting tomorrow, I’ll have the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth at the Sankofa World Market, Wednesdays 2-6pm, outside the Knight Memorial Library on Elmwood Avenue in Providence. Come and see me, especially if you live around there, or missed me when I was downtown.

You can also buy some vegetables–a lot of neighborhood farmers have stalls at the Sankofa Market, and it’s part of a path to food justice and food independence–or, you know, go to the library. There’s often music and stuff for kids to do.

Hope to see you tomorrow, or if not tomorrow, a Wednesday after that.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/16/17

Weather: Light drizzle increasing to pouring, steady rain

Number of people: 4 stoppers, 0 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 6.5

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.35

 

Observations:

Unsurprisingly, very few people stopped to talk to me when it was pouring. There was room under the umbrella—it’s a big umbrella—but the lie of the land had a little muddy stream running down right in front of the booth where they’d have to stand. I rigged the umbrella by bungee-ing it to the handtruck, which worked fine only because there was very little wind.

The stream behaved like a stream, with patterns of currents that were revealed by patterns of pebbles and silt, even though it was tiny and temporary. That was cool to me.

People’s rain behaviors—especially, the way they covered themselves, and their walks—were very lovely. I spotted at least two people using plastic store bags as rain shields for their hair, some hood-stretching and jacket-ducking, and lots of variations of scuttling, determined striding, hunching, and plain old running.

Themes of the day: farming, convenience, reasons why people do or don’t do things.

 

Some conversations:

I started getting anxious about it around the time that An Inconvenient Truth was released. Before that I was like, Eh, you know, it’ll happen sometime soon, and that was like, Nope, it’s happening now. I started looking into little actions I could do, but it’s difficult to keep from having a sense of despair. Every once in a while—I own a house in Providence and it’s 150 feet above sea level, but this area right here is 10 feet above sea level. Half the economy of Providence is 10 feet above sea level.

Can we go back to—you used the word “despair”, which is a really deep-down word. What do you despair of?

That people are willing to make difficult decisions to do something about it. It’s a long-term problem, it’s been building and building, and each year it gets incrementally worse …. You can see it right now. It’s been sort of real—with Hurricane Katrina, it was like, It could have been made worse by climate change but we don’t know, and with glaciers it was like, Well, glaciers come and go. But the moment when I was like, This is it, right now, was the March heat wave we had in I think 2012. It was in the high 70s for a week, 10 days, and people were like, Oh, it’s so mild and pleasant! And I was like, No, this is 20 degrees out of normal. This shouldn’t happen, it’s such an unusual—Oh, we’re screwed.

…I got rid of my car. I was completely vegetarian for a few years, now I eat meat maybe once a week, or less. But at one point I was like, Fuck it, I’m gonna do whatever the hell I want because it doesn’t matter anymore. I didn’t want to say completely fuck it, get the biggest car I can and live in the suburbs, I had a week of saying fuck it and then I went back to doing what I normally do. I like my bike for transportation. It’s cheaper—I save $1000 a year just by not renting a parking place, and I think something like $8000 a year by not having a car at all. And it’s fun, I like riding my bike, it’s fun to do. Same with the mostly vegetarian diet: It feels better, it’s easier to cook, you don’t have to worry as much, it’s cheaper. I could spend thousands of dollars to make my house more efficient, but I haven’t looked into it.

… I follow the Audubon webcam with the falcons. It’s like a streaming media service for me. I’m always happy to see the hawks. I ride out into Scituate and Gloucester—and that’s another thing, you can really see the g*psy moth boom. You can hear it, it sounds like rain. Last August, it felt like April—the trees were mostly bare with just a little green, but it wasn’t because they were budding, it was because they were eaten. When I was in the fuck-it state, I was thinking about how I buy produce from the farmers’ market, and it’s two times as expensive: why am I paying two times as much? But I like to ride my bike in Foster, and I’d rather ride my bike by a farm than by an exurban development. If I want there to be a farm, I need to buy that produce.

*

 

I think about icebergs. I think about the extinction of some of our wildlife—and the human race, too. I’m a chef, so I think about plants. I think about the ocean. I’m not too knowledgeable about climate change, but I know that one of the problems is going to be a very serious lack of water … Last summer I couldn’t get butternut squash, I couldn’t get golden zucchini. Oysters come from the ocean. It’s pretty big. But I don’t see it, I hear about it through word of mouth, from news broadcasts—it’s not the same.

… I try to teach my five-year-old to be environmentally friendly, but I can’t be environmentally friendly. Coke, Sprite and everything, they give you this recyclable bottle, but do you see any recycling cans down here? So it’s the city, it’s everything… I can’t just go into the 7-11 and ask for a cup of water, or a spigot, because you can’t trust the water in your city. No matter how much you wanna be environmentally friendly, unless you’re a millionaire, unless you can afford to live that lifestyle you can’t live it… I argue with my brother all the time—he says organic this and free range that, but “free range” just means they spend one hour in the field, the rest of the time they’re stacked up in cages, thousands and thousands, they’re still in the cage unless you’re spending like $9.99. What exactly is free range, what exactly is “support your local community”?

…But I don’t have anxiety about it because it’s not directly affecting me. But I do have a five-year-old son, and I worry about what he’ll be dealing with , and his kids.

What would make it feel like it was directly affecting you?

The extinction of a lot of ocean animals. We live in the [food chain], you need the orca to eat the dolphin, the dolphin to eat the shrimp, the shrimp to eat the algae. … There goes my striped bass, if I want that striped bass, if I want that tuna—we’re the ocean state, but they’re just gonna migrate, I’m not gonna be able to just go to my usual spot. So then it costs more for gas, fuel for buses. But I wouldn’t say I’m anxious about climate change because I’m getting everything that I want. Everyone turns a blind eye if it’s not affecting them.

You talked about your son, and being worried about the future for him—do you show him how to care about things that aren’t affecting him directly?

Oh, yeah. For him, yeah. I’m a victim of society. I’m set in my ways—I’m 33. But we watched [Garbage Island] together and I’m like, This is important. Now he doesn’t wanna go in the ocean because he thinks it’s dirty, but we’re working on it, we’re getting back in the water. The other cool thing about the ocean too is there’s so many animals we haven’t even discovered—oh! and that’s kinda sad, right?

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/16/16

Weather: Sunny, breezy, cool; hard gusts of wind now and then.

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 3 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

People known to me, and I to them, from past seasons: 3

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Number of dogs seen: 1, from afar

Number of dogs pet: 0

Conversations between people who didn’t previously know each other: 2

Drawings added to my notes by another person: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.85

 

Observations:

An interlocutor accidentally knocked over my money jar today, so I will need a new one.

One of the hecklers from the previous day came back and didn’t heckle me at all.

I really screwed up a conversation today. When you read the conversations below, you’ll be able to tell which one it is, I think–rather than listening to the person and traveling with them from their starting point, I positioned myself against them, which seemed to have the effect of driving them further into their own position. I don’t want to do this again, but the damage with this person has been done, and I feel pretty terrible (not asking for reassurance here, but adding to the record in order to cement the lesson).

 

Some conversations:

I think climate change is definitely something big. This is our home–where we gonna go after this? We don’t wanna go into our house and have exhaust there. Or for our kids, our kids are everything.

Have you seen the climate changing during your life?

I don’t think I’ve seen it–I guess when I was a kid it snows when it’s supposed to snow, now it snows when it isn’t supposed to.

And that messes up things for plants and stuff.

Or animals! It was snowin’ on flamingos. Or on Mount Everest–I work with people from 26 different countries, so it’s like I travel without traveling. I work with a lotta people from Nepal, and they were saying there’s no more snow on Mount Everest. They’ve seen it change drastically.

*

Anxieties around people.

What have you tried that helps you deal with it?

I drink. It helps–I go to the Providence Center. You don’t know who’s the good people and who’s the bad people, you can’t trust somebody you don’t know. I mainly stick with my family, and I built some friends over the years, but I’m not gonna trust them like I trust my family. I don’t work, I get a check. The problem with the Providence Center is they’re not gonna give me the pill that works, because it’s addictive.

*

Not being homeless again. I don’t ever want to be homeless. I live in a sober house, but I smoke a lot of pot. I’m most worried about them smelling pot on me. They don’t like you smoking in the house at all. I have a prescription for it, but they don’t care. The apartment is just right where I can afford it. I think I need different friends–they’ll be like, “Let’s do this,” but it’s always, “Let’s go smoke,” it’s not like, “Let’s have a picnic” or “Let’s volunteer somewhere.” I can’t achieve anything where I’m at.

*

There’s definitely change going on and we’re kinda stuck in the middle with climate change–in my mind, the goal should be restorative efforts and for it to be discussed more often.

Do you talk about it with people?

I don’t talk about it too often. It’s just a matter of finding like minds. I’m kinda shaky on the subject. I would be willing to listen to others about it, I might seek out other information. I’d like to see more education on maybe gardening, when it comes to planting things–if I was trying to grow something, I wouldn’t know how to start.

[I recommended the South Side Community Land Trust to this person and the next person, who was also interested in growing things.]

 

*

Working to help said people start some type of farm–there’s not food growing here, why is that? It’s been stated many times that there’s a hunger problem. When I drive down the street and I see people’s lawns–grass doesn’t feed people! I feel like there’s a lot of red tape, it’s not as easy as buying some land. If you’re poor, you can’t afford a yard–you might get a cool landlord but otherwise…

What do you think might make landlords, for example, more willing to let people grow stuff in the front yard?

Maybe if you made it a cultural moment. You create a little bit of hype about it, you show that it is benefiting you, show that it is flourishing and make it something that a lot of people wanna do–“Hey, if you don’t like what the government’s doing…” Maybe not a lot people have the get up and go to do that? A good way would be to have a landlord incentive, see other people down your block doing it.

*

I talked to a meteorologist and he says he doesn’t think climate change is really happening. He says it’s gonna go a hundred years and then go back.

A lot of scientists are pretty sure it’s happening.

Well, he’s a meteorologist, so I think he would know.

Maybe. A meteorologist studies the weather in the short term, but do they study it over long, long periods of time?

Oh, like geologists?

Yeah, exactly. They look at the big patterns over time and they see these changes.

Well, he says it’s not a long enough time to know, and I’m sticking with him.