Climate Anxiety Counseling: Miantonomi Farmers’ Market, 7/15/19

Weather: Hot and bright

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 5

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $1.35

Observations:

Non-rhetorical question to ask next time someone says they’re heartbroken: How do you live with a broken heart?

The map made someone think and question about someone else’s worry! Specifically, an Australian wondered if underwater noise from wind turbines is really a problem.

[IMAGE: “offshore wind farm: will underwater life (dolphins, seals) be able to hear anything else?” written in pink marker on a whiteboard map.]

I suggested that they look it up, and I looked it up also, but haven’t read that study (the most recent one I found) in detail. It seems like construction noise is the most harmful, but that animals return once the turbines are in operation.

Nonhuman animal passersby: housefly, seagull, cabbage white butterfly, shiny fly, red admiral butterfly, small black ants.

Some conversations:

That’s my biggest problem, is that it’s melting. Polar bears, seals, mountain goats—where are they going? That’s my problem. All the animals, where are they gonna go? Pretty soon they’ll be knocking on the front door. We got coyotes now, soon we’re gonna be talking about wolves. Foxes and stuff, real wild animals, you don’t see as much.

It’s changed the states. People shifts, the ground shifts, everything changes. Volcanoes erupting. But people don’t know about it until it hits you. Everybody’s like, “Yo, what should we have been doing?” But now it’s here. … “Okay, so what do you want us to do—” not what do you want us to, but what can we do to stop it. You can’t stop it.

Does it stress you out?

Yes. We’re trying to figure it out on paper. Where’s the different elements. We don’t just say it’s a whole, we gotta break it down to the elements that are in it … but if they don’t break it down like that it’s gonna go nowhere.

*

I was heartbroken when the US decide to pull out of the [Paris Accords]. It was so exciting when we saw that people from all over the globe were talking seriously about these problems, and for us as a nation that produces so much of a problem—it breaks my heart. I have grandchildren, I hope to have great-grandchildren.

Do you talk about this with them?

We talk about what we can do in terms of—my older granddaughter, in terms of voting and participation. The younger generation feels powerless, so I try to tell them about my own experiences: protesting, contacting senators, insisting that change can happen.

I’m from Arizona, and I’m going to spend the next year in Rhode Island helping family. But in Arizona, my church composts, we have a community garden. In the coming year—I’m going to see if I can do it—I’m going to try to do without a car while I’m here. I’m not sure if it’s going to be possible. The next year is a year of simplicity for me … This park, this market, is in walking distance, so I’m going to see how long I can keep it up. … I recently went to a new church here and asked if I could meet with the pastor, and they were, “What for?” And I said, “I want to know what kind of efforts you’re making—perhaps your church is working with other churches in the community—for social justice issues.” It’s different here, but for the last fourteen years I’ve been living with a group of people for whom justice and health are really important. I’m trying to find like-minded people and ways in which I can do that here.*

*Newport readers, if you’re out there—any ideas for this person? Recall that they’re trying to live without a car so the opportunities must be in Newport or easily accessible from there via public transit.

*

I’m just trying to understand what climate change is, how it affects me and my community. In some areas, for instance, when it rains we get the water puddles—if there was a horrific flood, what is the protocol? What’s our emergency response? How do we activate it? We don’t even have good communication.

I know you guys had some experience of this when the gas was off this winter.

Yes we did. There was false advertising—someplace offering help and then you get there and they turn you away. We tried to be the middleperson, connect people with what they needed. But even placing residents in hotels, for example, that scatters families. People didn’t have access to food pantries. There were issues with transportation. We had a lady who was blind and needed someone with her in person … There was a lot of gaps that was missing. I’m hoping that now there’s a different method to it. It was scary, it was frustrating. People putting you on hold, putting out numbers that did not work, that you’re not getting nowhere with. Somewhere it would say that you could call a 1-800 number, and there was nothing at the other end.

*

My mom is always talking about how we’re all gonna die from climate change. She does do some actual actions, but she’s always whining, and I stop listening. It’s this kind of desperation, as if she could solve the whole problem herself. I mean, sure, we can go to the farmers’ market instead of buying all our vegetables in cans and trucking them in from, like, Minnesota, but it’s gonna be big top-down policy decisions that are gonna make a splash. The grassroots stuff is great but you’re not gonna solve it with that.

Does she do any of that stuff?

She’s afraid of people, so she doesn’t really get out of the house and do anything. She’s more like, “I’m gonna get a low-flow toilet.” I’m trying to get her to sell her house, because it’s below sea level, but she won’t listen to me.

*

I have a lot of anxieties, especially living by the water. Not just here, but a lot. People who’ve lost their homes and had to move—and frustration that there’s so many powerful millionaires who are doing nothing. People are putting money into this, but it’s not enough. It seems like the clearest idea, that we will not exist without our planet. Why are people ignoring this truth?

Why do you think?

I think it’s a lack of—not a lack of education, but a lack of wanting to hear the education. The younger generation is fighting, but it’s people with money who will make the big difference. We can make little differences. … I was really frustrated last weekend: there were fifteen people on the beach, and eight of them were on their phones, and I was picking up trash ’cause I do this, and I was like, “Why are you on your phones? Why are you not conscious?”

I stopped eating fish because of the microplastics. I work at a restaurant and people are always like, “Where can I get the best fish,” and I wanna be like, “Well…” But I know it’s not just plastic, it’s deforestation, it’s our overall carbon output. Deforestation is eliminating not only what’s storing the carbon but then burning it to release more carbon. I taught my [students] how trees absorb water and carbon dioxide.

Whatever makes us anxious, we shove it down … I saw an ad for the most recent election where it was a bunch of old people sitting around going, “I don’t care who wins. It’s gonna flood? I’m not even gonna be here in 20 years.”

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: One-on-One, 6/27/19

(This person reached out to me a few weeks ago via email. “Before, climate change was an abstract concept to me,” they wrote. “I knew it was real, but it was somehow ‘out there’ somewhere, out of sight out of mind. Now, I am witnessing the undeniable consequences of it with my own two eyes. It has truly hit home and I am in shock.” 

At that time, they were feeling too raw to come to the booth and talk in public, so we made a plan to meet one-on-one. They brought $10.00 to donate to the Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective, and mint from their garden. Here are some of the things we talked about.)

I’ve sort of had some time to calm down since I wrote to you, to go from, “Oh my God,” to, “Well, we’re in this.” My concern always goes back to the animals. They’re innocent and defenseless against all this. I’ve been sorting through things in my mind about how to make sense of it. It’s like a huge tsunami wave—it’s way off in the background, but I can sort of see the crest. But it’s easy to sort of go on with your life, like, “Maybe it won’t happen,” or, “Maybe it won’t be so bad.” … It’s just so enormous that it’s hard to get a grip on it—for lots of people, including myself.

What was the first feeling you had when you heard how bad [climate change] is?

Shock. When I was finding out about that, when I realized that, I was sitting in my yard, and there was not a bee and not a butterfly in sight. My husband heard all about it, my friends and my neighbors, Instagram—but that’s just not a tenable solution because you’re just kinda spreading this stuff. I have not accepted it, but I can’t go around alienating people. I’d rather gain their interest … When I first became vegan I was like that. I was like a loaded cannon. I would cry, I would be, “Nobody’s paying attention, nobody cares!” I drove myself crazy for probably two years. I didn’t know how to deal with this, how to see all these animals suffering. Even when we would go to protest in Boston, I couldn’t look at the signs. I guess I was glad we were out there—I’m not sure.

What does it feel like to think about it now?

Painful and scary and sad. But I’m an artist, and I started making paintings about this. I want to use paintings and my blog to start reaching people. They’re mostly about the beautiful side—I did some that were about the tragic side but I don’t think that does much for people. They’re of the world before the Fall, before people started polluting. Holding that image in my mind when I meditate helps me a lot. As I go along, I want to kind of just branch out with it, show the paintings, have people respond to them. It’s a unique way that I can express what’s going on, and I look forward to that. That sounds like something I can do.

How does it feel when you’re painting?

I just feel like the sense—Finally, I can express this. I don’t have to walk around with it stuck in my throat all the time. I feel optimism and excitement. …

What was the moment, for you, with veganism, where you realized that you needed to stop what you were doing and do something else?

I was a vegetarian for fourteen years before I became a vegan. Probably I just started doing my own research. Do you know the artist Sue Coe? I went to an exhibit of her work, and I just couldn’t believe what I saw. I don’t know how she’s able to even put those images on paper. It’s just, “Well, there it is, I was there, I’m just painting what I saw, I’m not trying to make you feel guilty.” Then I started getting books out of the library—this was before the internet—and I changed my diet. Turning to veganism is a very emotional thing for people. You have to give up not just comfort foods, but emotional foods, the foods that your family had.

So that brings up—what are some things that you might lose because of climate change that are hard to let go of? … Either because you are voluntarily giving them up, or because they’re gone?

I don’t know. We have a very economical car, it’s nine—no, fourteen years old. The only thing I can think of is that we have a very small air conditioner.

I’m also thinking about stuff like—you know, maybe climate change means that you don’t have kids, or that you stop bugging your kids about grandkids. Or maybe it means you can’t live where you live, either because living there takes too much energy or because it’s not safe to live there anymore.

If I knew something I was doing was really harmful, I probably wouldn’t have a problem—not moving, that’s a different story. We don’t even use the air conditioner that much. We have a lot of shade, and there are wetlands behind our house. But I don’t want to stay in a bubble.

Tell me about the wetlands.

I have a studio on the ground floor and the windows look out onto the wetlands. I can see all the little creatures…it’s a complete joy to me. And it’s regulated, so that at least for now, nobody can dredge it and build on it. We and all the neighbors share it.

How else might you help to maintain living creatures, living systems?

I wanted to plant something for bees and butterflies, and I keep reading little articles, but if there’s no bees then what are you attracting? Yes, there may be a few bees, but when I walk around my neighborhood I’ve only see one or two. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved insects—I was gonna be an entomologist—and I would always turn over stones and see all kinds of insects, earthworms, pill bugs… now when I see a rock and I lift it up there’s maybe one kind of teeny tiny microscopic millipede. I sit outside on the concrete slab in front of our house and there’s almost no insects. That’s weird. And I see baby robins in our yard, but when I see the adults hunting for them, what are they finding? Usually I ‘d see them pulling up an earthworm, but the earthworms are probably going the same route.

mint

[IMAGE: Mint leaves and stems in a damp paper towel to keep them fresh.]

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market, 6/19/19

Weather: Muggy, alternating cloudy and bright

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

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

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 1, a lot

Postcards Against the Plant: 1

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $0.15

 

Observations:

On this day, someone came by the booth in need of immediate and very specific help. I connected her with the one resource I knew about, but that didn’t lead her to what she needed, and I chose not to put down everything else I was doing to address her immediate need. Since no one else was doing that either, her need didn’t get met.

Nonhuman animal presences: sparrows, a wasp, a red mite running in circles on my booth table.

Is there a way to get people to harness their neoliberal hyperawareness as a kind of mindfulness practice?

 

Some conversations:

I’m anxious about the way our culture engages with things. We ask, “What can I do?” when it’s a problem of the collective. Different cultures are better at that.

What has taught you that it’s possible to think in a collective way?

It might seem trite but I feel like there are some things—like team activities. In high school, I was in all the bands, and you feel that, like your voice or instrument is contributing to a larger sound. In a work setting it’s harder to see that.

*

I’m more obsessed with plastic, I guess.

Why does it bother you?

Because it’s everywhere. And because of the ocean. There’s micro amounts of plastic in almost everything we eat!

How does it feel when you hear something about it in the news, or learn more about it?

The first time I heard it, I was very surprised, because I didn’t think there was—I knew that fish had it in their bodies, they die from it, but I didn’t think it had carried its way into me and affected me personally. It’s in what I eat. It’s constant. When you go shopping, it’s all around you—you’re living in a nightmare. It’s not like I go to therapy for it, but I’m very much aware of it. It makes me angry. I tried to buy a jar of mayonnaise the other day and I couldn’t find any in glass. You have to break down and use plastic. Every piece of plastic I throw away I’m aware of it.

Do you do beach cleanups, stuff like that? How’s that feel?

It feels good, but it’s very frustrating because I don’t want to throw things away that are plastic—or anything, even garbage in general. I found out that it’s not good to use our garbage disposal because food gets in with the water. So now I’ve been, I live in a condo, but I’ve been bringing my compost up to a friend. But I’ve still been using the disposal minimally because we’re selling the house and I want it to work.

Where you live, is there town pickup for compost?

We had a community farm, but there were problems with it and they closed it. But that’s where the compost used to go. It’s overwhelming. Our condo association is pretty good about recycling.

Does that feel like the spot where you could maybe push for change?

Not really.

Why not?

I guess because of the way I am. I’m an artist, I try to do art. I have a hard time doing art. It doesn’t bother me to the point where—my art comes first. And my family, because of my age—when I do things that take time from my regular time that I go to my studio, I’m going to take my granddaughter out while I can. I feel that’s more important.

*

… I have a friend in Alaska, she’s lived there for 20 years, and she’s seen the glaciers melting. They’re getting hummingbirds up there now. Even here, we’re getting species that we’d usually see down in the Gulf of Mexico or the Carolinas. It’s why I’m vegan—even with fish you put back, once they get that hook in their mouth they don’t recover from it. And the poor polar bears losing their livelihood… I’m concerned about greenhouse gases. I take the bus everywhere, I plant my own garden, I put in plants for bees. I just think everybody should try it for a week—bike to work one day a week, something.

Why do you think people don’t?

Convenience. People are lazy.

Do you talk about it with people?

I do here and there. It depends on the demographics, who I’m around. But [with some people] I will be like, “Why don’t you just try biking?” I did when I lived in Boston, I’d bike down the river on my way to work. It was like my meditation for the day.

What do you think made the difference for you?

Awareness. You have to read. They have material out there. Or being directly impacted by something. I’d hear about things from friends… I think a lot of methane gases come out of cows. I saw some movies, documentaries. People don’t know, people have no clue about these slaughterhouses and corporate farms. They need to be more regulated…This whole administration is going backwards. These kids, they’re the generation—they’re gonna end up, their children are gonna end up living in a hot mess. I’m not scared for myself, I’m scared for the generation after me. We gotta stop it. With deforestation in Brazil—I’m a trained diver and I went diving in Ambergris Cay five years ago, it was just trees and water. I went back five years later and it was all resorts. I’ve done the whole “owned a house, this and that,” thing—I was more materialistic in my 20s. Now I’m like, “Screw the house.” They want to drill for more oil in the Gulf. I’ve been diving in the Gulf—you know how that affects the fish?

*

For now I think—I saw plastic doesn’t go away for like 700 years. And the fact that it is—I think most plastic is recyclable, but even if it’s not, people can do reusable or renewable things with plastic. … One person in a million is building houses out of plastic and there’s a whole coastline full of garbage in these poor places [sic]–why aren’t they using—why aren’t homeless shelters being built? You see the same thing with tires.

Okay, well, make it a real question, why aren’t they?

I assume because of money. …I wouldn’t be the person to do this.

*

Block Island is eroding … I think a lot of the people who live there are wealthy enough to buy a house on an eroding cliff and go, “Well, I get 25, 30 years out of this and then it’s over, I guess.” I’m guessing these people are also betting that FEMA will come to their rescue …

Barrington [RI] is going to get hit hardest in terms of roads. The head of town planning there gets it, the head of DEM…but the head of DOT doesn’t get it. He’s so caught up in infrastructure that’s crumbling now … There’s that one road that goes along the water, there’s literally no other place for it to go. In [Hurricane] Sandy, people here weren’t hit hard enough [to make them consider leaving]–plenty of people were like, “We’ll just rebuild.” And then my sister-in-law and my brother were hit hard by Sandy, their basement was flooded out, they had a finished basement with all their memorabilia down there and it they lost all of that. And my sister-in-law can’t even talk about it. It’s gonna happen again to them, but you can’t go there with them, ’cause they’re so traumatized by it.

Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY: Last day of the season in Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park!

Come visit me downtown today! It’s my last day at the entrance to Burnside Park, across from Kennedy Plaza, and I’ll be there 2-5:30 approximately.

Bring me your climate anxieties and other anxieties, write a postcard to a regulatory agency to stop a fossil fuel project, and take home a drawing of one of our nonhuman Rhode Island neighbors.

I’ll also be at the Sankofa World Market this Wednesday, June 19, 2-6pm, and most Wednesdays throughout the summer. Come see me there, too! A Newport slot is in the works as well, probably for Mondays.

cecropia cj

[Image: Detailed line drawing of a cecropia butterfly by CJ Jimenez.]

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/15/19

Weather: Bright and fiercely windy

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 1 walkby, 1 map marker

Number of hecklers: 0!

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 3

Pages of notes: 4

Dogs seen: 16

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $0.15

 

Observations:

Downtown was tooling up for the Pride parade. There were lots of people wearing or carrying one-use plastic rainbow objects, which infuriated me. There was also one person wearing a rainbow clown wig that looked like it had seen a few seasons of service, and another person carrying a little made-at-home trans pride flag, both of which I found touching. Older couples and groups were nice to see.

While eight people spoke with me at length today, none of them wanted me to take notes or share the conversations (which were also not about climate change but about other concerns and strains in their lives). So I won’t.

Today also had an unusually large number of people saying that they thought the booth was cool, a great idea, etc., but not stopping.

Around 4:25, one of four white people I’d seen walking around together with a muzzled dog beckoned a cop car over to the park. That cop and two others searched a Black man with an orange-striped shirt and made him get in the car, then stayed around questioning other people. Three white women (not me) went over together to speak up for the guy they arrested, but with no success. Later, someone else told me that the dog was biting people and that the guy they arrested had tried to defend himself.

Someone wrote, “My kids’ safety” on the whiteboard map of Rhode Island, where I ask people to “put their worries on the map,” but I can’t get the picture of it off my phone. So here, instead, is a picture of a small friend of mine feeding blazing star to his shark. Let’s work together to make sure that joy, not violence, is waiting for him. Let’s work for the thriving of the plants, the sharks, and the humans.

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/14/19

Weather: Passing sun and clouds, stuffy at first, then wind picking up. Heavy cloud mass rolling over from the northwest, looking like rain but not raining.

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 1 walkby, 1 driveby

Number of climate change deniers: 1. I wouldn’t exactly call this guy a heckler, but he was smug in a very vocal and persistent way.

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Conversations between strangers: 1, brief

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 1

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 0

Pages of notes: 4.5

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $0.35

 

Observations:

Park ranger car was there when I arrived at 2, gone soon after. A cop car, a fire truck and an ambulance showed up around 3; the truck left with sirens on soon after and the ambulance and cop car stayed for a while. At 3:19, the first cop car was gone and a different one had come; that one pulled away at 3:36. A couple other cop cars, marked and unmarked, drove through on Washington St but didn’t stop.

Nonhuman animal passersby: teen starling, pigeons, sparrows, mallard duck couple.

While I find some things about the corporate electric scooters and bikes sinister, I really like watching people get the most out of them: a Del’s vendor riding one of the green scooters and towing their cart, one kid riding one of the red bikes with another kid in the bike basket.

Had a very good conversation that I didn’t take notes on but was glad to have! M, if you’re reading this, thanks.

 

Some conversations:

I feel bad for those climate change deniers who are living on fantasy island.

Do you feel bad about it yourself?

I’m so deeply concerned I feel like I need to stay put. I’ve taken personal responsibility… I’ve been trying to get more active in my locality. I like that they write bills to investigate the ocean, the pH of the water. We should help our allies dispose of desalination waste, not just put it back in the ocean. That’s where we get all of our oxygen. I call my reps, I do my little part.

*

I have three concerns. One is pollution. It’s killing animals and hurting animals and also causing global warming. Humans need to stop doing that. One is overhunting. All animals are important to the society of the earth. It’s just like humans are important, so are animals. And one is poaching. One, it’s illegal. Two, it’s like overhunting, except it’s only certain animals … Mankind is pretty messed up.

How does it feel when you learn about these things?

It feels like very sad and depressing. But it’s like—if you help to make the world a better place, then other people might see what you’re doing and try to make the world a better place too.

map detail 6-14-19

[Image: Detail of a whiteboard map of Rhode Island, strapped to a red handtruck. Written on it in pink marker: “Offshore wind farm: will underwater life (dolphins, seals) be able to hear anything else?]

Climate Anxiety Counseling: PVDFest 2019, Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park

Weather: Hot and bright and clear, cooler and breezier toward evening

Number of people: 30 stoppers, 10 walkbys, 5 map markers

Number of (vocal) climate change deniers: 2

Pages of notes: 16

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 6

Pictures taken without permission: 5

Conversations between strangers: 2

Repeat interlocutors: 2

Dogs seen: 51

Dogs pet: 2

Snakes seen: 1, very large

Postcards against the plant: 26

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $28.16!

 

Observations:

I was set up as part of PVDFest, which meant not only that there were a lot more people around, but a larger percentage of them were ready to stop and look at things, including me. On the minus side, people were also there to have a good time and maybe didn’t want to engage with something that would be a downer.

Interlocutors today had a wide age range but were/appeared to be overwhelmingly white, which didn’t reflect the composition of the crowd at all.

For future reference: there is a relationship between climate change and plastic waste, both of them come from fossil fuels and both of them contribute to ecological degradation, using one as as shorthand for the other is not a great idea, and I need to figure out a simple and quick way to clarify this for people without talking down or arguing.

A noticeable number of people had read the article asserting that 90% of humanity will be dead by 2050 (which would mean of course that most of us will die much earlier). One thing I need to remember is to ask both, “How does it feel to read that?” and “What do you want to do if that’s true?”

Many people also said some version of, “I don’t know how to get more involved.” Depending on the other things they said, I recommended that they explore the Land and Water Sovereignty Campaign (with whom I also work), Sunrise RI, the fight against the power plant in Burrillville, and Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective (where the donations will go); in a couple of cases I also pointed people toward Uprose and Occupy Sandy.

There’s this thing that people sometimes do where they try really hard to prove how much smarter they are than everybody else and if everybody would just listen to them it would be okay. I didn’t get a ton of this today, but there was a very marked instance of it. It seems connected to what Diane Exavier calls the “innocence project” of white America: the notion the important thing is to prove that you’re above the mess, not to figure out how to live in the mess with others, and the actions or inactions that result from that notion.

 

Some conversations:

I don’t know how to get involved in climate change groups—and I’m a librarian, I know how to do research! But I work full time, and everything I’ve found out so far has been very vague. When I’m working with very young children, three- and four-year-olds, I think, What kind of future are they gonna be having? I’m older, it’s not going to be as drastic for me.

*

I usually say, “The earth is hot, don’t litter.” Paris Hilton once tweeted that and it just really spoke to me. Those three [sic] simple words, “The earth is hot”–it’s not “global warming,” not something people hear all the time.

How do you feel when you think about it—sad? Angry?

It makes me so sad. I’m not really an angry person. [It] makes me want to do something. I always recycle, I choose glass over plastic. I’m educating myself and then educating others. I try to be positive.

Is it hard to do that?

No. I feel so empowered. The more that [I] look at it, the more I wanna help.

*

Person 1: We live pretty close to the water and I’m always hearing about sea level rise.

Person 2: People talk about it over social media but no one does anything about it. It just makes people feel better about themselves.

Person 1: It’s feeling more urgent.

Person 2: Because of that congressional report.

Person 1: Everyone’s sharing this article saying that 2050 will be the last habitable year for people.

How do you feel when you read that?

Person 1: I get stressed but I also get frustrated. The previous generation screwed us over, and we have to live with what they did.

Does it piss you off?

Person 2: Yes.

Person 1: A little bit. Corporate America is making these decisions–

Person 2: –For oil money, and they’re not going to have to live with these decisions, we are.

*

I heard something about how we’re all done for by 2050.

How’d it feel to read that?

Deflating. Horrifically sad. But like anybody sentient, I’m trying to enjoy things that don’t cost money and don’t produce waste. I just joined [a local marching band]–it’s so nice to do something with a bunch of people…that doesn’t use any resources—well, I guess we drive to get to the practices—and that creates beauty. Nothing on its own sounds so good, but together it’s beautiful.

*

I was reading the study that was all over the internet about how the world is basically ending in 2050.

How’d you feel when you read that?

Sad and angry. I don’t know how to help at an institutionalized level. On an individual level I don’t eat red meat, I recycle, I compost, I try not to use plastic. I monitor my friends and try to get them to not use plastic, and they don’t at least when I’m around. Sometimes I yell at people [who are trying to throw things in landfill trash]–“That’s recycling.”

Have you looked into doing stuff at the institutional level?

No—I’ve explored it a bit but there’s not a lot that I can do here in the US. There’s maybe more that I could do back where I’m from, which is Puerto Rico. My parents had to move off the island because my dad lost his job. And a lot of people had to leave because the health care system was in shambles. My dad found a job in the US, in Missouri, in St. Louis. It’s interesting, because it’s Trump country over there. My parents are the only people of color in a predominantly white neighborhood. All these women that are wanting to engage with my mother are treating her like an exotic toy…

… If [climate change] were having an effect on people who are rich and have influence, we would have made these changes, like we would have all gone solar so long ago. But it’s true for them too, like, you’re dying, you’re dying, your children are gonna die! I did get my dad to stop using plastic water bottles. I was like, “You’re so into recycling but they’re still manufacturing the plastic. You’re not really doing anything good, you’re just giving yourself peace of mind for no reason.”

*

Have you read Emergent Strategy? You have to read it. She got me reading Parable of the Sower , and there’s this part where [the main character’s] dad is talking about: how do you talk to people about future threats without making them write it off and dismiss you? How do you actually prepare yourself for the next climate disaster? I’m trying to stop fossil fuel projects and support renewable energy, but on a community level we need to be preparing for adaptive strategies, and how do I talk to my mom who doesn’t read the news because she doesn’t want to think about it? She lives on the thirteenth floor of our apartment building. What will she do if there’s a disaster? What do I do for our elderly neighbors who live on the upper floors? There are these moments where I’ve been actually letting it hit me, especially about New York. I saw where someone marked on the side of a building how high the waters came up during Sandy, and it was as tall as me. There still aren’t proper flood plans, and these are in places that are mostly public housing, affordable housing. People don’t have places to go. It’s scary—how do you talk to people who are really afraid, but we have to have a plan for what we’re gonna do?

Is anyone working on this in your neighborhood that you know of?

I don’t know, that’s a good question. There are some environmental organizations and I think they’re mostly pushing the city to have formal plans, but I don’t know if there’s anything on the community level. … Every time I bring it up [to my mom] she’s like, “If I talk about it I’m gonna have nightmares.”

What if you said something to her like, “I’m okay with you having nightmares if it means you’re gonna be safer?”

It’s hard, because it’s still possible for us to walk around, have festivals, have dinner. I was reading an article by someone who heard about a school shooting, and he was like, “I compartmentalized it so I could have dinner with my kids. And this is what it’s like to be in America.” Climate change is like that too. If we let the whole weight of it be felt constantly, we couldn’t live our lives.

I guess I have two things I want to think about in there. One is the “constantly”–what if we didn’t feel it constantly but we made times to really feel it? And the other one is the “living our lives”–which parts of our lives does it make sense to keep living?

I’ve been trying to be more thoughtful about trying to use less—how do I use less energy? How do I train myself to use less? Trying to keep in mind, “This is an energy thing that I’m doing right now.”

*Some of the Department of Health’s Health Equity Zones are beginning to try to set this up for at least some Rhode Island communities. I will look into this and make a separate post.

*

I do have climate change anxieties, mostly about the city as a whole. I’ve been hearing from real estate people with the city, developers talking about building in flood plains—it’s kind of like a rich people inside scoop, not something I feel like is talked about in policy meetings. But then you hear from the city’s director of real estate, “Oh, we probably shouldn’t build there.” It feels slimy, because these conversations are happening amongst people who are probably gonna be okay with things like that happening. I’m just one elected official, and I feel like we all need to be thinking about it.

Have you already tried to talk with your colleagues about it?

I have. And there’s a lot of, “Oh, we already tried that and it didn’t work,” or, “We’ll never be allowed to do that.”

Is this how you thought it would be when you started this position?

No. Not at all. But then I think, if I were a representative or a senator, I would still have to contend with bad people in leadership.

So with all of that in mind, what do you think is the way out of that?

Honestly, I think education. …With climate change, we’re seeing the effects but they’re not impacting our lives in a restrictive way.

What would be a good place to start with that?

Maybe the river. Everyone loves Waterfire*, but it’s starting to become really difficult. In the next five years, it’s regularly going to be flooded. And the coastline—in Charlestown, they’re no longer insuring houses in those areas.

*I wouldn’t say “everyone.”

*

I worry that I don’t worry enough, partially. People are saying there’s no place for recycling anymore. And if there’s nothing else being solved on a macro scale—this thing that it took the USA a decade or more to do—what kind of solution is going to be found for anything else? I keep putting things in bins because it’s a habit.

Are there other ways of participating that you’ve tried, or looked into?

I feel like there were parts of my life where I was more in tune with that. In the last few years I’ve concentrated more on building the power to do what’s best for myself, building a career, consolidating my position to do more. But I feel like time is slipping away—there’s not a someday to work towards. It’s good to remember that there are tangible, actual ways.

*

Person 1: I’m worried I’m choosing a career path that I’m not going to be able to support my family.

Person 2: It’s disturbing that access to stuff in the face of climate change depends on having enough money.

What are you thinking of doing for work?

Person 1: I’m not sure yet. But I’m seeing a lot of people go into finance, these lucrative jobs that I do not want to go into, but I’m worried that I’m setting myself up for greater difficulty.

What if there weren’t going to be jobs anymore?

Person 2: Like focusing more on learning basic survival skills.

Person 1: It depends on if we’re talking about a cooperative jobless world or an individualistic jobless world.

Person 2: I feel like sea level rise and climate change in general could make that landscape completely different. But you can’t really plan for that—it’s unimaginable, there are so many different possibilities. When I’m being rational, I prefer to think about things I can do to help [with] climate change now. My anxieties lie with stuff beyond the present.

Person 1: There’s a lot of control issues.

How do you live with lack of control?

Person 2: Everyone just kind of goes about their daily routine. But you could get run over, you could find out that you have Stage 4 cancer. You kind of have to ignore it—it’s a mental health thing. A lot of mental illness comes from not being able to put those worries away.

Person 1: I worry, and I think certain things I get a little obsessive-compulsive tendencies over. Sometimes I deal with it by trying to pretend that I know things—like, Oh, if I read enough about it, I’ll understand it, even though that doesn’t change the unpredictability of it.

What is the cost of thinking about it? I mean, what do you have to give up if you think about it?

Person 1: Ignorant bliss and self-indulgence.

Person 2: What makes it so much more difficult is that industry has made it about shifting the guilt onto individual people. Like, yes, plastic is bad for sea turtles, but plastic straws are not that big a deal.

*

[This was from a group of four who came up together; person 4 was quiet.]

Person 1: We were just talking about the plastic bag ban. It seems like a good thing!

Person 2: I’m just bothered that people are so ignorant about [climate change].

Which people?

Person 2: People on the internet. Apparently it’s not a problem. If it doesn’t affect you now, why bother?

Person 1: People who don’t have small children, they don’t have to look as far forward.

Person 3: I just learned about fast fashion and it’s stressing me out. I’ve been trying to go through my closet and get rid of stuff.

Person 1: I feel like it’s that subtle guilt that you give yourself.

Person 3: I start thinking about every little action I do—seven billion people are doing the same thing.

*

What are you anxious about?

Person 1 (indicates very small daughter): She’s on my shoulders.

Have you talked with her about it at all?

Person 1: Not that much so far. She’s a little young for it.

Person 2: I know that she and I have had some conversations about it.

Person 1: We do talk about the importance of conservation and recycling, we have talked about that.

Person 2: I know we were talking the other day about diminished habitats for animals. And we’re going to Narragansett Bay next weekend—this isn’t climate change so much, but there’s that area preserved for the [piping plovers].

That’s definitely connected to taking care of the rest of the world, the living world.

Person 1: And making her realize that it’s worth it. Of course it’s all in the news—that the environment is gonna be irreparably damaged by 2030, 2050. Well, she’s three years old and it’s 2020. By the time she’s my age, things will have come to this point. And I don’t feel like timetables for remediation are realistic.It can be really paralyzing. We can do individual things, but if it’s not accompanied by universal effort—I’m not gonna stop doing the individual things, but–

What about doing things with other people?

Person 1: Not really. We’re pretty atomized as a culture. I’m in school with people who are working on this, and I support them in their work. I’m planning to work on employment, community development, land use. I’m in law school, and to some extent I rely on social scientists to inform me about some of these things, like how we might bring people together with a better plan…

What do you do when you start thinking about these things?

I have a cigarette, or I drink a beer, or I get some food—some kind of quotidian pleasure. But also I think about these things late at night, when I’m alone and my family has gone to bed. I don’t know what it takes to focus people’s energy.

What would it take to focus your energy?

I mean, if there was something, I would show up and lend my voice. If I got an email, a call, I don’t use much social media but if [my partner] were to see something on Facebook, I’d show up.

*

Person 1: My anxiety is that people who are most affected are not causing it. A lot of it has to do with people who have a lot of wealth, and they’ll be able to survive….That the whole thing will be very unjust. In wealthy countries, the focus is on sustainable development, the focus isn’t on big impact things.

Person 2: A lot of the things that people do, like electric cars, the popular trendy things to do, in the system the money goes back into using more resources. You’re not really reducing the use of things. People need to be okay with consuming less, not just with resources being redirected.

How do you feel about all of this? Like, are you pissed about it?

Person 1: Anger is directed toward someone or something. This just feels inevitable. …

What are some things you do about this with other people?

Person 1: I don’t drive to work, but my coworkers do, so I try to talk to them, to encourage them to try other things.

Person 2: I do see people being less wasteful, and I think, how can I be more like them? Bying used clothing and furniture, making food at home instead of going out to eat—having more discipline.

*

I have a lot of guilt because there’s no way to overcome the amount of shit that we have on this earth. I’m somewhat of a hoarder, and when I’m trying to donate things, I’m like, “Oh, I should try to donate this, I should try to share this,” but then sometimes I just have to get rid of all of it. If I’m stressed, I shop.

What does that do for you?

I think it’s the rush of something new …

What else gives you that feeling?

Connecting with people. When I connect with someone, I like to know everything about them … But then if I try to [make these changes], there are still so many people doing nothing.

So is it fair to say that even as you’re feeling guilty for the amount you’re doing, you’re also feeling resentful of people who are doing less?

Yes, and I wanna know, is it gonna make a difference? Will me finding all these little piece of plastic make a difference?

What if—I’m not telling you this, I’m just saying if you definitively knew that it wouldn’t make a difference, what would you do differently?

I think I would just say, “Then let’s find a way to make it make a difference. We need to do better.” I wouldn’t just be like, “Fuck it.”

20190608_112157

[Image: A postcard addressed to the Army Corps of Engineers, asking that they reject a permit for the fracked-gas power plant proposed for Burrillville, RI.]

I’ll have more postcards like this at my booth sessions next week, Wednesday 6/12 through Monday 6/17, 2-5pm, in Burnside Park opposite Kennedy Plaza. Come and fill one out!

Climate Anxiety Counseling at PVDFest: Guest Artists, Postcards Against the Plant, and more

I’ll be at the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth in Burnside Park for PVDFest tomorrow, starting at 12pm and going as long as I can (probably till dark, anyway).

In addition to listening and talking with you about climate and other anxieties, I will also have postcards that you can fill out for RI DEM, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Energy Facility Siting Board to register your objections to the fracked-gas power plant in Burrillville. (The EFSB is no longer officially taking public comments, but they can’t unsee a postcard.) The postcards will be addressed and stamped, and I can put them in the mailbox for you if you like–all you’ll have to do is write a comment explaining why this plant should not be built.

If you talk with me, you’ll be able to take home a little piece of art featuring a Rhode Island organism–sometimes with an action suggestion, if that’s where our conversation leads. I drew a bunch of them, like this one in honor of World Oceans Day (phytoplankton exhale between 1/2 and 3/4 of the oxygen we breathe).

 

phytoplankton 1

[Image: drawing of phytoplankton species Ceratium furca, found in Narragansett Bay.]

For PVDFest, I’ll also be giving out organism drawings donated by these other artists:

May Babcock (who also donated handmade paper!) drew ajidamoo, aka Eastern chipmunk.

chipmunk mb

Zaidee Everett drew a marbled salamander.

salamander ze

Julia Gualtieri drew a big brown bat.

brown bag jg

CJ Jimenez drew a cecropia moth.

cecropia cj

James Kuo drew a pickerel frog.

pickerel frog jk

These and other beautiful portraits of our nonhuman neighbors could go home with you if you come talk to me tomorrow. I hope you will accept this invitation for connection and action.