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!

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In RI? Testify 5/29 to support the Water Security Act!

The Water Security Act ensures that income level isn’t a barrier to safe, clean drinking water, and requires management plans to be accountable to the public. It will help prevent corporate control of water, protect water as a human right regardless of income, and start putting in place ways of handling water equitably and responsibly as the climate changes.

The hearing for this bill is on Wednesday, 5/29 at 4:30 pm. Can you come and testify? If not, can you call the senators on the RI Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture (especially if one of them represents your district) and tell them why you want them to pass it?

Tell them how important healthy water and healthy public land are to your and your family’s life and well-being!

Tell them about problems you’ve had with drops in water quality or rises in water costs!

Tell them how the water system where you live has been affected, or could be affected, by flood, drought, sea level rise and erosion, high heat or storms!

Tell them how a Percentage of Income Payment Plan (where your water rates are a fixed percentage of your income) would reduce financial strains on you and/or your family!

Tell them why it’s important for water systems to be accountable to the public, and for water users to have input into how water is managed!

Tell them why it’s important for water systems to take into account economic, social and environmental justice in the communities they serve, when they’re making improvements and plans for the future!

I feel like often (and more recently), when we in the US have a need to interact with the people who govern us (to govern is to control, remember), we are trying to stop them from passing a horrible law. This is a chance to encourage the people who make the laws in Rhode Island to pass a law that’s really not too bad!

Here is the bill itself, RI S0820, so you can see what it requires from the towns/cities, agencies, departments, districts, etc. that are responsible for getting water to the people who use it. Please come testify if you can!

Guest Post! Climate Anxiety Counseling with Julie Beman: City Wide Open Studios, New Haven, CT, 10/14/28

[Note from Kate: Julie Beman held her first ever Climate Anxiety Counseling session last week in New Haven, on the sidewalk next to Violet Harlow‘s studio sale and across from Edgewood Park Farmer’s Market. Here is her account of the day.]

 

Weather: Sunny and cool

Number of people: 7 stoppers (3 sitters) and many walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0

 Pages of notes: 0

 Dogs seen: many

 Dogs pet: 2 goldendoodles

 

 

Some conversation recollections:

 

1. Oh my god, I can’t believe you’re here! I need to talk to someone like you! I just bought this painting of a whale, I’m upset about the report that came out, I use so many plastic pens and I saw all those animals with stomachs full of plastic and there are so many plastic pens in my office…

I was thinking about the pens and remembering that I have fountain pens from my father and grandfather and I’m going to have them cleaned up and give them to younger people in my family and say “here’s a gift from your ancestors.”

(Then we talked about how ancestors don’t have to be from ancient times. Just a generation or two ago people didn’t use plastic, cooked at home, tried not to waste food, used hankies…)

*

2. What’s wrong with the climate? Why should I be anxious about it?

Well, some people think that the climate is changing and causing a lot of problems, and some people don’t. Have you thought about that?

I don’t care about anyone here. I saw a video of people in a cafe and then a tsunami came in and flooded everything. I cared about those people.

So you feel compassion for those people?

Yeah, people on islands. Not here. I think about the environment. I try not to buy a lot of things. I don’t need a lot of things. People buy too many things. We don’t need that many things.

(And that was about how it went until he said “Yeah, I see why you’re doing this. Cool. You made me think. Cool.”)

*

3. A man and a woman. He talked about the government and multinationals and career politicians and “follow the money.” She talked about all of the things she’s trying to do – organizing, making donations, calling/writing politicians. He just kept going and going – very ‘splainy – and concluded with “Well, are you supposed to give us advice before we leave?” I asked if that’s what he wanted, and he said yes, so I said “OK. Try to spend some time with your feelings.”

 

Other folks stopped by who didn’t have time to sit and talk, but said that they would have if they could. A couple of people said they were moved by the question. One bicycler shouted that she’d be back later.

 

On Instagram a woman asked if I’d be doing something similar locally (Hartford area rather than New Haven), and I said I was trying to figure out where to do it.

 

 [This is Kate again. If you’re interested in figuring out a version of Climate Anxiety Counseling that works for you and the people in a place where you live or spend much of your time, let me know at my gmail address, publiclycomplex, and I will help you get set up.]

 

Learning Things

I’m going away for a week, to this, in order to develop a project that uses this as its germinal point. There’ll be more to know about it soon. I hate learning things, but this will probably be good in some important ways.

I won’t be at the Sankofa Market at Knight Memorial Library on Wednesday 7/25, but maybe you can go anyway and get your vegetables. I will be there on Wednesday, 8/1, and at the Sowing Place iteration of the Market (at the South Side Cultural Center) on Saturday, 8/4.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to read, this new reflection on pleasantness, the erotic, and more (of) that by Keguro Macharia, and this older interview between Ashon Crawley and Sofia Samatar on the Otherwise, are good to think with and maybe even learn from.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 6/20/18

Weather: blue blue sky, veils of cloud giving way to hot direct sun

Number of people: 5 stoppers, no walkbys [? check]

Pages of notes: 4

People I’ve seen before, back for more: 1

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 2 (this is the correct ratio)

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.71 plus a penny from Guyana

 

Observations:

This was the first instance of this market this season. I left halfway through to go to the rally for immigrant families, and when I left the crowd was just picking up.

I invited vendors to come and mark the map.

Nonhuman animal presences: brown cowbird, chimney swift, sparrow, bumblebee, honeybee, cabbage white butterfly.

Four kids whom I recognized from last summer at this site came to the market, but didn’t stop and talk with me.

I forgot the goddamn fucking Narcan and talked with one person who could potentially have used it, and I was supposed to have made a plan with a Spanish-English interpreter by this day, and there was at least one and possibly two people who would have been able to talk with me if I’d gotten it together.

 

Some conversations:

[After marking “affordable housing” on the map] With Boston moving down here, we’re moving in the direction of all this urban sprawl, but the pay doesn’t increase here. Ten to twelve dollars an hour is not a living wage, so if rent’s gonna constantly increase—when we were looking to move, everything that we looked at was either slummy or too expensive. I don’t think it’s gonna get better. And it’s also applicable if you have a business in mind—there’s no incentive for them to keep prices down. I feel like wages and respect for people’s lives just never keep pace with housing costs and food costs. And I—I mean, I did it all myself but I have a lot of things going for me. English is my first language, I’m a white female so that helps—obviously it’s worse for people who don’t have those advantages.

*

 

The mounting racial tensions in this country. Everything is so amplified by the media, and it’s bringing out emotions people didn’t know they had, unconscious bias—you learn things about people you know, people you thought you knew. It’s also, for me—I’m in a biracial marriage and it’s really coming out how opposing our families’ views are. We’re not always prepared to deal with it. [Between the two of us] there’s a lot of topics we don’t talk about, because we get so emotional. It’s hard when someone can’t see it your way.

And also, it’s not exactly the same for each of you.

Yes. And to talk about the unfair advantage—you know, you love your husband so much, and you also know he’s had this advantage over people who are just as deserving, but if you point that out you’re diminishing his accomplishments. Or things that they consider massive trials are just a walk in the park for some people … There are these questions in relationships that weren’t there before. It’s exhausting even though it’s important.

*

 

[This person helped me carry the booth to my car when I had to leave.]

I’m definitely worried about climate change and sort of what we will do as the water rises and people have to leave their homes. All the cities that I love are on the coast. In Miami, they have to pump seawater out of the streets. And yet there’s a huge development boom there. It’s unsustainable. But how much time do we have to relocate people and where do they go, especially people with less means—are we gonna have this huge refugee crisis?

… In Houston they had these floodplain maps and they knew they weren’t developing responsibly. They knew all the possible bad things that could happen. And the houses that got hit the worst there were owned by low-income people, who were tricked—I mean, the American Dream is buying a home, for some people this was maybe their first home, or they were the first ones in their family to own a home, it was exciting, and they were exploited.

I’m trying to learn more. I read about this in a couple of news articles—it’s different in Miami and in Houston and I want to learn more about that difference, focus on specific communities, learn more about community-specific issues and policy proposals by people who know more than I do. We need to have big conversations about tribalism, and how the way something is phrased to you tells you what you’re supposed to think, so people [repeat the things that their group says and] don’t learn that much about the nuances of specific issues … But I’m not going to talk to a climate denier and be like, “Let’s see what they have to say.”

map 6-20-18

On the map of worries, people wrote:

drought and food shortage (a seed from me)

Lincoln Woods

Affordable housing

South Beach

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/14/18

Weather: Warm and bright, breezy.

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 6 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

People who got the Peanuts reference: 4

People I’ve seen before, back for more: 4

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.45

 

Observations:

No food trucks upon arrival; set up facing east. Super caffeinated. Wind is more intense when I’m sitting on this side. Security-looking guy in the park around 11:40.

Nonhuman animal presences: pigeons and sparrows, a robin, a grackle, starlings, a wasp. A few plane tree seeds landed on my notebook.

Sometimes while I’m sitting at the booth I see people passing by who are just so satisfying to look at.

The wind blew my handtruck over twice today and blew the “IN” sign right off. Someone in the park handed it back to me.

 

Some conversations:

 

[After I removed an inchworm from his shirt and put it on the ground]

I don’t like to kill nothing. I let ’em go. I don’t want ’em on me, but I try not to kill ’em, even the grass. We need them. Certain things kills other things—they all kill each other.

*

 

Well! That Washington Post article about Antarctica.

What did it say?

It’s melting three times faster than expected.

What are the things about that that make you anxious?

Flooding. Coastal areas are gonna be in trouble. I’m okay, I’m 400 feet up.

Obviously you’re worried about it even though you’re gonna be okay.

Well, there are gonna be issues because people are not gonna be ready, and they’re not gonna know what to do. Look it up.

*

 

If we’re on this course, things aren’t gonna be good. I feel like our only hope is if technology catches up with it. Like I saw this thing in the ocean that just collects plastic, it just scoops it up.

Why do you think technology is the only hope?

It seems like it’s human nature to not try to solve a problem until it already happened .. They didn’t put up the hurricane barrier until after the hurricane of ’38. And those are smaller scale. Some people don’t believe in it. You’d have to get every nation on board, and preventing it is gonna be hard because of obstacles—by the time everybody gets on board it’ll be too late. People don’t trust science the way they should. So you get someone saying, “I don’t really believe in that,” and it’s like, what data or what facts—you can’t not believe it just because you don’t want to believe it.

It sounds like you’re having some of these conversations. Who are you mainly having them with?

My parents. They’re skeptical of it, they’re like, “They just want you to buy green lightbulbs,” like it’s part of some huge agenda. They’re starting to move now. The overwhelming scientific consensus, if that’s actually facts, which I believe it is—People who are skeptical don’t passionately believe it doesn’t exist, they’re just apathetic. Probably they’re Republicans, so their main concern is the economy …

 

How do you feel about these conversations?

It doesn’t anger me or anything. These are people I know, it’s not like they’re policymakers. I scoff a little bit. If you’re trying to look into it with an open mind you’d understand that that’s how it is. Some people are saying we’re already doomed.

Do you think that?

No. I think I have a sense of being like a teenager, where I’m invincible. It’s hard to imagine, so it’s not gonna happen, at least in my lifetime. Of course I believe in it and think steps should be taken, but I haven’t seen anything that shows me I should be concerned with my well-being. I read articles about ice melting, melting faster than we thought, and they worry me, but I feel like I’m never gonna understand it fully—the dangerous levels of ice that are in the ocean. I never click, I just scroll past the headline on my phone.

…I spend more time arguing about politics. I don’t consider myself a political person, but I’m against the sitting president, and I think that’s taken the place of climate change [in my consciousness]. When he comes up in the news, some issue or gaffe, or if I hear someone champion the president, I’m like, “Whoa, let’s pump the brakes.” But no one in my daily life is coming up to me and saying, “Climate change isn’t real.”

*

 

 

I’m going through a lot right now with school and work. It’s stressful because I’m halfway through it. I just took my third test, there are four in all. The problem with work is it’s a dead-end job and I don’t want to be there a long time. I have a fear of failure. I want to get into the military, but getting in is not easy. There’s the first test, the ASVAB, and if you don’t pass it you’re not in. It’s got math on it, science—I took it once and I’ve been practicing online, improving it. It’s rough … I’ve tried combat breathing, exercise, vaping, weed, walking—there’s so many things I’ve tried—but the thought just won’t escape me. I just feel like an utter failure. You take it once, then if you don’t pass you wait a month. The third time you have to wait six months. That’s a big time barrier. Things in my life are constantly shifting. Four months ago I had no job, I was sleeping on the couch. If I pass it, I’ll be the happiest person in the world, because I did it. I have issues with social anxiety and self-esteem. There are times when I do believe in myself.

Who else believes in you, that maybe could support you?

My parents, but they live so far away. I talk to them almost every day. They encourage me to follow anything I want–“Oh, you wanna do this? Go for it.” They don’t pass on so much wisdom about it. I was so happy to find a thing I wanna do, a thing I wanna be, because of my anxiety, my confidence, my self-esteem, but there’s just so many unfortunate obstacles. I don’t wanna give up, but it depresses me. I see myself as a good soldier. I just need a chance to prove myself …

Just wearing that uniform of something so honorable and noble. They make you fearless, hard as a rock. I always wanted to be like that because everything in my life is so discouraging. Everything else, it doesn’t seem necessary. Work, relationships, friends—I’ve always been moving from place to place, saying goodbye a lot to friends, girls I’ve cared about. I don’t want to make friends anymore because I’m always going to say goodbye eventually. I don’t want a break. Maybe when I pass this test, then I’ll be like, sit down on the porch, “I did it.”

map 6-14-18

I seeded the map of vulnerable places in RI with “Erosion + flooding” along the south coast.

Someone added, “WATCH HILL WESTERLY PROTECT PIPING PLOVERS.”

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/9/18, PVDFest

Weather: Hot and bright, then hazy

Number of people: 14 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

People who got the Peanuts reference: 3

Pictures taken with permission: 2

Dogs seen: 28

Dogs pet: 1 (this is obviously a bad ratio)

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $7.05

 

Observations:

This booth session took place during PVDFest, and most of the events in the park were events for kids. This meant that the music that made it hard to hear people talking with me was also incredibly irritating to adult ears. There was a ton of foot traffic, including many apparent out-of-towners, and I think the festival situation with many attractions meant that conversations were shorter than they otherwise might have been.

I saw a cop walk by at 1:05 but I’m sure there were many more around, even more than usual.

A bunch of people were out collecting signatures for candidates, and one of them said to me, “I’m feeling hopeful. Keep up the good work.”

A sweat bee and a tiny ant both visited my hand.

 

Some conversations:

India Point Park—at a corner of the park, we’re losing that to the water, and it doesn’t seem like anyone’s doing anything. I’ve been watching it over 24 months getting worse and worse. I would be surprised if [the city] doesn’t know about it, because it’s very obvious. Two-three years ago, I saw a pile of papers—books, looseleafs—fell in front of the [bus] tunnel and nobody cleaned it up. It took two-three months for the weather to work it out. Nobody does anything about that. All these events make me believe that the city needs to have better leadership, because it doesn’t cost a lot of money to do something about an obvious problem. But I’m a guilty person—I have not tried to do anything about that.

What would you do, if you did do something?

Maybe I would call the Parks Department, or the City Manager. But it’s crazy for them to need me to contact them. Also, because I was here as a new person, so I didn’t have that attitude I’ve been here for four-five years, and my attitude in the first years was I was an outsider, it’s not my problem. But now that I am no longer a tourist—if I were still a tourist, I wouldn’t even have stopped to talk to you.

*

I live down in Narragansett, and I’ve been trying to figure out some good groups that are more local. There’s the Surfriders, but I don’t surf. There’s also the Unitarian [Universalist] church in Peacedale—I did a march down with them in Wakefield against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I’d like to see a ban on plastic bags in Narragansett. There’s a lot of other stuff going on. I know—excuses, excuses.

*

Water. Water purity and cleanliness … I’m looking at offshore drilling, and also local swamp infrastructure. I’m from New Jersey, so there’s a lot of inland development—it’s not what some people are focusing on.

What do you feel when you think about these things?

Equal parts frustration and despair. Everyone recognizes it as a problem, but I don’t think there’s enough of a will. It doesn’t affect a large enough part of the community, and the people it does affect are relatively poor, people of color, on the outskirts. You get lip service from whoever’s running for Congress, but when you’re not in power, what are the things you can do? I’m not in a place where I even know who to talk to.

 

*

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: I’m very concerned about climate change and I just love this. As Darth Vader I live in space, but as [THEIR CIVILIAN IDENTITY] I’m very concerned. When people ask me how Providence is, I say, “It’s falling into the ocean.”

Why do you say that? I mean, why is that the thing you say? Or what reaction are you hoping for?

Well, people ask you something, and then you disrupt their pattern of consciousness.

What about your consciousness? Of the falling into the ocean thing?

My everyday experience is influenced by that understanding.

Person 2: I have a lot of fear about what the future’s going to bring. A fear of what politicians are gonna do. A lot of deforestation.

Person 1: They’re saying the Syrian Civil War was due to instability caused by crop failures. So, also, resource scarcity in areas that don’t have them.

Does that feel close to you, though, or far from you?

Person 2: It fees more far. Because it’s physically remote, not immediately visible.

Person 1: But sometimes it is, and people ignore it. Like after [Superstorm] Sandy, in New York, everybody was like, “We need to do this and that,” but the city didn’t change anything that it was doing.

Person 2: I don’t think as much about stuff that’s further away. But like, Miami Beach is flooding, Cape Cod’s gonna be underwater. It’s not on my brain for a long period of time but I suppose it’s in the back of my mind.

*

I’m one of these Luddites who don’t believe in global warming. I think the planet’s been around for millions of years and we have such a tiny snapshot of what’s what.

*

Natural disasters coming all at once. I don’t have anxiety over it because I can’t control it and I don’t worry about things I can’t control … I’m an importer, I import from China. I used to be only made in the USA but you can’t do that anymore. I have to make a living.

*

Person 1: Right now? The impact of returns on online shipping, the financial and the climate impact. It’s poignant for me because I’m finishing my basement, I live in Chattanooga, and I bought an air conditioner online, and it was the wrong size. And they’re so heavy, you can’t even ship them UPS. I almost used it, even though it was the wrong size. I was like, “Why would we keep it,” but it weighed on me so heavy.

Person 2: There’s context that can completely negate what you think you’re doing. And you can do your research, but it’s a lot of time.

Person 1: If you’re gonna stay in the system, you have to make these decisions.

*

 

 

I don’t know if it’s anxiety, but concerns. What are our children’s children going to be dealing with—what’s gonna happen? And the loss of beauty.

Do you picture it?

This is just worst-case thinking. I don’t picture anything. I watch movies and that makes me go, “Oh my God.” I do a ton of research on current events as it pertains to clean energy—I own a solar company, so I’m doing everything that I can to change it and encourage other people to do the same thing. There are a lot of people who somewhat know it but they’re not convicted enough to take action.

map 6-9-18

On the map of worries/places in Rhode Island they’d like to protect, people have written:

STOP THE FRACKIN’ POWER PLANT!

Lanking [Lincoln] Woods

Stop violence and the shooting of people

Erosion at India Point Park

Johnston Landfill is getting too big

Jenks Point

BEACH

Blackstone Valley Bike Path

SAVE FOREST FROM SOLAR PANELS

Save the climate + beaches: allow windmills along the windy coast

[Next to Block Island] Underwater in 20 years

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/8/18

Weather: Warm, bright, sometimes breezy, sometimes heavy.

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 1 walkby.

Number of hecklers: 0!

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

Dogs seen: 8

Dogs pet: 0

Cats seen: 2, in a stroller

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $10.25!

 

Observations:

I forgot my notebook, but people I know who were working in the park shared some paper with me.

A cop car drove through at 11:44, and one that might have been an unmarked one was parked by the old Greyhound stop.

Seeded the map with “asthma in South PVD.”

I was a bit late starting because I stopped to chat with two friends. The first food truck arrived at 11:30, soon after I did. After some deliberation, at noon I switched sides, west-facing to east-facing.

Things I couldn’t help with today included the location of the barbecue truck and the high enzymes in someone’s liver.

I swear that the second conversation down is not secretly a dialogue with myself.

 

Some conversations:

 

 

 

I’m generally a person who has anxiety about things outside of my control. I keep it at bay through relaxation techniques: stepping back from events, looking through a lens other than time. Am I anxious about climate, yes. Is it as intense as my other anxieties, no, ’cause it’s so gradual. It’s not like there are that many days where the heat is so intense. It’s so hard to feel something out of your own personal experience. It’s the same reason that the world has no empathy for each other.

… I have this unrealistic and yet very overwhelming expectation to do everything right all the time—a certain unrealistic way of organizing one’s life. [It comes from] a very superficial set of learned rules from when I was a child. It takes active unlearning in how I’ve got to operate. In my later life, the ways in which I’m trying to carve new ways and understandings of doing things—it has some opposition with some of the other ways. … I’m good at thinking, but that plays into my anxiety. How much thinking do we spend on things that don’t require thinking?

*

Definitely climate change is at the top. Plastic particularly. I’ve been feeling guilty this week concerning plastics. I’m really busy right now, so I eat on the run, and I was cleaning out my car and there were five-six different coffee cups all with straws. It’s not right, and I need to do something about that.

I hear you on the plastic but I want to talk about the busyness for a second, can we?

Sure. I overcommitted myself. I have a hard time saying no. I can get things done and I’m pretty good with the stress of managing things, but different things overlap and I’m pulled in all different directions. I didn’t acknowledge it until I became an adult. I said yes to one thing, and then something happened that I couldn’t say no to. So that was two big things, then I just kept going, “Oh, you need this, and this.” And these are all things that I love to do! I want to do them! I have a stake in it. It was clear in the beginning what the parts were, but the rest of it came from being a perfectionist and adding more things on, [and] then I have an idea so I want to follow that through. But I cannot follow all of these. I need to collect them and do them at a later date. But I got to the point with these where it was too late for that.

What’s something you think you might take with you from everything you’ve just been telling me?

To try to do more planning ahead. To be more organized earlier on rather than doing crisis management. Taking a minute to sort things out, doing what’s right in front of me.

*

I work by the river, right where they put in the new footbridge, and after Waterfire there are these weeds that catch everything. You know that big silver sculpture, and the steps where the ducks are? … There’s graffiti down there, too, it says, “Where will we go when the water rises?” and sometimes it’s covered a bit.

*

I worry about [the cats], I worry about the noise—just constant worry. I had a cat that was sick and died two years ago, and that may be why I worry a lot with them. If they don’t finish their food I get shaky and nervous, I get irritable. They’re working on our building, and there’s all this noise, and men going up and down. I was worried about how they’d react to it, but they seem pretty good.

*

 

 

I’m an environmental educator, and something that comes up a lot for me is hearing in people the resistance to learning anything about climate change, or resistance to doing anything. I just moved up from the South. People in the Northeast are more informed.

What age of people do you work with?

People my age to their 60s. They tend to be pretty informed. And then with students, 15-18. It’s hard to identify what everyone is resistant to. People have twenty different things they don’t want to know, or care, or spend time learning about. It’s easy for me to see that I’m not alone, so I’m trying to get them to join in any movement—even recycling—then they wouldn’t be alone. If they spent a portion of every day of their lives thinking about climate change, maybe we could do something about it.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/6/18

Weather: Cool and gray, on the chilly side

Number of people: 9 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

People who got the Peanuts reference: 3

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.54

 

Observations:

One food truck was there when I got there; another one showed up at noon, both on the west side of the park entrance, where I was too. I’ve also noticed that when people talk with me while waiting for their food, they disappear as soon as their food is ready, which makes sense if they’re hungry/on a timed lunch break.

Two cops biked through the bus station, and then through the park, starting at 12:07. There was also a cop car parked at the old Greyhound stop—I noticed it at 12:20 but it might have been there longer.

I seeded the map with “clean water.”

In one of these conversations, the two interlocutors—who came up together and are friends—were talking to each other as much as or more than to me, and I wish I’d asked them if they’d talked about these things together before.

People often come up with some version of “Don’t sweat things you can’t control” (as one of my interlocutors) and I would like to figure out an inviting, non-condescending way to point out that we are often wrong about what we can control and what we can’t (particularly when we act together).

 

Some conversations:

 

 

 

[These two came up together, and are clearly friends.]

Person 1: Your sign reminded me that it astounds me that people are still having children when we’re not certain that there’s even going to be a world for them.

Person 2: I think about that most days. Whether to have kids—the climate and concerns about what will be here, and also do I have the money, what does my job allow me to do.

Person 1: Or will North Korea nuke us before then.

Person 2: I also was thinking about the polar bears this morning. You see those individual images, but if you think about the scale … There’s just this confusion and this concern—I don’t know how to get past the conversation of, “It’s terrible and we should do something.”

Person 1: No matter how much I can do to do my part, if everyone else doesn’t do it it doesn’t do anything … You hit this place of uncomfortable complacency, and it doesn’t feel good.

Person 2: In 9th grade we had to each cover some animal that is endangered, and I [chose the Florida panther and I] learned so much about how we’re fracturing natural habitat. I love cities, I love skylines and lights and people, but … And then there’s this endless emphasis on recycling …

Person 1: And even with recycling—so I was with this group in college, we were trying to educate people, we put all these bins all over campus. And we ended up running into so many society-structured roadblocks. The facilities people still put everything into one bag, and the waste system was allegedly Mafia-run—any time you would call any of the separate landfills it would always go to the same voicemail. We worked so hard on those.

Person 2: I feel like recycling is a big smokescreen. [People are] getting mad at maintenance workers instead of big polluters. We’re all very vulnerable to people who are interested in their own benefit.

*

Old age is better than I could have imagined. I have very little anxiety because I’ve learned: don’t sweat things you can’t control.

map 6-6-18

“Clean water” comes from me, because people don’t usually mark the map if their mark would be the first one.

The person who marked “Rocky Point” marked it as a place they love, although they had no anxieties.

The person who marked “Providence” said as they did so, “It’s gonna be underwater, right?”

Someone wrote “Warren” and someone else wrote “the Bay” with a little heart.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/30/18

Weather: Warm and bright, some breeze

Number of people: 5 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 4.5

Pictures taken without permission: 1, but I got a thumbs-up

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.30

 

Observations:

I started half an hour late today, and I only got permission to share one conversation, but it was a really illuminating one for me.

It seemed like a lot more people were coming from the river side (eastward) than the highway side (westward). Of late I’ve faced the booth westward; maybe tomorrow I’ll change it. I did get some nice lookbacks and smiles.

Two food trucks today, both on the western side of the park entrance.

Say it to myself at the beginning of every conversation: This is not about how much I know.

 

A conversation: 

It’s my first time in Rhode Island. My son is six, and we live in Nevada, northern Nevada near Lake Tahoe. He’s really concerned about [invasive] flora and fauna in Lake Tahoe, which on a larger scale comes back to people not understanding how to be vigilant. And the four-year-old is just really upset about people littering in general. They’re both pretty good about that kind of stuff.

Is that something that you emphasize a lot with them, or do they get it at school, or what?

Yeah, when they dropped something on the ground my husband and I would say, “That’s hurting the earth.” And my husband and I were both raised that way. He’s from the high desert, and I’m from Florida, so ocean life is important to me, and keeping the water safe. It’s interesting in Nevada because water rights are such a big deal there, because it’s such a dry area, so keeping water pure there is important to everyone. Any new pollution or any attempt to bury any sort of waste out there, there’s a big outcry. There was a leukemia outbreak in Fallon, Nevada, about ten years ago, and they never found anything conclusive about what caused it, but there was a suspicion that it was from a waste leak.

So the water is something that people are very alert to out there.

Yeah, more out there than growing up in Florida. There it was more like people took advantage of the idea that the water was always gonna be there … If people aren’t taught it in school, they don’t understand it, and if they don’t understand it they don’t wanna talk about it.

Do you talk about it with people?

Well, I work with the military full time, and we do talk about it quite a bit. It’s not as much of a partisan issue in the military as it is in other places. We mostly talk about different solutions we can bring to the table … It’s a much easier area for [men and women] to collaborate on.

Compared to what?

Any sort of lines of security when it comes to war, or to terrorism. When you talk about gender—it’s less threatening in a context of natural disaster, where people will have different perspectives on a war zone, for example. But with a natural disaster, people tend to want the same things, food and shelter, to get back in place.

You mentioned that there’s less party politics to it in the military than elsewhere. Why do you think that is?

Maybe because it’s solutions-based. I’ve worked on national security in the Pacific and the South Pacific, and it’s really a long-term endeavor, so you have to have consistency, and partisan politics tends to fracture that consistency. Also in corporate America there’s maybe more of a difference between the haves and the have-nots, and in the military we’re all aligned with the same cause. … I could see there being dissension if a particular weapons set or technology created greenhouse gases and we had to figure out how to balance out their collateral effects—but there again, it’s the difference between short- and long-sightedness. It’s most acutely felt in the South Pacific—you’re talking to people whose homes are gonna be underwater in the next two, three decades.

How do you talk with them?

What’s tougher for us is if you’re not the person whose home is gonna be underwater. It’s a lot harder to explain to them why they should care. Sometimes you can use human interest, sometimes it’s leveraging. If they’re not in immediate threat, you can ask them where they think they’ll be in ten, twenty years. But a lot of people are just making it day to day, and so for them, you have to make those people more secure, with infrastructure within the community. But the average American above the poverty line, who wants the next generation to have a clean and safe environment—you mostly just have to include educating them and offer solutions.