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.

 

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Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market, 8/2/16

Weather: Sunny and hot, a small breeze, nice in the shade but I didn’t have it the whole time.

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Picture-takers with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.55

 

 

Observations:

 

This was my first booth session since I had to abandon one halfway through in June, and I’m definitely out of practice, both in booth-wrangling and in getting into “doctor” mode. For example…

 

… I got “that’s-alrighted” by someone near the beginning of my shift, and I really had to make a conscious effort to dissipate my rage. (It worked in the sense that I did not yell at her or make a horrible face.)

 

On the other hand, sometimes people have a really lovely and unusual way of putting things that shows up in almost everything they say, and I talked to such a person today.

 

A few people–vendors and market organizers–told me that the market’s been slower this summer than it was last summer. Today it seemed about the same to me–sparse, but not, like, desolate.

 

 

Some conversations:

 

 

 

 

[These two were friends]

 

PERSON 1: I’m kinda overwhelmed with climate anxieties. I’m in environmental studies and we say our department should have our own climate therapist.

 

What makes you the most anxious, what knowledge is the most burdensome?

 

People are resistant to hearing the truth. They’re set in their ways, they can’t change. It inhibits action–it feels like a roadblock you can’t work through. It’s not promising.

 

For what?

 For climate change in general. Even to acknowledge that it’s anthropogenic*–if that’s not recognized … we’ll keep exploiting natural resources and sending more greenhouse gases into the air. Agriculture will be threatened–there won’t be enough to eat, to drink, to use water for agriculture. Contaminants, pollutants–

 

PERSON 2: People have trouble seeing that climate change issues are also issues of social justice. Environmental racism, public health, what neighborhoods are safe to live in.

 

PERSON 1: I talk a lot about food access and the intersection of food access, public health and sustainability–local and global food supply. We all eat, so it’s not this far off “climate change [is] somewhere in the future.”

 

What’s it like to be the person who talks about this when other people don’t want to talk about it?

 Isolating. I have a good community of people who [didn’t catch the word] to do some actions, spread some knowledge. But I’m from Florida, and it’s illegal there to say “climate change” in school.

 

What happens to you if you do it?

 

It’s only if an administrator or someone from the county is in the room, there aren’t cameras or anything. But it’s a three strikes thing–first you get a warning, then it goes on your record, then it’s some offense–you go to court? In my AP Environmental Science class, never once was there a mention of climate change. I learned calculus through “disproving” climate change, disproving that it was caused by humans … In Miami, people wear rainboots to work because if it rains at all, there’s so much sea level rise and flooding, people are gonna need an extra pair of shoes. People recognize that there’s change, they just don’t think humans are causing it.

*human-made/human-caused

 

*

 

 

What makes you anxious, what sets it off?

 

When people don’t do what they say they’re gonna do. I can’t take it out of my head. If I don’t let them know about it I get even more anxious. I can talk to everybody but unless I talk to the person, I stay anxious. … I been fighting it since I was a child. I came through a crisis when I was pregnant with her [indicates younger daughter], like an existential crisis. I don’t wish it upon anybody. I learned that I need to take some people out of my life, and I don’t need anybody’s approval. I think anxiety comes through life with a message: you need to change the way you think about your beliefs. I’ve learned a lot, it’s been a rollercoaster–I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness anymore. They were always looking for perfection and we’re not even close to that. I think everybody has an inner voice that tells you exactly what you need to change, but it takes more effort to change than to stay the same.

 

*

 

 

Everybody’s gonna have to move north. [Areas that are warm now] are gonna be barely habitable. North is not really north anymore–it’s just gonna never be cool. Yes, it does bother me that southern Florida’s gonna disappear. It’s not that critical to me personally, but where are those people gonna go?

 

 

*

 

 

[To one of their companions] You know that’s one of my biggest worries. [To me] If everybody was to spend a little more time maintaining and keeping the planet a little more clean, we might be able to last a little bit longer–not only for us but for future generations. Especially our waters, especially our grounds. And if companies would spend a little more effort–it’s not based on the money, it’s based on health. What’s the use to have money if you can’t have health? You can’t eat dollars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/30/16

Weather: Gray, warm and muggy. Facing east.

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 9 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0

Climate change deniers: 1, sort of (see below–once they got talking, things changed)

Pages of notes: 6

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 2

Number of dogs seen: 4

Number of dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.08

 

 

Observations:

 

This was the end of a week-long stint; I’ll be back in Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park on 6/21.

Leaves were strewn around, from the rain and wind and whatever it is that dries out the plane trees and makes them shed leaves while they’re still green.

 

A cop car rode through at 5:56, but didn’t stop.

 

My last interlocutor from this day stopped by and said he’s doing a little better. Please keep him in your thoughts.

 

 

Some conversations:

 

 

 

So you think global warming is affecting increase in homeless?

 

It seems like it could be. Is that something you’ve seen?

 

Yeah, because of natural disasters, socioeconomic factors. You think global warming could affect economics?

 

Before I tell you what I think, could you tell me what you’ve heard or seen that makes you think it’s a possibility?

 Bernie Sanders said violence in Syria is because it’s too hot, and global warming. That’s my question.

 

I think what you said about natural disasters is probably right–people could lose their homes or if their situation is precarious, a natural disaster could kind of put them over the edge. And for economics, I think that could happen in a couple of ways. One way is that if the climate changes, it might mess up the ways we grow food.

 People here can afford it, but the homeless, or in poor countries like in Central America, Mexico, climate change consequences–fight for resources always is a [didn’t catch the word] in the conflict of the world. When they colonized America, that was for resources. Why people go to emigrate? I always believe that human society is always on the move in order to survive. [When people talk about climate change] they never comprehend immigration. I feel terrible how the world’s being destroyed by pollution. You know the Marianas in the Pacific? They found some garbage in the depths.

 

*

 

 

[These two came up together and looked like they might be related]

 

Person 1: I ain’t anxious about that fake shit.

 

You think it’s fake?

 

I don’t believe that it’s real, ’cause people are willing to lie in order to get funding, but if it’s real there’s nothin’ I can do about it. I don’t waste stuff. You can be one of those people who go around and tell people what to do, but they’re not gonna listen, otherwise the Greens would be winning and they’re not.

 

Why not?

 

[People] know they’re gonna go the rest of their life with fresh air and trees.

 

Person 2: They don’t care because they feel as though it’s not gonna affect them.

 

Person 1: We know we’re gonna have water for the rest of our lives–we can touch it, we can feel it.

 

*

 

 

Person 1: Life. I’m homeless.

 

Person 2: If we lost the Arctic that’s bad enough. Antarctica would put 200 more feet of sea level.*

 

Person 1: The majority of U.S. cities are on the coast.**

 

Person 2: Even a minor change could put us over the edge … I did 26 years with the government in Miami, and central Florida spent $500 million on water ports, hardening wharfs and jetties, uninterruptible power supplies… They could never say “global warming” but they could look the other way when the money’s been spent.

 

*Doctor’s note: I haven’t fact-checked this.

 

**Doctor’s note: Pretty sure this is a mistake.

 

*

 

 

[These two were a couple.]

Person 1: Our daughter just graduated from Brown, and she’s about to be out on her own.

 

Person 2: She makes good decisions and makes good friends. But she’ll be living in New York, it’s a big city.

 

Person 1: We’re in Houston, so we can’t swoop in and see her.

 

*

 

 

Money. I need more of it, always. There’s never enough. Climate change too–I do snow, and this winter there wasn’t much snow, so I didn’t make much money. It all comes back to money.

 

*

 

 

Am I anxious? Not really, not very. I guess it’s a little bit concerning. I think there’s a good possibility that it is to do with global warming, whether manmade or not. Many many years of history show fluctuations in temperature, it’s not something that’s brand new. There’s a good possibility that some of it is cars having an impact on it. The ozone layer’s depleted from all the carbon monoxide from all the cars. And then there’s industry, like especially power plants that pollute, especially in China–I’ve seen a lot of issues with pollution in China, I read that at the Olympics they had so much pollution that they had to order their factories to stop working. I don’t really think about it too often, but it’s really affecting people there.

Alternate Histories: 7/1, 7/8

7/1/15

Pollution in the ocean, and then fish eat it and then we eat the fish.

What kind of pollution?

Plastics, because they’re so small it’s hard to collect them, and that worries me. Wildlife in general. You read about whales or something washing up on shore and they choked on plastic, choked on fishing nets.

(Friend: And the turtle thing.)

Yeah, the turtle thing! It’s very unnecessary. As a nation, or in the world–we’re so advanced that we’re so ignorant. We’ve forgotten the basic rules of life.

Do you give people a hard time when they throw trash around?

Yeah, and my daughter does too. She’s always holding people accountable. She’s five! and she’s like, Mommy, how come that person just littered? Her dad isn’t like that so she’s always holding her dad accountable when she’s with him.

*

7/8/15

Because we live in the same world, everything finds its way to us.

Neither Z nor R, her mom, nor JR, her dad, have ever seen a sea turtle in real life–its real life or theirs. The next day, JR used his break at work to look up Mystic Aquarium–they released a healed sea turtle in 2014 and didn’t have any turtle guests at present–and Mass Audubon’s turtle rescue.

Assist a sea turtle and you give aid and comfort to a jellyfish eater, a long-range traveler, a potential elder, an animal that can live without a human story. This caught Z’s imagination. “They shouldn’t need us, but they do need us, mommy,” she said. She drew pictures for her friends. She got them into the spirit of it.

That winter, R’s and JR’s bosses gladly gave them the week off from work when they explained their plans. They bundled Z into so many layers that the outermost coat was a grownup’s parka with the sleeves rolled up, and braided her hair to fit under a tight wool hat. Because they were first-time turtle rescuers, they took the day shift, walking until they were too cold to think. While they walked, they filled their backpacks with washed-up garbage, and R and JR tried not to fight.

All week they didn’t see a single turtle. “Are you disappointed, baby?” R asked Z on their last day.

Z squinted into the bitter wind. “No,” she said finally. “Well, kinda. But no, because that means they’re not in trouble, they didn’t need us this time. That’s good, right?”

Or it means there aren’t any more, R thought but didn’t say. How can we be sure? Intimacy takes time, it takes so much time. We would need to watch for years, through seasons. We would need to go out on boats, and maybe that would stress the turtles out, or cut them up, or scare their food. How can we know enough to know how anything is supposed to live? What can we learn about the possible power of our hands in the water?

As the ocean got closer and closer, Z and her classmates learned more and more about it. They spent day after day alongside it and, when they could, in it, using their phones to monitor changes, weeping and praying together the week of the big bird kill, dragging a landfill’s worth of trash inland to dry out its stink in the sun before figuring out what to do with it. They drew national attention.

The rise of the water all along the east coast was so sharp that year, the storm damage so severe, that even Florida set zero-emissions goals and then, the following year, moved them up, and then, two years later, met them ahead of schedule. Hundreds of sea-turtle hatching sites there had already been washed away.

We know a little about what happens far away from us, and think we know a lot. Intimacy takes time, but if we don’t have time, we may be able to make do with concentration. We may learn to know what we are seeing; we may learn to know without seeing.

Doctor’s note: This climate anxiety is from a conversation at the Sankofa World Market. I’ll be there again today, 3-6:30 pm. Please come and talk with me.

Alternate Histories: 5/15, 4/26

5/15/14

The economy. Jobs. I’m going to Florida because I’m living in a shelter here. My mom lives down there.

Do you get along?

Yeah, as long as I can find a job down there —

[Her sons are looking through the RI organism cards.]

Boy 1: I don’t like that one.

[I hand him the woodchuck.] (Is this one good?)

Yeah. What is this? Can I have this pencil?

[He goes to take the pencil and/or a dollar out of the donation jar.]

No, I need that.

Boy 2: Do you have any good ones? Can I look at these? Do you have any sharks?

How do you feel about a spider?

Yeah, a spider.

Boy 1: Do you have any other spiders?

*

4/26/15

The following week, H and TT moved with their mom to their abuela’s house outside of Naples, not too far from the state forest. “Fakahatchee!” the boys giggled and then turned shy. But as their mom and their abuela slowly learned to live together again, smoking Black and Milds on the steps of the house and flicking palmetto bugs away from their feet, the boys started to explore.

It was summer, almost too hot to move, and the woods were buggy but cool. From older kids in the neighborhood, they learned about paths and places to avoid, and how to sit still if you saw an alligator, or if you wanted to watch a lizard or hear a bird, and to never throw any sugar away there and always apologize if you broke off a branch or the spirits would get you.

But what spirits? It was their abuela who told them about the Calusa people who used to live there. “You know what’s funny,” she said, lighting another Black and Mild, “after white people came in here, some of the Calusa people went to Cuba, and you know that’s where my family and your abuelo’s family come from. And my tias used to always say that we were part Calusa and part negra and part Spanish. Up here, white people tore up all the things they built, and they still always wanna be digging them up, but the Calusa were fierce. Like you, fierce men like you,” but they could never tell if she was teasing or not.

If they could keep out of alligators’ ways and recognize cottonmouths, if they could avoid slipping on slick moss in the swampy parts and pick ticks off them after playing in the grassy parts, if they remembered to keep on good terms with the spirits, they would be all right. From other people, they were safe. But if they got careless, if they didn’t use their senses and their knowledge, if they didn’t learn fast, they might die fast, medium or slow; of a broken neck, of drowning, of snakebite, of insect-borne virus. Or they might crush a plant that was last of its kind, muddy a stream that needed to run clear, insult an ancestor who’d had enough to put up with. They could hasten the effects of seeping salt and creeping heat, or they could bring themselves into line with with woods and water and centipedes and spiders, leopard frogs and gray foxes and green anoles and algae, so they might all live in it and live through it, for a while.