When people say that climate change is what you get when your starting points are capitalism, exploitation, colonization and genocide, the burning of the Amazon is the kind of thing they’re talking about. This is the destruction of a world. It could mean the destruction of all the worlds we know.
If you have never been driven from your home by violence or disaster, I ask you to imagine the fire–fire set by human hands–taking not just your dwelling, but all your landmarks, your houses of worship, your sources of food and of meaning, driving you and your relatives apart, flattening and poisoning everything that made you who you are.
People are doing this to other people, right now, in what used to be the forest, in order to punish them for existing and to profit from that punishment. If you are neither the destroyers nor the people they’re trying to destroy, what can you do?
Climate and culture writer Nylah Burton has laid out a well-sourced and compassionate explanation of whyboycotting beef is a worthwhile response to this murder and desecration if enough people do it. Remember that the purpose of a boycott is to starve an industry or a practice of profit–clearing your conscience is a side effect. (That thread includes a few actions and choices beyond your own eating habits as well.)
Europe and Asia are presently the main markets for Brazilian beef and soy, so if you don’t live in those places but know people there, please strongly and lovingly recommend this to them. People living in EU countries can also write to or call the office of your MEP (UK residents can do it here) and demand that they block the Mercosur trade deal if it includes no protections for the Amazon (a little background).
Improving tree and plant cover and soil health where you live is not enough to counter the wholesale destruction, but is good practice and may offer some relief, especially if it becomes more widespread. If you use Twitter, @BuildSoil is a good person to follow for suggestions and instructions on how to do this. Local conservation, restoration, permaculture, and food sovereignty/food justice initiatives already often have a body of expertise and effort that you can add your weight to–if you’re not already involved with them, use those terms to search for some near you.
Here is an alternate history about the end of resource extraction. Here’s another one about the Amazon and transforming grief into action and healing. Let’s open our imaginations, recognize our connections, and let both of those inform our choices and actions: it’s true that destruction or life in the Amazon can destroy life elsewhere, just as what happens there when the fires aren’t burning can nourish life elsewhere. It’s also true that what we do on the ground we’re on, in the web of life we’re in, reverberates in places we will never touch or see.
I had Elizabeth Malloy of Living on Earth, with me, listening and recording (with permission), to see if there’s a story in all of our stories. She also asked some questions, so if you see italicized text starting with E:, that’s her. (Italics with no initial are me, regular text is people who stopped at the booth.) Elizabeth will be with me at the booth for the rest of the season, at both the Providence and Newport sites, so come along if you’d like to be on the radio.
Sorry about all the [brackets] and …, I had a lot of fast-talking people today!
Nonhuman animal presences: seagull, ant on booth, monarch butterfly, red admiral??? butterfly, pigeons. Elizabeth saw a hawk.
I was having that discussion with some people [at a recent music
festival] and it was really interesting.
interesting about it?
For one, because some people were there who had kind of the same outlook as me, and then there were some people there who didn’t have the same outlook. I think it helped us us understand—well, it helped them understand the situation and it helped us understand where they were coming from. But it seemed like what they were saying was mostly from what they heard, not from what they experienced, where I’m talking from experience. I think it’s really because they’re not really doing their research—they’re just going by what they’re hearing. I try to pride myself on just having conversations, not believing everything I hear.
What were some
of the things they had heard?
That there’s no such thing as global warming. Maybe they don’t even really think about it to try to figure it out, or maybe they don’t even care because they’re not gonna be around…I want to learn more because it takes so long to say anything. Some people who were part of this conversation knew a lot, and they were answering questions that I might’ve had too. I’m worried about what’s going on. I have a son. I live in Newport, we’re right near the water. I need to start learning, because I live near the water, and the tide might come up, and I might go under.
[This person, who works with the Newport Health Equity Zone, has taken on the assignment of asking market vendors and shoppers a different question about disaster each day.]
So my question of the day is: If the bridges were shut down both ways
and you only had two days of food, how would you survive?
people been saying?
People have been saying they’d fish, grow gardens, trade stuff—a
lot of trading. A lot of people said stealing, taking stuff. One
little girl I aasked, she’s eleven, she said she’d look to her
mom—she can’t really do stuff by herself so she’d look to her mom
to carry her. [We’re trying to] find out what people know, maybe do a
little class on survival. People don’t all have the resources they
should or know everything they should. But the idea is, this is
serious, climate change is serious, so what are you gonna do to
prepare for it?
Do you have
ideas about how you’d deal with it if it brings up new fears for
I would let them know that before this time period, people got
through cold winters and they got through hot summers. There was a
past [where people got through harsh conditions] and we can get
through it, and you can get through it. There’s older people I’ve
talked to and they’ve gone through it, they’re eighty years old.
How are you
feeling about climate change yourself?
I don’t know. I’m personally scared. I’m not gonna lie, I just this year found out what climate change was. Now that I’m seeing it I don’t even know a lot of the things we’re using and we’re doing, but I feel like we’re making it worse. I’m really scared. I can say that.
People are scared to leave the island. You have everything you need
here. But with climate change, we live on an island, so if all of
downtown gets flooded, there’s not enough room for everyone to live
up here. Would I be homeless? I’m scared of that. What if I’m a
person who’s afraid of leaving? I mean, I’ve been places, but only
for a week. This is where I’ve grown up, it’s where I was born, I
went to elementary, middle and high school here. I’ve never had to go
anywhere to work for a job, I’ve always found work here. You can
leave, but why would you want to? I don’t know life outside of
Newport—everything is here, all the resources I need are here, even
though there are some resources that could be more.
What do you do
when you feel those feelings that you just described?
I ignore it, I’m not gonna lie. And I feel like that’s the issue.
What do you
think might make people more willing to not ignore it?
Knowing how to survive. If I knew how people work, how things work with electronics…But with things like washing close with your hands—I’m so impatient. I have a dishwasher, why would I spend time and wash each dish by hand?
E: It seems like for you, climate change correlates a lot with survival.
Yeah, like losing what you need to survive. Are you worried about losing other stuff?
… So like speaking for my future … I wanna help people with substance abuse, and it seems like with climate change that problem would get way bigger. No one would want to use that resource [of healing from addiction] because there would be nothing to live for. My Pop, my grandpa was in I think the Vietnam War, and he was getting high because the tragedy from it was so terrible. It’s like you’re not trying to be there, when you really need to be there.
Would you be
willing to let go of some stuff before you had to?
At this point, honestly I would. Having these conversations [from the daily questions] really started to get me thinking about it. If it’s gonna give me a few years of time…
[This person started by reading the map of worries, which says, among
other things, “Too many hotels and not enough parking.”]
many hotels and not enough housing. We
do have homeless people [in Newport]. I think as a native Newporter,
they care more about the tourists than they do about us.
The city, and the tourists too. It’s just expensive to live here.
Is it getting
My rent goes up, my income doesn’t. … But I’m glad I got a roof over my head. I’m not really complaining, I’m just feeling for some people who don’t have that. I have a friend that just sold her house and she’s looking for a place, but every place has a waiting list. I pay almost $300 a month for Blue Cross. This is the richest country, we should have [affordable health care].
. Why do you think we don’t?
We’re probably spending too much money on—maybe we could bring down Congress’s salary. They’re not doing anything. Republicans right now, excuse my language, are sucking up to Donald Trump.
[Talking about mass shootings] What’s sad right now is you’re scared to go anywhere. I remember in ’77, they were talking about nuclear war–I don’t remember if we had to get under the desk.
Are people here
I don’t know anybody here that’s afraid, but I’m sure they are. This
is happening because people are having problems—they have no job,
they have no place to live. I worked for the government for twenty
years in [CITY], and then on the base for a while, and when you work
for the government you realize how much waste there is. Whatever
money you have for supplies, you gotta spend it or spend less next
year. So you’d see people paying $40 for a hammer.
[Candidates say] “I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that,” but they can’t do what they wanna do. When I was younger, we picketed the Housing Authority … I talk to a lot of young people and they don’t vote. They don’t care.
Do you know
why? Do you talk to them about it?
I do talk to them about it. I even have a couple of grandkids who
…People don’t believe in global warming. I watch Planet Earth and a lot of things like that. Look at the polar bears, they don’t have enough ice. … It concerns me, but I don’t worry about it. There’s nothing I can do. I think it’s a bigger problem than I can solve. I mean, I can talk to people about it, which I do. I’m at the senior center a lot, they see stuff on the news—well, they mostly watch soap operas.
I have a strong and long scientific background [that has given me] a sense of inevitability and the fact that humans don’t like to face change until we have to. It’s not anxiety anymore. I do have some [anxiety] that people get fixated on the weather, rather than on vectors in the viral sense, effects on monocrop systems—those things are more of a risk to my children.
… I’m a [MILITARY] officer and I try to lead people, and it’s so incredibly difficult to change someone’s mind through a direct, almost attacking approach… [It works better to be able] to say, “This is what I do.” Do as I do, not as I say … I wish it were facts and logic, but it’s not, and even feelings aren’t going to do it. Your values are indicated by what you’re going to do. But I understand the futility of it.
How does change
work in [your branch of the military?]
We’re usually faced with evolutionary change rather than revolutionary change. Part of the problem with [this branch of the service] is that we’re so technologically tied—we can’t separate our intellects from the technology we use…
The Navy and the Department of Defense understand [climate change] as an existential threat to our economic systems and our health as a country. [The Armed Forces] fundamentally do not do politics. Our strategic goal is to maintain the freedom of shipping and communications. No sailors or soldiers are fighting for a political statement. … They’re massively invested [in preparation]–every Department of Defense housing facility is mandated to have solar. Upgrades to systems…We’ve got bases in places that are going to be wiped out really quick. [When something bad happens], we have all these things we’re gonna be able to do, but until the bad thing happens to the right people …
Who decides who
the right people are?
[The military] is subjugated to the will of the people, which is the civilian authority. … The problem is too big for people to think they can do anything about.
Nonhuman animal passersby: housefly, seagull, cabbage white butterfly, shiny fly, red admiral butterfly, small black ants.
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
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.
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
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.”
I said to Jhane, the market manager, “Quiet day today,” and she pointed out that it was the end of the month, which should have occurred to me but didn’t. (Unlike many things that are labeled “privilege,” this is a nice clear example of privilege, if anyone’s looking for one: it didn’t occur to me because I’ve never had to wait for my food stamps to refill, and I’m not living paycheck-to-paycheck.)
I only got permission to post one conversation today, though I had a couple that I wish I could post, about (among other things) how poorly the US stacks up against other places that people have lived.
Nonhuman animal presences: bumblebee on the fake flowers at the taco stand, cabbage white butterfly, sparrows, pigeons, a starling, a wasp on a yellow flower I don’t know.
I’ll tell you what I’ve done in a sort of half-humorous, half-serious way. I live in New London, CT, near the Thames River, and I’ve planted blueberry bushes, because I’m going to be living on an island and I’ll need dessert.
Would you say humor is how you cope with it?
Partly. But it’s also making plans for the future. I will live on an island, I will need to eat. I do other things. I write letters … but I’m not sure we’re not going to hell in a handbasket.
How does it feel?
To think that we are? It feels terrible. I think people deserve what we get, because we’re pigheaded. Or maybe just some people are pigheaded and ignorant and the rest of us have to suffer. I can’t change it but I can make small efforts as an individual person.
Is there stuff you do with other people?
I sing with the choir, I don’t preach to the choir. I work with a food co-op and I’m here helping out a co-op that’s getting started… I’ve been to two or three or twenty climate marches. But if somebody comes up and tells me climate change isn’t real, I’m not going to argue—I’m not even going to verbalize my [MISSING ADJECTIVE, SORRY] reaction.
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?
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?
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.
For the Food Solutions New England 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge; prompt here. I did the signup wrong so am starting late. (Some of this seems a little…potentially burdensome for people of color? “Consider talking with someone you know, who would be willing, who identifies as being of a different race”?)
I feel like the number of words that anyone wants to read from a white person about being white is limited, no matter what the words are, so I will try to keep it short (for me, this is short):
When I was a kid I knew I was Jewish, because my family talked about it (and so, occasionally, did other people). I didn’t know I was white; most of the people I knew were, and none of us talked about it.
Thinking critically about whiteness and white supremacy started for me mayyyybe ten, twelve years ago? (I am 40.) The work of a number of online writers, mainly Black women, mainly writing for readers of color, laid some groundwork and so did the act of participating in the conversation ONLY by listening. This enabled me to both read more deeply and learn more from people I know as well.
My sense of myself as a colonizer or settler, or at least as someone who reaps the benefits of those enterprises, is much younger, maybe three years. The pattern is similar: this is a lesson started for me by writers and thinkers online, on Twitter and elsewhere, in a way that has enabled me to continue reading more deeply and learning more from people I know.
Between these two, I would say that my present sense of white people is something like, “People who, when we live someplace, make things worse there.” One way I try to address this is by not going very many places, or into very many contexts, unless I am invited–though sometimes I ask for an invitation.
The prompt asks, “How do you think about your own racial identity and its relevance to your life, work, studies and/or volunteerism in the food system (or as an eater)?” Certainly my class, as shaped by my race, affects what I can afford to buy to eat. This also affects the time and energy I have available to volunteer with Hope’s Harvest RI, which I do from time to time (maybe you can too?). And the food that I eat is grown/raised on land shaped by colonization, genocide and enslavement, and in many cases grown by people who–partly because of white supremacist interference in their or their ancestors’ countries of origin, partly because of the way capitalism and white supremacy work together now–are trapped and depleted by the work that they do.
For four years now the Sankofa Market in Providence has kindly hosted the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth (they’re looking for gardening volunteers! Email dresendes AT westelmwood DOT org!)–and I infer that my being white, in a neighborhood mostly dwelt in by people of color (at a farmers’ market where most of the vendors are people of color, which is an offshoot of a housing development corporation that has a high proportion of both staff and participants of color) affects people’s willingness to speak with me–as well as activating my own background racism, though I try to be aware of it and not let it shape the way I’m interacting with people. Here is a picture of me, so you can see what people see when they look at me.
Passover is coming up, one of the two Jewish holidays that my family celebrates as a family. I love it; I love the way that my own family has made room to acknowledge the holiday’s complexities and complicities, and the format of the Seder has been a huge influence on the way that Climate Anxiety Counseling works. There is a long email thread about who’s going to cook what, which I have mostly been ignoring, but I just made a deal with my mom about the brisket (grass-fed, organic, expensive, probably from McEnroe Farm), on Matabesec Mohegan land–which, full disclosure, I never knew until I looked it up to write this): if she teaches me how to cook it, I will do the part she hates, which is slicing it up before putting it back in the gravy.
It’s pretty common for me to have conversations about farming and food when I do the booth at the farmers’ market. I think the three different ways these three different people are talking about them are illuminating.
Yellowjackets; cricket sounds.
It’s a big world out there. It feels like a lot of things are ending, which, what do we do about that?
What do you do about it?
I grow more plants, I learn about growing plants. I come to things like this.
When is it that you feel anxious?
Reading a new piece of news about, oh, the ways that communities are experiencing the world changing around them.
What does it feel like, when you read that or see that?
Some kind of dread. But in many cases it’s very removed from my actual life. It’s like I get an echo of what’s happening.
Are there times when it feels more immediate?
Looking around—my grandfather is a big gardener, and talking with him about things that have changed in his lifetime, like, he can grow these peppers for longer. It kinda feels positive—he feels like he can grow more stuff. English is not his first language, and he doesn’t read that much, so what he knows is mostly what my sisters and I talk to him about. So it’s one step removed, the dread—he gets it filtered through us. He’s good at focusing on the here and now.
Is that something you can kind of learn from him?
It feels like it’s something out of reach, but it’s good to tap into—to work in the here and now.
Do you have conversations with other people about this?
Yeah, but a lot of the conversations I have are not very productive. Some of them end in like a feeling of dread or incapacitation—it doesn’t go anywhere and I kind of feel like it’s a copout, but how to move past that?
What would happen if you moved past it by going through it?
Often it’s either been with people or in spaces where we’re not able to be intentional about moving past that. It needs a devotion of time and energy, and you can’t do that individually, and the stars gotta align to have what you need to do it communally.
What would that look like?
It would look like something that if it exists—it should look different from anything that we’re used to.
It’s a bigger thing than me recycling. I do all the good things that people should do, I have dreams of owning my own little piece of land. But it’s no use doing my part unless I can get other people to do their part. The work I do, the nature of my work, kinda goes in that direction. I grow sunflowers at my house, I give ’em away to my neighbors—the other day there was a big group, a big bunch of middle schoolers, and I offered them sunflowers and they were all like ugh, you’re a dork, like my nephew’s that age. But there was this one, she didn’t want to admit that she wanted one, but she came back later.
… I feel guilty when I’m driving a car. On an individual level I do what I can, but on a macro level it’s too big for just me. Even if push comes to shove and we have to deal with some kind of environmental tragedy, we’ll handle it, hopefully. “Okay, what do we do now that the world’s underwater?” One thing that does worry me is that a lot of people close to me live in food deserts, food insecurity. Like one of the kids I was talking to [at CityFarm], she was like, “My family are farmers, but I go hungry sometimes.” So yeah, we’re giving food to the neighborhood, but what’s happening on the other side of the table? … I’m always mindful of it. I’ve gotten friends involved … It’s dope to meet people and get them interested in your interests. I’m much more into the personal interactions than I am in leading a movement. Empowering people to grow their own food– “You know what a ton of mint you can grow in this little pot? Try it!” People like to start with succulents. Something that stuck with me from childhood: Rich Petersen from CityFarm, he’s been my mentor, and he was like, “Food is one thing everybody has in common, ’cause everybody has to eat.” You can use food as a connecting tool. This one guy, I gave him a handful of huskcherries. He didn’t wanna try ’em but eventually I’ll get him.
I have a lot of concern about farmers and how they’re impacted by climate change. There was some crop I was reading about recently where there was a blight, it was a very poor crop this year, and it was related to climate change. Oh, corn. One clue after the next, that’s something. With seafood—seafood is very affected by the warming of the waters. Jonah crab is becoming a thing here, and it’s great to have jonah crab, but it’s also a symbol of warming waters. How it’s affecting lobsters, other shellfish—I’m in the food business so I think about it from that point of view.
And also the things that eat lobsters, the things that lobsters eat—
Of course, it’s a whole ecosystem getting disrupted.
When was this first brought to your attention?
I’m personally not engaged in any advocacy for climate change. I have a lot of colleagues who—that’s much more in their wheelhouse, and I support the work that theyre doing. Water, energy, the environment—food is the nexus of a lot of things … I’m worried and frustrated because not everybody in the political world is as excited about this. That’s what we need, to change a lot of things. And it’s hard when you come from a state that’s pretty democratic. If I was in a purple state I might be more involved.
Yesterday I gleaned these tomatoes with Hope’s Harvest RI, and today I’m going to listen to your climate anxieties and other anxieties with Sowing Place. We’ll be behind the South Side Cultural Center (393 Broad St, Providence), 11am-2pm. Come see me.
I still have to talk with other vendors about this, but it seems to me that the market is doing well this year overall—a lively and ongoing flow of vegetable-buyers.
Talked with my first climate change denier in a while today.
This is the second time at this market that I’ve been mistaken for a paranormal service worker—a palm reader or a psychic.
The woman who owns the candy store across the way very very kindly gave me a bottle of water for free, and one of the farmers very kindly added an extra tomato onto my tomato purchase.
Pause for heavy rain at 3:30.
Being unable to do anything. I’m a news junkie. I watch and I say, “This is awful, we need to clean this thing up, we need to do something.” There seems to be something done about it with this particular administration.
So are your anxieties at the national level or—
The geopolitical level. Who’s gonna talk down that little fat guy?
Where do you get your news?
I watch both sides. Fox, CNN, NPR—I go around. I spent time in the service. Given where the rest of the world has been and was, we are the greatest country in the world, the most generous country in the world. If you have a little problem—everybody’s gonna call us. But then they’re—it’s like a teenager, you raise them, you give them everything and they’re, “Well, I didn’t ask you to do that.” Not the countries, the leaders. Let me be clear, we’ve screwed up a few things. Vietnam—we maybe should’ve done something there, but not that.
…The criticism for this administration is harsh, not only here but outside. We have this deficit in trade. We paid for the security of the entire European administration, and now they don’t want to pay. But those talks are moving forward. I’m a conservative, and I’m in favor of whatever brings those policies forward—of changing attitudes that result in changing policies. The US is the dominant player in any aspect of society. Whether that’s something that should be—if these countries had paid off their share, maybe it wouldn’t be.
So you actually seem satisfied with what’s going on right now.
[Gestures at my sign] I’m in therapy! It ain’t done yet, but I’m under treatment if you will. I’ve gone to the doctor.
How do you feel like you can contribute to what you want to see?
My contribution would be to continue to vote to put the underpinnings, such as Congress, put those same policies into effect. It seems like a little thing, but overall, I’m taking it where I want it to be. You asked me what I was worried about, not whether I knew what to do about it.
[I give him a card to take with him and explain what the EJ League—where the donations go—does.]
See, now, that’s real, that’s not up in the sky. The arrogance of human beings thinking they’re gonna take on God. He’s gonna take care of us. … You gotta get out of yourself and look around a little bit.
We know it is our fault. We have been blessed with a planet, we know it, but we’re savage—we don’t know how to share. We should start to be humans. I wish that all of us would combine, ’cause we strong. I just hate the fact that—I think about that boy that died, how people came together. Why can’t we do that just because? Why does it have to be after a death? I am not too proud of my kind. ‘Cause it hurt. I’m part of it, you part of it too.
… Deep inside of me I know I’m not doing as much as I should. People say God is coming—I just hope one day we learn how to be humans and live together… Everything has a purpose. My mother had a parrot fish. He played with my mother, he noticed her, he followed my mother in his tank. He was her world, he was her baby. What makes you think because it doesn’t have language–I’m not a veggie, I try, my kids try. They saw a video of a cow getting killed. And I’m also part of that. It hurts. Trees, just because you can’t talk to them—they’re breathing things, they grow.
I’m worried about things not changing fast enough. We’re at a point in a lot of ways—not just with the climate, but in the political landscape, the social landscape, people who are marginalized—where change can’t come fast enough. What is it they say, two steps forward, one step back? One step forward, two steps back? It’s an interesting time to be alive—I wonder what a child growing up now feels like.
You’re not that old, you’re probably going to be around for a while. What does it feel like to you?
It feels like we have a lot of work to do. I’m a new medical resident at [HOSPITAL] and I work with families having a hard time, parents who maybe don’t know how to manage in the best ways, and try to hold space for them in a way that requires empathy and patience and emotional labor from me.
How do you take care of yourself in that?
Therapy, I see a therapist. And finding like-minded people and finding support among allies.
I’m so happy I’m eating a tomato! I’m not sure if I’ve really thought one way or the other about what we talked about last time, not explicitly in terms of climate change. But I’ve really been enjoying summer and the natural parts—eating this tomato, going to the beach—but it’s tinged with a little bit of “I might not get to do this forever.” I’m working with [someone who’s studying] hospice, and there’s a similar mindset with an old relative. The psychology of hospice is, “It’s done.” I don’t necessarily think it’s the same. It’s natural that our individual lives end, but this isn’t natural. But then I think if there’s someone really young who has cancer—you can’t totally use the analogy because then it’s like we’re giving up. But there are parallels in terms of mourning.
Lots of kids drew on the “Put Your Worries on the Map” map today. You can see the thumb of one of them here, pointing at their art.
There weren’t a lot of vendors when I got there. Two came later.
Nonhuman animals: seagulls and pigeons overhead; bumblebees, cabbage white butterflies and a black swallowtail (?! I think) in the South Side Cultural Center’s flower garden.
Normally, I don’t include much of what I say in these conversations. But I had one on this day where I clarified something that a lot of people who talk to me seem unclear about, so I’m including the part of the conversation that has both the explanation and why I think it matters.
I’m concerned about my grandson. When I went to pick him up from daycare, they told me he’s been play-fighting too much. We’re trying to help him learn to make good choices for himself, limiting TV time and time with the phone. And part of the problem is the daycare isn’t an exciting environment. He’s bored. There’s too much reading and sitting still for him, not enough playing … I’m the grandma, so I get him once a week. He wants to fight me! He’s getting bigger, so his punches hurt now. We used to play-fight, but now he doesn’t know his own strength. I wonder if that’s part of why—and then sometimes he goes to his dad’s, and that’s an uncontrollable environment. We just have to keep communication going with both his parents, and be diligent about getting results. I know he’s bored … And he’s good at school, he just needs an outlet.
(I give her a card with “small cranberry” on it.)
Oh, I know cranberries, I grew up on the Cape. I know the cranberry bogs. We used to skate on them, because they flood them in winter, and you’re not gonna fall through, ’cause where you gonna go? We used to try to cut through the bog to other places, but we’d get in trouble for that ’cause we’d be smashing the cranberries. We’re cranberry people. My family worked for Ocean Spray.
Why are people not more concerned about long-term change?
Do you have an opinion about it yourself?
Because people are built to live on a day-by-day basis.
It’s so pressing, it’s so stressful. I don’t know a lot of the science behind it, but it’s just so apparent—I don’t know how people can still be in denial about it. Look at Puerto Rico—what do you mean, this has nothing to do with what humans are doing? I think it has to happen to these people—the water has to rise up to their doorstep. If it’s not an issue for them, it’s not an issue. Just here in Providence, it’s gonna hit the more affluent parts, but there’s only so much further they can go. And people living in the West End—it’s not like they can go to the next town over—when you come in and take their land because you can? Right now they know that they’ll be fine, because they have the means to put their house on stilts or move somewhere else. Or Seattle’s banning plastic straws, which is great, but it has a lot of issues—you have people who use plastic straws, but then you have huge industries taking up so much. It’s like saying that people are poor because they get Dunkin’ Donuts every week, like there are no systemic issues keeping people poor. And there are folks with disabilities who need to use plastic straws.
Also like—here we are talking about plastic, and a lot of people come talking to me about that, but do you know the connection between plastic and climate change?
No, I don’t.
I can tell you if you want to know, but my point is that we’re all walking around putting these things together but we don’t necessarily know how they’re tied together. I do it too. Do you want to know?
So there are two things: the first thing is that plastic is made out of oil, petroleum, and all the work of extracting and making it uses fossil fuels. And the second way is that when plastic sits around in the ecosystem, it puts a strain on that ecosystem that’s already strained by climate change.
[This person had to go do something else and another person came up and spoke to me (I didn’t get permission to post that); later we resumed our conversation.]
So the plastic bag ban—that’s kind of regressive too, particularly with low-income communities. I definitely don’t want to be that person that’s like, “Every idea is bad,” but—and it’s not something that gets brought up in these conversations. It’s like, “Oh, we banned plastic bags and plastic straws but a coal lobbyist is the new head of the EPA.”
How do you think the conversation could go, or should go?
I guess it would be like: how are you going to address—for every initiative that you do, what are you going to do to change the structures that created a lot of these environmental damages? And the other thing is, what are you going to do to prepare communities that will be of course impacted? … In DC they also have a bag ban, where you pay a fee but they take it and they let you choose an organization to donate to, so it’s not perfect but maybe it’s better?
Yeah, especially if it’s an organization that benefits communities that might be strained by the ban, maybe? What about in the work that you do, where could you see these things happening?
At [WORKPLACE] it’s pretty easy. Like we were applying for a grant, and one of the questions was, “What are the green components of your work?” So I did some research on food transportation, and it made me actually think about it—it turns out food transportation takes up so much energy. But when I think about my other job … I can’t really think of a way that we could incorporate being green in what we do.
[These two came up together.]
Person 1: I guess I feel like there’s a downward spiral. As the heat rises, more energy is used in cooling. If we’re not generating that electricity in a sustainable way– I read that they’re trying out Syrian strains of wheat because they’re supposed to be more fly-resistant. They’re from this seed vault in Aleppo. It’s because flies are a much severer problem in the Midwest. But destabilizing our food raising regions is scary and weird. For a while, sure, but when it’s the Sahara, you’re not growing anything.
Person 2: Are you gonna forgo capitalism entirely? And if not, where are you gonna make your changes and set your boundaries? As long as you’re participating in capitalism, it’s a ripple-wave effect.
Today, kids decorated the map of Rhode Island with pictures of an angry monster and a more cheerful-looking monster.