Climate Anxiety Counseling: Cranston Health Equity Zone Speak Out event, 11/23/19

Weather: We were inside the Arlington Elementary School cafeteria. Outside it was mild, in a post-frost way.

Number of stoppers: 15

Number of walkbys: None (see below for why)

Pages of notes: 15.5

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Conversations between strangers other than me: 6 or 7; again, see below for why

Observations:

The purpose of the Speak Out was to listen to people living in the three neighborhoods covered by the Cranston Health Equity Zone about the factors that contribute to, or tear down, their health and well-being. There were other stations about food access and quality, transportation, housing, trauma, education, affordability and expenses, and a few other things, and the event was set up so that people could enter a raffle if they got a paper signed at every station. So a lot of people stopped to talk with me who might not have otherwise.

Also for this reason, I was talking with people pretty much constantly except at the very end when the crowd thinned out (after the raffle, I think). So if there were walkby comments I didn’t hear them, and because it was inside and no one had a service dog, there were no dog sightings. I didn’t collect money today, although I did tell a couple of people about the Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective, where other donations have gone this season.

The HEZ set me up with a Spanish-English interpreter (plus a floating Khmer-English interpreter, who also translated some signage for me) and a note-taker. As the conversations went on, both of these people talked with the people who were talking with me—sometimes with me involved, sometimes while I was talking with someone else. I loved this and want to do it all the time now! They both appear in these conversations: N is the interpreter, and C is the note-taker. K is me.

My signage was different today, based on conversations with a few people in and outside the HEZ, and I’m kicking myself for not taking a picture! The front of the booth said, “Climate Anxiety Counseling 5¢” and then, in Spanish, English and Khmer, “Are you stressed? Angry? Worried?” and then, in English at the bottom, “Here to listen.” Instead of a blank map of Rhode Island for people to write their worries on, I drew a map of some of the climate change/health connections specific to Cranston (there’s a picture below). All the RI organism cards I gave out were food or medicine plants that grow wild in the city, and one person recognized one of them, which was my secret dream!

No Batman sightings today either, but the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, who was maybe about 6, helped me pump up the handtruck tire that won’t hold air.

Some conversations:

It’s not something I really pay attention to. You live in New England, you get what you get.

K: [I said something about high heat days, and she took it a different way than I meant it.]

Oh, yeah, the heat. Definitely heat. My daughter gets assistance for heat.

K: Or I don’t know if you remember the flooding back in October—

Oh yeah. Yeah ,we live right on Pontiac. … I work for the school department, and I have five grandkids that I pick up every day. I don’t have time to breathe. My husband’s retired, so he’s sitting around all day and I’m doing all this. But I can’t sit around doing nothing. But yeah, my daughter had to move, and she went from gas to oil—now she’s back to gas, and we had to fill out the paperwork again. She’s a single mom with three little girls—seven, six and four, the baby’s almost five.

So it sounds like—obviously you want to do it, but it sounds like that takes a lot out of you.

Yeah, but like I said, I need to be doing something. And she does have enough support. When it’s too much, I call my sister, she’s in Ohio, and we just vent. She vents to me too—she just found out my brother-in-law has prostate cancer, and they can’t operate because he’s already had so many surgeries. But life is life. You gotta have a positive attitude, you can’t go around every day down in the dumps.

*

Every day there’s a reminder of the fact that we’ve got twelve years, ten years, before we can turn the clock around.

K: Sometimes like to ask people how they know what they know about climate change—where have you been seeing that?

Well, the media, but I’ve also been reading a lot of reports, studies, that say realistically we need to start changing it around now. But I don’t know what, if anything, we’re really gonna do. Obviously we do things in our own communities that are helpful, but what governments and corporations are doing—I generally try not to be stressed out about it. I do worry about other people, in my community and elsewhere, who don’t have the resources to deal with it…

…There just needs to be better allocation of resources. I don’t want to get too political, but Mike Bloomberg bought $30 million of political ads for one week, and he’s got [billions of dollars] total. The UN released a report that the food crisis could be solved for $30 bilion. It’s just really bad allocation of resources. [Climate change] does have real life consequences, but it’s hard for people to conceptualize how to address it on their own local level. There’s this LNG plant they want to build in Providence, down on Allens Avenue … If that thing ever blows, not only is the whole community affected but Cranston and Edgewood are gonna go just like that.*

C: What makes you so involved?

I started when I was eighteen or nineteen, but when I bought a house and I realized I was gonna be staying for thirty years—that’s why housing is so important. That’s what gets you invested in the community—well, there’s family ties, but a lot of people don’t like their hometowns.

*The Univar chemical tanks, which are within the explosion range of National Grid’s LNG facility, have a 14-mile disaster radius.

*

One of the things, for example—it doesn’t have to do with climate change—but where I live, I try to grow things over the summer, and animals come over the summer and they don’t have food, so they eat it, so I never get to grow any food. Sunflowers, tomatoes—these animals, the little chubby ones, they created this tunnel underneath the house. And something that worries me—where I live now there hasn’t been a problem, but at the time when I lived around this area, we had a problem with rats. I worry that they might come through the pipes for the laundry.

*

I’m pretty sure the school that I live next to has radon in the basement. Supposedly they’re knocking it down in the next few years, so I don’t know what’s gonna happen then.

K: Is it something that people talk about in the neighborhood?

I know the kids are scared to drink the water at school. It’s kept pretty hush-hush, but the parents all used to go to the school.

K: Is it the kind of thing where parents might be willing to get together to ask for some kind of action?

I used to do after-school programs there, and the problem with any kind of action is that there’s a lot of languge barriers. A lot of the parents are immigrants coming from other countries, they’re scared to say anything—people don’t know that we live in a democracy [sic] and that they can speak up. And there’s a lot of grandparent-raised families and multi-job families. I work for One Cranston, and we ask people what they would change about their communities, and a lot of people don’t know what they would change about their community.

*

Climate change, that’s an issue. I’d say I’m pretty worried. I like what Providence did, with no more plastic bags.

When do you think about it, what gets you started worrying about it?

Randomly. Or I’ll start thinking about it over the summer when it gets really hot, or when weather changes too drastically.

C: What kinds of things do you worry about?

How animals are gonna get affected. They don’t really have a choice. I’m a big animal person—I like them more than people.

Do you try to look out for animals or help them survive?

In Guatemala I saved a lot of turtles. My family’s from there, so we go down there every year. We were at this restaurant and there were baby turtles in cages, I guess because the bigger turtles [in the pond] wanted to eat them. But there was a little hole in the cage and the baby turtles were getting into the pond. So I was like to the guy at the restaurant, “Do you have a net or anything?” and he got me a long net and I caught them and put them on a little dock. My family’s like, “[NAME], come, the food’s on the table and it’s getting cold,” and I was like, “I don’t care, I’m fishing out turtles.” … I would love to save animals 24/7.

*

Just, like, the timeline– “We’ve got twenty years and then we’re all dead.”

K: How does it feel to see people saying that?

I just stopped going on Facebook. But anytime I make—I just graduated from college, so anytime I’m making large life choices, I’m like, “What’s the point?” [laughs]

K: You’re laughing but I’m guessing you don’t really think it’s funny, so—what is the feeling?

I don’t know if I have a good word for it. It’s not one of those stresses that come up every day.

K: How does it affect your decisions?

I don’t know if it’s made a specific or conscious choice that I’ve made. There’s just so many big things [happening] and it’s just like, what’s this big thing.

*

I feel like I don’t know enough. I’m embarrassed to say that.

K: [I pointed her towards the map I had made, which you can see below.]

I can say this, I’m sensitive to high heat days in terms of my workplace. OSHA doesn’t govern schools. There are days where I can’t even walk up the stairs, let alone be in that building for six hours. Sometimes people will pass out.

*

[This person spoke quietly and it was hard for me to hear them well, so there are some gaps.]

I’m a little bit worried about myself—from the war, I went through a lot. From 1970 to 1975. I left my country. I’m here helping people, especially with education for people from poor countries. People in my country who were educated were killed by [the Khmer Rouge]–professors, doctors, police…

…I’m still too much in my mind. All the worries for everybody, many things with my job. [He named the schools he worked at.] I retired Friday, June 26, 2015, almost five years now. I’m still thinking too much. My family all graduated from high school, Classical or Central, [I think he also said where some of them were going to college]. Myself, I’m still worrying about living here. I’m healthy, but my mind still misses my country. I want to fight for freedom—not to arrest good people.

[C asked a question about how he thought the Cambodian government would respond if there were bad storms.]

They’re selfish. They didn’t care. The government doesn’t come up with a solution. They take your family from the ground to the top. Day by day, I’m safe but I’m thinking about them.

K: When you feel like it’s too much for you, what do you do? Is there someone you talk with, is there something else you do?

I went to the doctor. The doctor told me I need counseling, but I can control it myself. Sometimes I get headaches, I take a pill, one aspirin. I exercise sixty minutes every day. I don’t know what the solution is.

*

[Person 2 was Person 1’s mom.]

Person 1: Does it affect us? Not really.

Person 2: Yeah, it does.

K: I like it when people who are talking with me disagree, because it means we can try to figure out whether you really don’t agree with each other or whether you’re reacting to different things. So can you tell me why you think it won’t affect us?

Person 1: It’s natural—well, all the gases in the air coming from cars, and coming from factories, causes climate change, that’s not natural. But it wouldn’t affect us directly.

Person 2: It’s affecting us right now, ’cause we have more hurricanes because of the things that we’ve done to the environment. It’s affecting the climate—the air gets trapped and it causes natural, what we call natural disasters.

K: Does it stress you out to think about it?

Person 2: Yeah it does, because it makes me think, what’s the future gonna be like? All these things we call natural disasters, but it’s not natural. If you call it natural—but it’s something we can do something about.

N: So in a sense we’re building it up. We’re like, “Oh, where is this coming from?” But we built it up.

Person 2: We’re living in this earth—it’s gonna affect the generations to come. We’re all human and we’re all connected! We’re gonna feel something. … I try to use less vehicles, walk places, riding a bike.

K: Also there’s things like—if the bus was better and went more places, then people would use their cars less.

Person 2: But the bus is costly for someone who can’t afford it. If it’s free—then the bus company doesn’t make money, so then we pay for it out of our taxes. But it could be less costly.

Person 1: They do offer it for free when it’s too cold.

Person 2: When we really think about it, everything is connected to climate change.

Person 1: I understand it from that perspective too—but before climate change we have to get into other things as well. We have to take care of ourselves as a people before we can worry about the climate.

*

I’m a science teacher. This is in our curriculum, and we spent most of the first quarter talking about it. I know a lot about it, and it does make me anxious.

So I have two questions. How do you deal with that anxiety with your students? And how do you deal with it when you’re by yourself?

It’s hard to hide it, because stressing how important it is is what makes it worthwhile. I try to spin it as an optimistic thing: you are the next generation, you have the power to change things.

K: What about when you get home?

It’s peaks and valleys. It can be pretty optimistic and moving to hear things that my students have to say. But it can be pretty depressing knowing that some people are out there actively doing things to spot progressive change. What kind of world—I don’t have children, but if I have children—will they be living in? …. It feels like it would be kind of selfish to [have children]. I studied environmental science, it was my major in college, and I’ll never forget, the first day of class, Environmental Science 101, the professor said, “This is a depressing major …” So it’s always in the back of my mind. It makes me more conscious of trying to make better decisions. I carpool to work … There are so many aspects of the world today that are heavy and depressing.

*

I’m in Sunrise, I’m on the recruitment team. I’d really appreciate it if you could send people my way for the next strike, on December 6th.

How’d you get involved with Sunrise?

I was at Wyatt Detention Center at a protest—that was the first action, the first activism I’d ever done. I was like, “Hey, let me actually do stuff.” There was a Sunrise person there from Philly, and they were like, “Actually, there’s a meeting tomorrow.” So I went to it. I’ve been doing other activist work as well … Climate change is just a bummer. Just doing work about it—I probably don’t dedicate as much time as I should, but doing work around climate-change-adjacent things, it helps keep me not as anxious. It feels like I have nothing to feel bad about. Even if in twelve years Delhi is uninhabitable, it’s 200 degrees in Death Valley, I have the satisfaction of the knowledge that I tried, I did what I could, I tried my hardest. I can’t just not do social justice and climate justice.

*

I really don’t know that much about it. I have asthma. But it isn’t as bad as it used to be, so maybe the pollution isn’t as bad. I heard about plastic, I heard that in Providence you can’t have plastic bags.

What have you heard about plastic?

… How animals are gonna die—it’s making it [easier] for it to kill the sea animals. People are taking action upon it though.

[We also talked a little bit about relationships between humans, plants and other animals in ecosystems, like how ocean algae produces 2/3 of the oxygen we breathe.]

*

Climate change affects our mood. I do see people’s mood change when it’s colder, they’re depressed and down. I see a lot of people being affected, especially people who are away or apart from their families. In summer I see more people getting together, depression seems to get better with summer being around. Stress is worse during the winter—people are worried about paying for heat. People are coming more for assistance so they can be able to afford heat, or for National Grid to extend services because of heat.

C: In your work with people and families, do you hear them concerned with big storms, or power outages, or stuff they hear about the environment in the news?

I haven’t heard much of that. It’s more people filling out paperwork for National Grid to say they can’t shut off their electricity or heat.

K: And that’s so wild because that’s the same people, we have to pay money to the same people who are making the climate worse.

C: Do you think that people realize that?

I don’t think they’re aware of it—I don’t think people realize that many things are part of the same thing.

K: So your job is really helping people survive. Is that a strain on you? What about when somebody gets turned down?

That’s a terrible feeling. I see the frustration in their face, that they’re not going to be able to survive living here when it’s actually cold.

N: Let’s say they get turned down, and you see the person’s frustration. How do you deal with it? Do you allow those reactions to get to you? Like with situations I’ve encountered at my job, I don’t want to get too attached because it’s going to affect how I make a decision?

I’ve never gotten frustrated with them. I’ve felt disappointed, and frustrated with National—with the system, when I have my hands tied. It never gets easy to say, “I can’t get the extension and there’s nothing else I can do for you.” It’s not an easy answer…

N: We’re in a sense creating a barrier, to not allow these emotions to get through.

It takes time … [But] otherwise you would not have a clear mind to assist them and help them. It’s not that I have less feelings. If a child comes to you and tells you they’re being sexually abused, you want to kill that person. But [over time] you become able to say okay, we’re gonna get you help and here are the services you need.

C: With the HEZ, there were some mixed feelings about whether people would be concerned about climate change to have it be part of where the investments in resources are made. Is it or is it not a concern? And why do you think that is?

It is, but it’s not until it starts affecting them.

N: It’s like knowing that the issue is there, subconsciously, but then it gets cold and then your mind is actually talking to you.

It’s the same thing like if somebody needs new brakes—you don’t do anything about it till you hear the sound. People are like “I gotta go to work, I gotta make sure there’s money coming in, I don’t have time to worry about electricity. I gotta make sure I have my medications.”

C: That’s the insidious part of this. The large companies that create this issue make sure people can’t put the bigger picture together so that they can continue [making money].

N: In school they teach you how to not question these things—it’s more like they’re teaching you how to get a living, so you can just go through life.

[IMAGE: A hand-drawn black-and-white map of Cranston, with a few major interactions of climate change and health–high heat, air pollution and asthma, food supply chains and flooding–marked on it.]

Resilience Celebration and Climate Justice Report for Providence

Today, join Providence’s Racial and Environmental Justice Committee in celebrating our city’s resilience and sharing the Climate Justice Report for Providence. Providence residents have worked with the REJC and the city’s Office of Sustainability to put together a plan that doesn’t treat any place like a sacrifice zone, or anyone as disposable, but makes the well-being of our city’s people a priority.

If you have questions about what the plan will mean for you, your family or your neighborhood, or how you can participate in carrying it out, this is a great place to ask them! If you don’t know the people of your city that well, this is a great place to meet them.

12-3pm, Davey Lopes Recreation Complex (227 Dudley St), Providence. Spanish-English interpretation will be available, as will food for the first 100 people. I’ll be there with the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth.

There’ll be music (live and DJed) and stuff for kids too. Please join us.

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: Miantonomi Park, 8/12/19

Weather: Hot and bright

Number of people: 5 stoppers, 2 map markers

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

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

Dogs seen: 7

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $0.07

Observations:

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 will be back to record at the 8/26 and 8/28 sessions, so come on those days if you want to be on the radio.

Nonhuman animal presences: Two tiny brownish butterflies, ant, white butterfly, housefly, bronze dragonfly (I can’t figure out what kind these are), seagull, little green fly.

A rare thing happened: Someone came back to speak with me for the second time and I got to hear what they did after our first conversation. If they can face their fears and expand their capabilities as steps toward participating in the world in a way that’s responsive to climate change, maybe you can too.

Some conversations:

*

What’s the question of the day?

The question of the day is: in a bad storm, what would the strengths and weaknesses of your community be?

[We talked about this some, and I think I brought up that because Providence is a city, there are a lot of people who have a lot of different skills to share.]

A lot of the jobs here are the same thing, just different places. Like waitresses. Very few people do construction. People who do construction aren’t from here.

If a bad storm were to happen like that, all of Newport is just done. There’s water over here, there’s water down there.

What’s the worst storm you remember?

Have I been through a storm? A lot of the bad storms, I’ve heard about, I haven’t been through.

*

I noticed that you wrote on the map, “It doesn’t happen in just one place.” Can you say more about that?

You can take one place and try and protect it, but that doesn’t do anything about the whole problem. I’m really really frustrated. Nothing seems to be happening and what’s happening isn’t fast enough. The Point section [of Newport], all those very old houses—and a lot of them are for sale. And they can’t move them all. Since I rent, I’m never gonna own, I don’t think of it that way. Superstorm Sandy cut off a road to the wildlife refuge for years. …

I did go clean the beach. I wanted so bad to go down to [the] Allens Avenue [cleanup], but I don’t drive well on the highway. If I can still register, I’m gonna just go and be terrified. I signed up for communication skills [courses], and computer skills—I think I can learn a lot but computer skills are going to be the most useful. And I did sign up for the climate discussion at the library. What I’m trying to do is write down my thoughts so I can keep organized. We only have a certain amount of time. It’s not funny. This is now.

*

[Person 1 and Person 2 are kids, Person 3 is their parent.]

Person 1: I don’t want the ocean to be dirty.

[To Person 2] What about you?

Person 2: It’s kinda like the same thing but I don’t want like—you know how sea turtles, they think [plastic] bags are jellyfish?

Do you talk to other people about this?

Person 2: To my mom. And some of my teachers at school and at my camp.

What do you do at camp?

Person 2: We go outside and we go sailing. Today I did a learning thing about the ocean, so we can keep the ocean clean. So [one of the teachers] did these tests and we did like—and we made our fingers look like a turtle and we put a rubberband, and it was kind of like a test of a how a sea turtle feels. And we did a thing where she said to dump out all the seeds and put it in the plastic beads and we did that three times. I think all that plastic beads was actually the pollution that was inside of the birds and sea turtles.

When you learn about stuff like this, what about it makes you angry or makes you sad?

Something dying. Something I get mad about is like something on TV—somebody choking, like an animal. … I don’t exactly tell anyone about it, I kind of keep it to myself.

Person 3: How come?

Person 2: ‘Cause I like to. Sometimes I even think if someone’s doing the exact same thing as me.

Person 3: You learned a bunch of songs about not polluting. Do you remember any of them?

[Person 2 did not want to sing the songs.]

Person 3: I think one of the hardest parts of thinking about climate change is using the right language. Especially with young people … It’s really serious [but] is that going to help the situation, talking about it with young people and scaring them?

How do you talk about it in your house?

Very experientially—something’s happening and you talk about it in the moment. For whatever reason, animals are the way to a lot of people’s hearts. Kids love animals and don’t want to see them hurt. [And it comes with] the guilt of, “It’s kind of our fault.”

What would you like to do in response to this that you’re not doing?

It would be great to take them to New Mexico to build an earthship. That’s a really big dream. We’ve gone to a couple protests…I wish there were more options. … They talk about the three Rs, but I think there should be five or six Rs. We should be teaching them about refusing things, and repurposing things…

[Climate change] seems hypothetical because you’re not there. It’s easier to do these experiential teaching things in the moment—like pointing out the cycle of something and the people who made it. …It’s shifting, the conversations are happening more. It wasn’t really a thing to talk about in the ’80s when we were kids.

How has climate change affected the way you think about your kids and the future?

I’m pretty hopeful. Kids are incredibly resilient beings. I don’t fear for them. The only thing—I guess if I had climate anxiety, which I do, it’s about accessing nature, because it’s—there’s just not going to be as much access to nature in its current state. And the ocean especially, because water is so important to the health of humans. That’s the only thing that I think I’m really concerned about, is losing … that as they get older. My kids and their generation are 100% problem-solvers, maybe because they have to be. [But] one of my pet peeves is when people are like, “It’s up to these kids.” It’s not up to them. It’s up to us to make everything sustainable and [I DIDN’T TAKE DOWN THE END OF THIS SENTENCE].

*

My grandchildren were visiting last week… I’m very concerned that my grandchildren will have no water to drink, and I can’t tell them that. We talked a lot about climate change and why we don’t have dinosaurs. “Maybe we’ll have another ice age.” I just couldn’t get into the Industrial Revolution, from the 1700s and the 1800s…So we’re all feeling pretty confident [about] our lives, they’re not terrified of dying in their lifetimes …

*

Black woman, 50s, glasses, stylish

I’m definitely anxious and I’m more anxious about the deniers in our government. These rollbacks that they’re doing…I’m frustrated about that and I don’t understand it. The frustration is [with] the “profit over humanity” type thing. I’m worried about changes that I’m seeing in the current weather patterns. We don’t know what to expect … Should I start getting sandbags? Should I get an inflatable raft and keep it in my garage? Am I being paranoid? Am I being silly? Or realistic?

They’re trying to bury the science that’s out there, and it’s up to us to try to fight it… I don’t know if they just have an agenda and they’re putting lies out there or if they don’t get it, they just don’t want to. I think the bigger thing is, our values have to change. We’re very materialistic and I don’t think we’re looking at the big picture.

What are the values that you think we should either bring back or start having?

Just the simple things in life. Community, education, just being able to live our lives without everything they put in front of us. We don’t ask ourselves [whether we need it]. … If we were to cripple [companies’] profits–

What helps you?

Reflection upon it all. My church family. …Having like-minded people around you who can kind of see that perspective—people who you can learn from and who are receptive to things that you’re saying as well. Taking a look inside and asking yourself, “Why do I have to have this?” … A big part of our problem is—as a community—is it’s inconvenient to do a lot of things and I think that’s what’s holding us back. I don’t do too much for the cause in that regard. I think that’s a big reason people don’t want to talk about it.

… I need to start putting myself in a mindset to live on the bare minimum. [On the island that] my parents were from, the island that we used to visit, they had no electricity. Do I prepare myself to go back to that? … It’s not gonna kill me to use an outhouse. My family back in Anguilla, when those two hurricanes hit, we were so worried, we didn’t hear from them for a week and a half, and when we finally got in touch they’re like, “We’re fine.” My cousin had food in the fridge and they took the food out and they had a barbecue for everyone. They knew how to do the manual labor, they knew how to put the houses back together. The thing that I find different here is that people here are all about that profit—people [with those skills] are gonna be thinking, “What’s in it for me?”

[IMAGE: The components of the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth (plywood table, wooden stool, cardboard signs, map of worries, canvas bag for other materials) packed onto a red handtruck. Nestled in the bottom of the upside-down stool is a container of cherry tomatoes.]

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market, 8/7

Weather: Just after rain, heavy clouds moving, then hot sun. A big gust of wind ripped up two of the market tents and broke one.

Number of people: 2 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 4

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 1, great ratio

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $0.00

Observations:

Elizabeth Malloy of Living on Earth was with me, listening and recording (with permission), to see if there’s a story in all of our stories. 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.

I’m worried that I lost the chance for an additional conversation by sticking with an ongoing conversation that didn’t seem to be unearthing any new ideas or feelings after a certain point.

One of my interlocutors today asked me, referring to these records of climate anxieties, “Does this go anywhere? Do you use it to support legislation?” Which is a good question! While I often connect people who talk with me to opportunities for action, including ways to support legislation or regulation, I’ve never used the conversations themselves to support either of those things. If anybody has ideas about how that would work, I’d love to hear about them.

Nonhuman animal presences: Hawk carrying something, bronze dragonfly, honeybee, bumblebee, long-bodied wasp, little fly, sparrows, big black bee? Or beetle?

Some conversations:

[Before I started taking notes on the conversation, this person said that they’re a yoga teacher trying to incorporate some responses to climate change into their classes, and that people have been asking if they can bring their children to class.]

[My family] spent the last year traveling, so I really was not online or reading the news or anything. When I got back it was like boom, the climate really changed around climate change. It seems so much more pressing, which is good in a way. It’s on the news—well, not on Channel 5 … Being a mom and being pregnant again—if it’s really as bad as they say, what will I tell my kids in thirty years? Will they be able to have kids, or want to? [Yoga gives me] the ability to heal … and find my center, but at the same time I don’t want to do nothing. I could be the cleanest, greenest, most carbon offsetting person…but it’s like trying to lift a mountain by yourself. I have a lot of frustration with political systems.

What are you seeing in your classes and as part of your practice?

I’m seeing a lot of [people] have high level anxiety and not be able to channel it … [Part of yoga is] practicing discipline—not taking the plastic cup and straw. Small things. There’s a lot of possibilities, [ways] to sequester carbon. … Out of the household, I don’t have control. I’d like to think that getting involved with the political process would be effective, but… I try not to cry about a problem without offering a solution, but at the same time I don’t want to give people—to make it seem like it’s not as important to practice discipline. Not harming anyone, not taking any more than you need. “Are you willing to go without air conditioning in your home? What we’re doing is not enough.

What would doing enough have as part of it?

Seeing people around me also making an effort would make me feel like we’re doing something. Leading by example.

How might you lead by example as a yoga teacher? For the people who listen to you?

I do have a following, but … if I’m constantly posting [climate change articles], my students would stop following me. The last straw for me was: how can I say this stuff unless I’m doing it 100%? Where they’re spending their money and just doing that research requires discipline. I’m willing to be inconvenienced for it, but I don’t expect anyone to make the choices I make. I do what I need to do to lay my head down at the end of the day and feel good.

What can you say about being a parent in this time?

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have two children and teach them the things that have helped me. I don’t want to bring fear or urgency into [their childhoods].

*

I work for [AN INSURANCE COMPANY], and I work for the sustainability team. We were the first insurance company to offset carbon emissions. I’m one of thirteen “green teams” in the US, basically corporate sustainability. We lead initiatives on each of our campuses, coordinating our efforts when possible. We’ve partnered with local organizations like Save the Bay. … Our building is LEED certified. We have a big recycling event every year, where we collect e-waste and shred documents.

I don’t feel like anything we’re doing right now is enough. We need legislation to ban single use plastics—plastic bags, straws, cups … You can clean up beaches all day long.

What about lobbying, is that something this company does or would do?

We’re a 151-year-old company, we started as a life insurance company, and they noticed that there were a lot of claims and they investigated and found that there was tuberculosis in the community. The president at the time, it was either Roosevelt or Truman, our CFO was a special advisor [on the tuberculosis epidemic]. So as long as it’s in line with the company’s values—

[I pointed out that if they do property insurance it’s in line with their values]

Absolutely. Our ops team can show how storm severity has increased. We have all the trends.

… I work in marketing, and I know if I want somebody to do something, it has to be relevant to you as an individual and it has to be timely.

[IMAGE: A slightly impressionistic whiteboard map of the state of Rhode Island. In addition to the worries that people have been writing on it all summer about specific places, the lower half of it is now covered in marker lines and textures, about as high as a 2 1/2-year-old can reach.]

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Miantonomi Park, 8/5/19

Weather: Warm and bright

Number of people: 4 stoppers

Number of hecklers: 0!

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

Dogs seen: 5

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $1.00

Observations:

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.

Some conversations:

I was having that discussion with some people [at a recent music festival] and it was really interesting.

What was 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?

What have 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 people?

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.”]

Too 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?

The city, and the tourists too. It’s just expensive to live here.

Is it getting worse?

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 afraid?

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 don’t vote.

…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.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market, 7/24/19

Weather: Warm/hot and bright, little breeze, puffy clouds

Number of people: 1 stopper

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $1.00

Observations:

While I only had one conversation today, A) it was a great one, as you’ll soon see, and 2) the market as a whole seemed busier than the previous few markets. I didn’t check with other vendors to see if this was the case for them.

Nonhuman animal passersby: cabbage white butterfly, bumblebee, sparrow, dragonfly, tiny ant, starlings, wasp, pigeon, and a butterfly that I didn’t see but that apparently landed on my hat.

A conversation:

Being Native American, we never think about the land and water as ours today. It’s always for the next generations. So it’s extra stressful, not only because of the change that is happening here and today, but because you can already see that Mother Earth—every living creature is like an embryo in her womb, and all living creatures are slowly dying. If I think of what my grandchildren or great-grandchildren’s lives will be, I can’t—will we have to live in constant bubbles and not breathe anymore than half an hour outside of a building? These sci-fi things. It’s so stressful. As much as I would love to be a grandmother, the idea of bringing a child into that world… And coming from a culture where you only live if you reproduce—it makes me really sad.

Is this something you talk about with your kids?

We talk about it a lot, with my daughter especially. She’s extra health-conscious, especially when it comes to foods—she’s the one that’s very sensitive to all of these issues. …One of my sons will get a glass of milk and she’ll be, “Do you know what’s in that milk?” She makes it a main topic in the house. She’s like, “Why are we committing slow suicide.” She’s thirteen.

….How do we make a neighborhood aware of these things and able to deal with these things? It’s almost like you have to recondition everyone. This started years ago, and it’s going fifty times faster than they ever expected. How much quicker is it going now? To make the public be aware of what’s actually happening, they’d actually have to try to do things about it. My son is really into marine life—he’s the Save the Bay kid. Every time we go to the beach he’s like, “Mom, where’s the trash bag?”

Are there any ways that cultural knowledge has helped you and your family deal with this time?

I’ve always taught my kids to pay it forward. To have compassion, to have empathy, in our interactions with others. I don’t know if I set them up to be hurt a lot. But on the other hand, I’m like, “One day humanity’s going to need people like you.” And they know that all living things, from a tree to a flower to a human, [are] just as important as each other. Without one thing, the other will die, until there’s nothing.

… I tell them, feelings and thought are matter, and matter carries energy. Hate’s energy kills, but love’s energy helps things to thrive. … My daughter out of all of us is the most balanced. She sees me looking at people in pain, and dealing with the trauma from ancestral empathy, carrying the spirit of my ancestors, and she says, “Mom, your heart is too big.” I’ll see someone and I’ll be like, “Just let me give ’em a hug,” and that turns into opening the door to them, and that turns into them living with us, and then that turns into their kids stealing from me. My kids over the years have been displaced by other people’s needs. I’ve taught them to give, but how much did I teach them about self-love?

So many people think that [care] has to come back as a direct thing. But what happens is, you’ll give way over here and you’ll get back over here. But you’ll know that it’s part of your cycle, because you’ll be at peace.

… I have to let go of who I was and embrace who I’m going to be. I’m 43 years old. I’m not afraid to recognize that I need help, but it took me a long time to say, “It’s okay. It’s all right to breathe. If you further your education, you can put yourself in positions to open doors.” …If I don’t shut down the old me, I’ll never get to my full potential.

In a way that’s what the book I’m writing is about: how do we become the people we need to be in this frightening time?

It’s an emotional burden that I can’t explain. A lot of people don’t think about it because they don’t live in a conscious way. They’re not going to think about it until that last bottle of water costs $300. It’s so heavy.

Image result for cabbage white butterfly

[IMAGE: A cabbage white butterfly, like the one I saw on this day, on a yellow flower.]

Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY, Sankofa World Market, 2-6pm!

It’s going to be another hot one today in the Northeast. If you have elderly or disabled neighbors and know them well enough to call or stop by, please check on them today–this heat hits physically vulnerable people hardest and first. Using less electricity, especially 4-8pm, makes that electricity more available for people who need it for their health and safety and means that power companies will have less excuse to bring additional, dirtier plants online.

I’ll be at the Sankofa World Market outside Knight Memorial Library (275 Elmwood Ave, Providence) today, 2-6pm, to hear your climate anxieties and other anxieties. Get some locally grown vegetables for salad–why turn the stove on, on a day like today?–and some hibiscus iced tea. Learn about No LNG in PVD leader Monica Huertas’s city council campaign and other ways to increase environmental and climate justice in our city and state.

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

Weather: Hot and bright

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 5

Dogs pet: 1

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

Observations:

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

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

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

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

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

Some conversations:

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

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

Does it stress you out?

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

*

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

Do you talk about this with them?

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

Does she do any of that stuff?

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

*

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

Why do you think?

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

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

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

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

Weather: Muggy, alternating cloudy and bright

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

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

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 1, a lot

Postcards Against the Plant: 1

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

 

Observations:

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

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

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

 

Some conversations:

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

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

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

*

I’m more obsessed with plastic, I guess.

Why does it bother you?

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

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

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

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

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

Where you live, is there town pickup for compost?

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

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

Not really.

Why not?

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

*

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

Why do you think people don’t?

Convenience. People are lazy.

Do you talk about it with people?

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

What do you think made the difference for you?

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

Weather: Bright and fiercely windy

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

Number of hecklers: 0!

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

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

Pages of notes: 4

Dogs seen: 16

Dogs pet: 1

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

 

Observations:

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

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

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

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

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