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

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

 

Weather: Sunny and cool

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

Number of hecklers: 0

 Pages of notes: 0

 Dogs seen: many

 Dogs pet: 2 goldendoodles

 

 

Some conversation recollections:

 

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

So you feel compassion for those people?

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

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

*

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Advertisements

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Sowing Place, 10/6/18

Weather: Cool and gray with heat waiting

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

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

Dogs seen: 3

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.10

 

Observations:

Interpreter Eveling Vasquez was with me today; only one person, a walkby, briefly needed her services, but she engaged with some interlocutors in English as well.

Nonhuman animal presences: yellowjacket, carpenter been honeybee, cabbage white butterfly, tiniest spider, pigeons in flight.

Some conversations:

I’m scared. I got kids–26, 24 and 16. I’m scared that the planet is gonna be a horrific mess, that they’re not gonna have good air to breathe. That all the demands to turn things around are gonna fall on them. I’m scared of the chaos and destruction of society, and that there’s gonna be a wall betwen those who are directly impacted and those trying to hang onto their power and wealth. There’s going to be so much violence and suffering throughout–I’m not sure if it’s gonna be winners and losers. These delays for years and decades mean we all lose.

Do you talk with your kids about this?

We talk to them, but those conversations are hard too. They’re in their 20s, they’re trying to figure out their careers and lives and social relationships.

What makes the fear come up for you?

Definitely reading the news, ’cause you get horrified and scared. I have wonderful kids, but sometimes it’s scary what they really pay attention to.

*

I live in Los Angeles, and for the past three years it’s gotten 15 degrees hotter every year. And everything’s on fire. It impacts our air quality–it’s harder to do things outside. Dogs can’t go outside, there are times of day I can’t take my dog for a walk because the sidewalk’s too hot. And if something’s on fire nearby, that’s scary.

How do people talk about it?

It depends who you’re talking to. People will talk about how it’s scary that everything’s on fire, if it’s encroaching, if there’s currently a wildfire going on. People talk about how it’s hotter than it used to be, there are more fires than there used to be, it doesn’t rain anymore … It feels scary, sort of foreboding and sort of apocalyptic. It’s not so imminent that it’s really gonna impact me. I’m concerned more in the context of people who don’t care. The actual idea that the world’s gonna end doesn’t bother me that much, but it’s sad and disappointing that people don’t care about what’s gonna happen to the environment after they’re gone. I feel it all the time, and I think everybody feels it all the time–everything just feels a little bit worse.

… In my house in particular, we make a conscious effort to be positive so we don’t get mired down in it. We try to share one piece of good news every day. It forces you to be more conscious of things that are not destructive, and what you actually can do to do something constructive or counter the negativity. I think you can always be better–I’m a vegetarian, I’m trying to be a vegan, I spend more money for things that are sustainably produced. We try to use our graywater, we don’t do it as much as we could. I understand that there are structural constraints that prevent people from doing these things. It’s important for me personally to believe that the little things matter–I know sometimes you hear people saying they don’t matter. I do stuff that offsets my carbon footprint, to at least leave no trace, mitigate the impact of my existence.

What are some ways you work together with other people? 

There are many cool local vegan organizations in LA. There’s a lot of community based work. But also in LA, there’s this huge contrast because there’s all these really rich people with huge mansions that all have their sprinklers on, watering their green lawn that shouldn’t exist.

*

Global warming–you know what bugs me? It bugs me that I work in places where they think passive management of the environment is impractical. I work in a building from the ’60s, and they could have put in ventilation or skylights but they put in air conditioning. … That was how people thought 50 years ago, and they’re still thinking this way. Why is it so difficult?

I have 24 solar panels on my house. I generate more electricity than I use–National Grid has to pay me. I don’t know why more people don’t just cough it up [for solar panels].

Eveling: Was it too expensive?

In the end, it’ll be cheaper. So many people don’t want to think beyond a year or a month. … It’s money and also a sense of, “It’s still impractical.” My uncle–I’m like, “You live in Florida, why don’t more people do solar? It’s the Sunshine State!” I think it’s kind of a brainwashing. Reagan called them “solar socialists.”

*

I’m just concerned about the changes–like for example, this fall. Yesterday it was cold. The day before that it was hot, and then it was extremely cold. It’s just weird. And then being used to that transition, where you can prepare yourself to get ready for cold weather–you have to add another thing to the schedule, buecase you have to have the right gear.

 

20181006_145121

[Image: map of Rhode Island marked with “Stillhouse Cove,” “Sankofa Market,” and some drawings by kids.]

The person who marked the map with “Stillhouse Cove” said, “There’s an effort to maintain the grasses and the plants, which attracts the birds and the proper fish. After a storm, when debris piles up, it’s gone the next day.”

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 9/26/18

Weather: Gray, humid, sprinkling rain. Later, breezy and cooling off some.

Number of people: 4 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 3

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.00

 

Observations:

Short shift (4-6pm) today because of a meeting.

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.

 

Some conversations:

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.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 8/29/18

Weather: Hot. Heat index over 100 at the start of my shift.

Number of people: 3 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

Dogs seen: 3

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.15

 

Observations:

I arrived late for my shift (combination of a late start, the heat, and a shortcut that wasn’t) and also stayed late sitting on the cool grass having a wonderful unofficial conversation about the relationship between community organizing, mental health, and care.

The market managers lent me a shade tent.

There’s a family of kids who lives around the corner, and they were much in evidence today. They all wanted to pretend to take the silver dollar I keep in the money jar for luck, and some of them added to the map. One of them reminded another one of the conversation she’d had with me about her grandmother, over a year ago.

A monarch butterfly flew past while I was sitting.

The second conversation here is with my friend Ash Sanders, who ran a project inspired by this one in Salt Lake City.

 

Some conversations:

My son gives me really bad anxiety. He’s really hyperactive and I can’t handle that sometimes … He likes to tell little white lies to get out of a situation, like, “Oh, I need to go peepee,” and he doesn’t need to go. And he gets really physical when we’re playing, he thinks we’re actually fighting.

What do you do when that happens?

I try to calm him down. But when I do that, he takes me as a joke and he goes to his father … He doesn’t give people their personal boundaries. You see him playing over there with that little girl, or if he’s playing with me he’ll be right up in my face … When I can’t handle it I’ll just walk away. But I have to do that constantly. I never get a break, it’s 24-7, it’s just go go go anxiety.

*

A big anxiety for me is how much I care about climate change and environmental stuff. I feel like it’s too intense. I can’t do it in a normal, more socially acceptable way, I have to do it in this way that’s more intense and—I guess darker. I feel like I’m holding back a lot. I’m not doing anything about it right now, and I’m scared to be my old out-there self, but I feel phony in a lot of ways. I’m scared of feeling exhausted all the time. I’m afraid I’ll open something up that will never stop hurting, and that I won’t know the difference between guilt and actions that I should take. I feel guilty all the time, and maybe I should. [I was raised Mormon] and you’re expected to be deeply obedient, and the extra politeness veiled a lot of evil and wrong things. I did push against that, but it exhausted me. And I’m scared that what this situation [of climate change] requires is unspeakable in public.

Who is your public, like which public are you thinking about when you say that?

I’ve been getting into conversations with friends in New York about whether or not to have kids because of what’s happening to the planet. And I am very opinionated, so I started saying more and more. I got tired of saying the “right” thing, so I said more and more what I felt, and I could see the discomfort in people’s eyes. Like I was implying that they weren’t good people. … I read and read things looking for somebody who thinks and feels like me, and they’re there, but they’re in the corners of the conversational world.

And another thing is that I’ve become concerned with animal rights really broadly, and that’s a hot-button topic among left-leaning people. I’ll hear a lot of people be like, “I’ll care about animal rights when human rights are accomplished.” Or like, “Fuck polar bears.” It makes sense, but it puts me at odds with people who I’m not otherwise at odds with.

… I started having these conversations hoping it would unstick me. I’m very tired of carrying around the bag of my cultural upbringing, and I want to know, where could I go if I weren’t carrying it? Mormons really believe in the power of language, the power of telling the truth, and a lot of the truths that they asked me to accept were quite boring but I did internalize that words can change people, and change the people who hear them … I’m pretty good at being brave, at being like, “Do it anyway, feel afraid but do it anyway,” but it never changed this basic really core part of me. And I think that might be beyond language, this thing that needs to shift.

… I’m really conscious about the passage of time. What time is mine to take when all this is happening in the world? I’m so exhausted by the rah-rah kinds of actions, I think they are required but I don’t necessarily feel capable of them right now. When I was doing [those kinds of actions] fast and well, I was depleting myself intensely and I was estranged from a lot of people, but it felt more true, and that’s confusing.

How does it feel reading the things by people who feel the way you do?

It’s intense, like some part of me is going out to meet them in the ether. A kinship thing. And I’m also thinking, “This person is so brave. I used to be like that.” So—relief and kinship, and maybe some jealousy and self-doubt. And then I’m like, Who’s reading them besides a few people? So I read this, and I feel more intensely, but…

Have you written back to them at all?

In a way I think the process of talking with [other] people has been a way of writing back to them. Maybe the reason I don’t just do that is because I feel like I should be honest with some of the hardest people for me to be honest with. Like with my parents, I’ve kind of given up on the idea that we can talk about this. And then I think, my dad will die and I won’t have said one honest thing to him. I would really like to be able to give them a bunch of books and articles and be like, “Let’s talk about it.” Mormonism teaches you that there’s one truth for the whole world, and it applies to every person, every time, every place, every situation, no variants. And [it teaches that] if you do say something different, you wound the person you’re saying it to irreparably. I realize that I think of my dad as an extremely fragile person, maybe more fragile than he actually is, and I’m terrified of but deeply want to talk to him in a real way. I’ve been protecting people, and I never have practiced saying what I meant [to him] in any honest way.

… It’s often been my role in a group to be the one who says that it’s okay to feel a lot of things, to have really strong opinions. … I’m good at being brave for others, honest for others, but I have to calculate how much energy something will cost me. I have chronic pain, and everything takes so much energy. I’m afraid of putting myself in high-energy situations. I’m afraid to put my foot across the line, I’m like, “Oh, God, I’m gonna get so tired again.” I don’t know how to say no, because I feel so guilty, and I was really trained to not have any boundaries as a way of showing love. When I’ve done things in the past, it can’t just be one thing—I have to be involved in six organizations and in charge of all of them. So maybe I have to give up my usual roles, let other people do those things.

*

On the map that asks people if there’s a place in Rhode Island they’d like to protect, kids wrote, “your though” (which might mean “your thoughts,” not sure), “place I care about is my country. (Ethiopia.)” and “I care about nauture living things,” with some pictures of trees.

map 8-29-18

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 8/15/18

Weather: Hot and clinging, okay when clouds covered the sun

Number of people: 3 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 4

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.40

 

Observations:

I’ve said before that people seem to be shopping at this market. I noticed today that at least some of them are also hanging out, slowly circulating, talking with the vendors and with each other.

Lots of people had questions for me (because of where the booth is set up, toward the front) about how WIC and SNAP worked at the market.

People really want to volunteer their friends– “She needs it!” “You’re the one who needs it!”–but you can’t do that.

Relatedly: when someone comes to me with something that I absolutely do NOT have the skills to respond usefully to, I try to point them in the direction of someone or someones with those skills.

A wasp landed on the cardboard part of the booth and maybe tried to eat it? A bumblebee and a honeybee also visited, hovering nearby and/or landing.

 

Some conversations:

What have you been noticing?

A lot of heat, disruption of food flow. And also how that’s been developing a lot of groups popping up in different communities, low-income communities, communities of color. We’re actually here doing this survey about the factors facing women of color, what people are dealing with. I hate the label of the food desert because it’s about food never being accessible to us due to structural things, structural colonialism. A lot of people don’t know what’s even in their water.

What are people telling you about as you do the survey?

A lot about food affordability, housing, mental health stuff. Working full time or working multiple jobs in order to sustain your household. Gentrification, pushing people out to the outskirts. Economic separation of the rich and the poor.

Where do you see climate change interacting with all of these things?

With everything. It’s at the intersection. Your environment and where you come from, how many trees are there, how many birds, not getting the right amount of sunlight, fertile land to grow food—all of that intersects with your quality of life. But we’re also seeing new alternatives coming up. Cooperative work, an increase in farmers’ markets, individual entrepreneurship—social enterprise, all these social enterprise models are coming into mainstream language in the business world.

Are you saying that they’re getting excited about something that’s been going on?

Yeah, in response to underground and grassroots stuff that’s been happening. There’s a deeper need for it because of this division [between wealthier and poorer people]–the economic support systems are breaking down.

*

My husband has PTSD, and that puts a lot of emotional and mental stress on him and myself. Some days I feel anxious myself. I want to know on a day-to-day basis what we can do to help ease those stresses. I’m learning what his triggers are, and I’m trying to be supportive and have a listening ear about things that cause him to have episodes. I also worry how it would affect our toddler, our one-year-old son. What are some preventative things I can do for him being in that environment? We’ve been figuring out what are the resources that we have, we try to stay close-knit to them, friends, family, our church family. I worry how it will affect his work life, how we can maintain financial stability. And even more so, despite his PTSD, we want to keep our relationship healthy, not toxic. We really focus on spending time together, getting a babysitter, doing things that we both enjoy.

Who else does he reach out to, besides you, or what are the other things he does to take care of himself?

He goes to our pastor—he’ll text him in the middle of a crisis. He’ll spend time at the gym. He’s a musician, so he’ll spend time recording. He’ll spend time playing basketball—things he enjoys that make him feel better. But then for a week or two those things won’t happen without him doing anything. I like that he talks about things he enjoys to do. And I like that he talks about his past traumas—he opens up to me about things in his childhood, sexual abuse and physical abuse. I feel like that’s a good relief for him. I don’t like when he’s having a really angry moment and it might come out in other ways. He doesn’t enjoy taking his medication and he hates the way he feels when he gets upset, he hates how it affects me, he wishes that he didn’t have this [condition].*

He has a psychiatrist that prescribes his medication, but he has to be consistent with appointments and open with her about the dosage and how it affects him. He took a long vacation from getting his medication and there were a lot of troubling things that happened. Now we’re glad that he’s able to get his medication, but he has mixed feelings about it. He doesn’t like the way that it makes him feel. I’m trying to help him see that the medication helps balance him out, make him who he would be, they’re not controlling him…

You’ve talked a lot about all the work you’ve done to care for him and all the work you’ve done together. What are you doing to take care of you?

There are periods where I can just go go go, trying to keep everything together. But being around close friends, people who care about me and are able to listen. Exercise, I love the outdoors. I love art, creating something, cooking a meal. And I’m seeking a therapist.

You also wanted to talk about your son.

He feels the energy. The shouting the punching the wall, I don’t want these things affecting him in any negative way. I try to just remove him, or me and him will remove ourselves, I’ll take him for a walk. And [my husband’s] learning to take space too when he feels this way.

*I neglected to write down what word she used, that’s why this is in brackets.

*

Gentrification. Seeing it over here, in Washington Park, Providence in general. I was driving my son for ice cream to this place we like to go in East Providence and seeing all the lights, the lights they have for traffic speeding here—I don’t see any over there! I saw in the paper they’re going to add more.

What are the worries you have about gentrification?

That we’re gonna get priced out, that the rent is gonna go up so high that we’ll have to leave. … I saw that the city a few years ago sued Santander for redlining—when Angel Taveres was mayor, the city sued and they won. They settled, but that’s admitting they did something wrong.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 7/18/18

Weather: Hot, bright, breezy.

Number of people: 3 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 2

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

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.00

I didn’t get permission to post any of the conversations I had today. I think they were okay conversations, though, and one of them I hope will make the idea of counseling feel normal and doable to the person I spoke with (a fairly young person) if they ever want it.

Although it was a relatively slow day for me, it seemed like it was a good day for the market in general. People were buying vegetables and—crucially—they were coming prepared to shop, making the market a part of their food plans.

Nonhuman passersby: monarch butterfly, little beetle climbing on the booth, giant black-winged beetle with orange body.

I also took a short shift today, 3-5pm, because my parents were visiting. I couldn’t find my sun hat, so my mom lent me hers. Here it is, with my face under it.

my face mom hat

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Sowing Place, 7/7/18

Weather: Bright, breezy, feels almost cool compared to the past week

Number of people: 7 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

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

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island: $0.15

 

Observations:

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.

 

Some conversations:

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?

Yeah.

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.

map 7-7-18

Today, kids decorated the map of Rhode Island with pictures of an angry monster and a more cheerful-looking monster.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at Sankofa World Market/Sowing Place, 7/7/18

Tomorrow (Saturday), July 7th, I’ll be at the Sankofa World Market’s collaboration with Sowing Place, out back of the South Side Cultural Center (393 Broad St, Providence), 11am-3pm, to listen to your climate-change-related and other anxieties.

If you come there to talk to me, you can also buy local vegetables, plants and art, take a tai ch’i workshop, and listen to good live music. There’s stuff for kids to do, too. Last time, they made slime.

 

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

Weather: Hot and bright, then hazy

Number of people: 14 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

People who got the Peanuts reference: 3

Pictures taken with permission: 2

Dogs seen: 28

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

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $7.05

 

Observations:

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

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

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

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

 

Some conversations:

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

What would you do, if you did do something?

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

*

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

*

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

What do you feel when you think about these things?

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

 

*

[These two came up together.]

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

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

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

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

My everyday experience is influenced by that understanding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

*

 

 

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

Do you picture it?

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

map 6-9-18

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

STOP THE FRACKIN’ POWER PLANT!

Lanking [Lincoln] Woods

Stop violence and the shooting of people

Erosion at India Point Park

Johnston Landfill is getting too big

Jenks Point

BEACH

Blackstone Valley Bike Path

SAVE FOREST FROM SOLAR PANELS

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

[Next to Block Island] Underwater in 20 years

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

Weather: Cool and gray, on the chilly side

Number of people: 9 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

People who got the Peanuts reference: 3

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.54

 

Observations:

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

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

I seeded the map with “clean water.”

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

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

 

Some conversations:

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

map 6-6-18

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

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

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

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