About the Amazon

When people say that climate change is what you get when your starting points are capitalism, exploitation, colonization and genocide, the burning of the Amazon is the kind of thing they’re talking about. This is the destruction of a world. It could mean the destruction of all the worlds we know.

If you have never been driven from your home by violence or disaster, I ask you to imagine the fire–fire set by human hands–taking not just your dwelling, but all your landmarks, your houses of worship, your sources of food and of meaning, driving you and your relatives apart, flattening and poisoning everything that made you who you are.

People are doing this to other people, right now, in what used to be the forest, in order to punish them for existing and to profit from that punishment. If you are neither the destroyers nor the people they’re trying to destroy, what can you do?

Climate and culture writer Nylah Burton has laid out a well-sourced and compassionate explanation of why boycotting beef is a worthwhile response to this murder and desecration if enough people do it. Remember that the purpose of a boycott is to starve an industry or a practice of profit–clearing your conscience is a side effect. (That thread includes a few actions and choices beyond your own eating habits as well.)

Europe and Asia are presently the main markets for Brazilian beef and soy, so if you don’t live in those places but know people there, please strongly and lovingly recommend this to them. People living in EU countries can also write to or call the office of your MEP (UK residents can do it here) and demand that they block the Mercosur trade deal if it includes no protections for the Amazon (a little background).

Improving tree and plant cover and soil health where you live is not enough to counter the wholesale destruction, but is good practice and may offer some relief, especially if it becomes more widespread. If you use Twitter, @BuildSoil is a good person to follow for suggestions and instructions on how to do this. Local conservation, restoration, permaculture, and food sovereignty/food justice initiatives already often have a body of expertise and effort that you can add your weight to–if you’re not already involved with them, use those terms to search for some near you.

Here is an alternate history about the end of resource extraction. Here’s another one about the Amazon and transforming grief into action and healing. Let’s open our imaginations, recognize our connections, and let both of those inform our choices and actions: it’s true that destruction or life in the Amazon can destroy life elsewhere, just as what happens there when the fires aren’t burning can nourish life elsewhere. It’s also true that what we do on the ground we’re on, in the web of life we’re in, reverberates in places we will never touch or see.

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/24/18

Weather: Bright, hot sun, stiff cool breeze

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 3 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 4

Pictures taken without permission: 1

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

Dogs seen: 5 (4 tiny, 1 big)

Dogs pet: 0

Narcan shared: 1

 

Observations:

The park ranger and the parking meter enforcer hang out together.

Nonhuman organisms in the park: yellowjacket, starlings, hairy defoliating caterpillars.

Today I had lots of conversations with people that I didn’t get permission to write down. Sometimes this was because I asked and they didn’t give it; sometimes because they were in full flood of speaking and I didn’t have a chance to ask.

One such person had a blue jay feather tucked behind their ear, and I showed them the one I keep in the RI Organism card box.

People often ask me about trends from year to year. I’ve already noticed a slight uptick this year in anti-immigrant rhetoric, and I need to figure out how I want to respond to that (haven’t been satisfied with the ways I’ve handled it so far).

 

Some conversations:

I moved up here from Florida in ’86. Thirty years ago we never needed air conditioning. Now we need to put it in every summer, usually by May. Winter [used to start] in October. Everybody who says it isn’t happening has their head in the sand.

 

*

Well, I did read about Greenland. There was a huge article in the New Yorker—I felt almost traumatized. It’s just coming unglued. There are huge crevasses, it’s melting at such a rapid rate, and ice reflects sunlight but water absorbs it. It’s such a rapid pace that they can’t even [measure?] the rate of melt. It was a very powerful experience reading the piece. These people that have dedicated their lives to being on the front lines of global awareness of climate change—it just kind of blows me away …

Boston flooded, there were like, floating cars, and it was vastly underreported. I didn’t see it in the national news. I try not to be a huge conspiracy theorist, but I felt like it was deliberate. [The Greenland article] really woke me up—I was really aware of it before, but not feeling it personally. I think we’re going to see rapid changes coming down the pike in the next five years. I think people are gonna be up to their waists in water, I think people are in denial.

What do you think people would do if they recognized this reality? 

I’m moving inland. I’m visiting a friend in New Mexico, Santa Fe, and I’ll see what happens. I feel like I kind of go over better west of the Mississippi. My daughters have moved away, Lucy [the dog] finally died a few months ago—I’ve had a lot of loss and a lot of completion …

Have you talked to your daughters about it?

I haven’t talked to them about this. They think I’m nuts anyway. My friend who’s moving to Oregon, she’ll say, “If there’s a tsunami, I’ll just hop in the car.” If there’s a tsunami, you’re not getting in any car! I think it is hard to grasp, I don’t know. … If you love where you are and you have a good life, you wanna stay where you are. I think people are like, “Well, the weather certainly has been erratic,” and older people remember very different weather patterns, but people just think it’s weather. I remember these really cold winters, my boots getting full of ice. …

How does it feel, when you think about it?

It’s awful. I have a friend who’s a master of permaculture. She’s got a self-sustaining quarter-acre, where she can grow enough food to feed herself and her family—it’s like two backyard lots, and we’ve talked a lot about issues of food scarcity. She was pretty dire. Her feeling is that we’ve just really gone too far. And I kind of had to not have that conversation. I honestly don’t know much good it would do to have a garden if people around you were suffering from a shortage of food. … Sometimes there are things that are just too painful to discuss, too huge to wrap my brain around. There are times in the day that I’m more open to confront difficult things.

*

 

[I know both of these people, and have spoken to them at the climate booth before, but they don’t know each other. They came up to me one at a time, but also spoke to each other.]

Person 1: I guess I’ve been thinking about water. I was watching the weather on TV, which is not something I normally do, and they were talking about El Niño and La Niña, and I learned how the moisture that the soil absorbs in spring affects how rainy the season will be—the rainier a spring is, the more likely thunderstorms are, and that’s weird to think about.  A lot of things come and go—human matter is the same carbon that’s been around forever but it’s in different forms—but water doesn’t decompose, it’s the same water, and we only have so much of the water we have—I mean, we have so much and so much of it is not usable, a fraction of one percent of it is actually usable.  The rest of it, we can’t use it or it’s hard to use it. I don’t know how to turn that into an anxiety—well, it is an anxiety that—what if we don’t have water someday?

Maybe my anxiety is that I feel a little fatalist. Growing up as a child of global warming, I recognize that the Earth is dying and I want to make changes, but people who really know what’s going on are like, “We’re fucked.” Ten, twenty, thirty years—I think in thirty years we’re not gonna have energy. You have to put energy into getting energy: people talk about solar and wind power but it takes a massive amount of energy to make a metal turbine. Solar panels are made with all these rare materials.

… I tell my sister, she’s talking about what she wants to be doing thirty years from now, and I’m like, “Do you really think things are gonna be the same in thirty years?” Or people are like, “Our children’s children,” and I’m like, “I don’t know if there are gonna be ‘our children’–or they’re not gonna live like this.” We can take steps to preserve some things, but other things have already been lost. It doesn’t make me want to destroy—it makes me want to liberate things in the short term. I don’t think I would be as radical as I am [without the knowledge of climate change], and I think a lot of people have been radicalized. Soon, even the capitalists will suffer. Desperate times call for desperate measures. But I think it also has made me numb … Sometimes, I feel like I’m not doing anything, or I’m just working on my own things because I feel like it’s all gonna be gone in 20 years.

[Person 2 came up around this point.]

You can be delusional and think things can keep going the way they are, or keep going with just a few minor changes, but we’ll be transformed by this, so we can either be radicalized and work really hard, or take the sad way and just be passive.

One thing I’ve been thinking of is—people do things, or one of the reasons people do things is because they feel good, not just because they’re trying to avoid feeling bad, so in a time like this, how do you move toward joy?

Person 2: I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing. I feel like there’s no future right now, but I’m just gonna keep producing plays, keep writing the things that I want to see in the world.

Person 1: I feel like that a lot. Does it feel worthwhile to you?

Person 2: What feels worthwhile is that I find my tribe. People who I relate to and I relate to them.

Person 1: I think about how much fun I had on the night Trump was elected. We were all like, “I don’t know, fuck it, let’s get drunk in Worcester,” just breaking things and being like, “Nothing matters.”

Person 2: These days, I’m waiting for a cop to talk to me. That’s when I’m gonna be like, “Nothing matters.”

Person 1: Does it scare you?

Person 2: No, I’ve had ’em. I’ll have more. The more I learn about policing and social justice, the more I find if we can grow out of slavery we can grow out of guns. That’s the other thing that feels worthwhile, connecting with the youth and teaching classes—my art doesn’t exist without that. That’s how I move toward joy. I just applied for a grant, but if I don’t get it, I’m teaching this class anyway. Art through social justice—I get excited about that stuff.

Person 1: I don’t think people realize the mental health toll of living in the world where nothing is certain.

I was wondering if people who—you know, the more marginalized you are, the more likely you are to face upheaval every day, and I was wondering if people who have had to face that might have wisdom for those who haven’t.

Person 2: I wish. This is a cultural issue. I remember during the stock market crash, and black people were like, “Just another day. You’re stressed out over something that we’ve been living.” Most black people will tell you, “Welcome to my world.” You make the move when where you’re at is so uncomfortable that you can no longer bear it. You either think we’re crazy, or you join in.

map 5-25-18

Description: This (somewhat impressionistic) map of the state of Rhode Island says, “Put your worries on the map,” at the top, and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” at the bottom. Someone has drawn a circle around the entire state.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Regular Shift, 5/15/15

Weather: A little feverish without the breeze, pleasant with it

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 2 very very mildly sexual comments that wouldn’t even be a big deal if they didn’t stem from the same place that more aggressive and frightening comments come from

Pages of notes: 8, 4 from one person

Alternate Histories: 1, sort of

Dogs seen: 1, briefly from a distance

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.75

Observations:

Hair colors of today: bright purple; streaky lavender, pink and green like the mane of a magical unicorn.

A lot of people used the “stupid voice” rhetorical strategy today. Lots of TV hate, too.

The “sort of” alternate history came from a very long and detailed conversation that I’ve excerpted part of here, but that really deserves (and will get) its own post.

The little boy whose family walks by most days now starts the face-making and looks at me to make a face back.

Some conversations:

I was anxious in the winter. It was brutal. Definitely my mood changes with the seasons. Once the weather broke, I felt better. You get to the point where you’re just exhausted–the cold’s exhausting, the snow is exhausting. We actually had a spring this year–last year we just went from winter to summer. [Marks Wickford on the map.]

Do you want to say something about why you love it?

Serenity. I went to grammar school there, but I didn’t really appreciate it when I was a kid. It makes me feel serene, and that’s very important to me, because I’m in recovery.

*

Being homeless, needing medication, needing food. They told me I need preauthorization for my meds and they wouldn’t give it to me. The doctor gave me 15 days supply, that’s nothing.

*

[These two came up together.]

Her: I’m most anxious that we will keep limping along, just barely enough that no one ever has to really give a shit, that it’ll seem not quite that bad until it’s just over.

What do you mean when you say “over”, like total destruction of planet?

Her: Not even that. That we’ll just limp along in shitty ways, destroying cities, more people living without food and water, nobody ever doing anything real about it.

Him: Not the planet, the planet doesn’t give a fuck.

Her: The planet will be better after we’re gone–our destruction would probably be productive for the planet.

What do you think doing something real about it would be?

Her: There’s gonna have to be some sort of fairly major global solutions, intergovernmental cooperative efforts. My own inclination is to encourage these piecemeal solutions, permaculture, local actions, but that’s very limited.

What do you think we’d have to be willing to give up for those global solutions?

Him: Convenience.

I feel like that’s one of those piecemeal, personal things though–what about on a global level like you were talking about?

Him: Our autonomy as a nation. Other countries too, but Americans are more egocentric–“Oh, we’re an exception, we’re so special.”

Her: The opaque nature of our own complicit behavior, and where our money comes from and what it goes toward, how it contributes to these issues, how they’re interconnected. Governments would need to be much more transparent.

*

[Doctor’s note: this is the conversation that turned into a very detailed, concrete set of ideas for an alternate way of proceeding, and I want to give those ideas their own post.]

It’s fear porn–don’t go out of your house, don’t go out in the street, be afraid to live. That’s what they want anyway. As humanity we have to protect each other and love each other until the end. Nothing lasts forever. What matters is each other and how we treat each other. There’s schools in this city that are built with toxic chemicals, toxic sites on either side. It’s eugenics. And people are like, “Well, gotta go to work. At some point we’ll get back to you.” And then all of a sudden that was thirty years ago and people are all, “We shoulda done something about that.” [At other times in history], people would come after you with pitchforks and torches and a puppet of yourself, and they’d be like, “This is you,” and set that shit on fire. And you’d be like, “Holy crap, they’re pissed, let’s back off.” … People get a hostile vibe from me ’cause I’m like, What’s wrong with you–’cause shit’s fucked up. I’m like Debbie Downer with my friends … they’ll be like, “Uh, still working on that job search, talk to you later.”

*

What’s making me anxious is finding out if I’ll get permanently the job I’ve been temping for. I have an interview on the 29th with [REDACTED].

Do you get a good sense from the people there?

Yes, especially the boss I’m working with now. He wrote me a letter of recommendation to apply. It’s a good office, I like the people, I’m good at the work. It would be perfect, but they won’t confirm it. They’re interviewing 36 people, and … all it takes is one niece, one cousin of a politician.

Today’s poems (two because I didn’t do one on Thursday):

The quivering jaw

the soft sign

hunted under

normal levels

how to recognize

your other future as a horror

spell it out for me

the business of your metal

bike frames and rubber tires

to wear out and sell

today’s bad it’s a bad day

how are you today

I’m so bad today

I’m full sore today

I can’t seem to remember today

or run out of horror

it won’t exhaust

its deep source in me

spring of dust

I don’t really believe

surely I don’t really

bear it if I did

I couldn’t if I really

could restore it

what the rule would be

after collapse

feel the path cut out

for me on the ground

walk over my growing

grave the worst of it

we can’t name or know

but can only read

till our eyes are sore

without ever showing

that we weren’t looking

*

I don’t want to feel a terrible hope

I want to feel a regular hope like this

will work or work out not like this

will transform and tear through

there is always a leap a last

step to be taken the story says

it but not what it was and not

whether it worked once

the story part was past and I thought

it was real he said I thought

it was something that happened

he said this yesterday so today

we can talk about it in the past

we can know that much and see

that furthered out so still of stature

are we that every shadow

of every pebble looks like

it could be the dark fall

waiting for our leap