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.]

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: PVDFest 2019, Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park

Weather: Hot and bright and clear, cooler and breezier toward evening

Number of people: 30 stoppers, 10 walkbys, 5 map markers

Number of (vocal) climate change deniers: 2

Pages of notes: 16

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 6

Pictures taken without permission: 5

Conversations between strangers: 2

Repeat interlocutors: 2

Dogs seen: 51

Dogs pet: 2

Snakes seen: 1, very large

Postcards against the plant: 26

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $28.16!

 

Observations:

I was set up as part of PVDFest, which meant not only that there were a lot more people around, but a larger percentage of them were ready to stop and look at things, including me. On the minus side, people were also there to have a good time and maybe didn’t want to engage with something that would be a downer.

Interlocutors today had a wide age range but were/appeared to be overwhelmingly white, which didn’t reflect the composition of the crowd at all.

For future reference: there is a relationship between climate change and plastic waste, both of them come from fossil fuels and both of them contribute to ecological degradation, using one as as shorthand for the other is not a great idea, and I need to figure out a simple and quick way to clarify this for people without talking down or arguing.

A noticeable number of people had read the article asserting that 90% of humanity will be dead by 2050 (which would mean of course that most of us will die much earlier). One thing I need to remember is to ask both, “How does it feel to read that?” and “What do you want to do if that’s true?”

Many people also said some version of, “I don’t know how to get more involved.” Depending on the other things they said, I recommended that they explore the Land and Water Sovereignty Campaign (with whom I also work), Sunrise RI, the fight against the power plant in Burrillville, and Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective (where the donations will go); in a couple of cases I also pointed people toward Uprose and Occupy Sandy.

There’s this thing that people sometimes do where they try really hard to prove how much smarter they are than everybody else and if everybody would just listen to them it would be okay. I didn’t get a ton of this today, but there was a very marked instance of it. It seems connected to what Diane Exavier calls the “innocence project” of white America: the notion the important thing is to prove that you’re above the mess, not to figure out how to live in the mess with others, and the actions or inactions that result from that notion.

 

Some conversations:

I don’t know how to get involved in climate change groups—and I’m a librarian, I know how to do research! But I work full time, and everything I’ve found out so far has been very vague. When I’m working with very young children, three- and four-year-olds, I think, What kind of future are they gonna be having? I’m older, it’s not going to be as drastic for me.

*

I usually say, “The earth is hot, don’t litter.” Paris Hilton once tweeted that and it just really spoke to me. Those three [sic] simple words, “The earth is hot”–it’s not “global warming,” not something people hear all the time.

How do you feel when you think about it—sad? Angry?

It makes me so sad. I’m not really an angry person. [It] makes me want to do something. I always recycle, I choose glass over plastic. I’m educating myself and then educating others. I try to be positive.

Is it hard to do that?

No. I feel so empowered. The more that [I] look at it, the more I wanna help.

*

Person 1: We live pretty close to the water and I’m always hearing about sea level rise.

Person 2: People talk about it over social media but no one does anything about it. It just makes people feel better about themselves.

Person 1: It’s feeling more urgent.

Person 2: Because of that congressional report.

Person 1: Everyone’s sharing this article saying that 2050 will be the last habitable year for people.

How do you feel when you read that?

Person 1: I get stressed but I also get frustrated. The previous generation screwed us over, and we have to live with what they did.

Does it piss you off?

Person 2: Yes.

Person 1: A little bit. Corporate America is making these decisions–

Person 2: –For oil money, and they’re not going to have to live with these decisions, we are.

*

I heard something about how we’re all done for by 2050.

How’d it feel to read that?

Deflating. Horrifically sad. But like anybody sentient, I’m trying to enjoy things that don’t cost money and don’t produce waste. I just joined [a local marching band]–it’s so nice to do something with a bunch of people…that doesn’t use any resources—well, I guess we drive to get to the practices—and that creates beauty. Nothing on its own sounds so good, but together it’s beautiful.

*

I was reading the study that was all over the internet about how the world is basically ending in 2050.

How’d you feel when you read that?

Sad and angry. I don’t know how to help at an institutionalized level. On an individual level I don’t eat red meat, I recycle, I compost, I try not to use plastic. I monitor my friends and try to get them to not use plastic, and they don’t at least when I’m around. Sometimes I yell at people [who are trying to throw things in landfill trash]–“That’s recycling.”

Have you looked into doing stuff at the institutional level?

No—I’ve explored it a bit but there’s not a lot that I can do here in the US. There’s maybe more that I could do back where I’m from, which is Puerto Rico. My parents had to move off the island because my dad lost his job. And a lot of people had to leave because the health care system was in shambles. My dad found a job in the US, in Missouri, in St. Louis. It’s interesting, because it’s Trump country over there. My parents are the only people of color in a predominantly white neighborhood. All these women that are wanting to engage with my mother are treating her like an exotic toy…

… If [climate change] were having an effect on people who are rich and have influence, we would have made these changes, like we would have all gone solar so long ago. But it’s true for them too, like, you’re dying, you’re dying, your children are gonna die! I did get my dad to stop using plastic water bottles. I was like, “You’re so into recycling but they’re still manufacturing the plastic. You’re not really doing anything good, you’re just giving yourself peace of mind for no reason.”

*

Have you read Emergent Strategy? You have to read it. She got me reading Parable of the Sower , and there’s this part where [the main character’s] dad is talking about: how do you talk to people about future threats without making them write it off and dismiss you? How do you actually prepare yourself for the next climate disaster? I’m trying to stop fossil fuel projects and support renewable energy, but on a community level we need to be preparing for adaptive strategies, and how do I talk to my mom who doesn’t read the news because she doesn’t want to think about it? She lives on the thirteenth floor of our apartment building. What will she do if there’s a disaster? What do I do for our elderly neighbors who live on the upper floors? There are these moments where I’ve been actually letting it hit me, especially about New York. I saw where someone marked on the side of a building how high the waters came up during Sandy, and it was as tall as me. There still aren’t proper flood plans, and these are in places that are mostly public housing, affordable housing. People don’t have places to go. It’s scary—how do you talk to people who are really afraid, but we have to have a plan for what we’re gonna do?

Is anyone working on this in your neighborhood that you know of?

I don’t know, that’s a good question. There are some environmental organizations and I think they’re mostly pushing the city to have formal plans, but I don’t know if there’s anything on the community level. … Every time I bring it up [to my mom] she’s like, “If I talk about it I’m gonna have nightmares.”

What if you said something to her like, “I’m okay with you having nightmares if it means you’re gonna be safer?”

It’s hard, because it’s still possible for us to walk around, have festivals, have dinner. I was reading an article by someone who heard about a school shooting, and he was like, “I compartmentalized it so I could have dinner with my kids. And this is what it’s like to be in America.” Climate change is like that too. If we let the whole weight of it be felt constantly, we couldn’t live our lives.

I guess I have two things I want to think about in there. One is the “constantly”–what if we didn’t feel it constantly but we made times to really feel it? And the other one is the “living our lives”–which parts of our lives does it make sense to keep living?

I’ve been trying to be more thoughtful about trying to use less—how do I use less energy? How do I train myself to use less? Trying to keep in mind, “This is an energy thing that I’m doing right now.”

*Some of the Department of Health’s Health Equity Zones are beginning to try to set this up for at least some Rhode Island communities. I will look into this and make a separate post.

*

I do have climate change anxieties, mostly about the city as a whole. I’ve been hearing from real estate people with the city, developers talking about building in flood plains—it’s kind of like a rich people inside scoop, not something I feel like is talked about in policy meetings. But then you hear from the city’s director of real estate, “Oh, we probably shouldn’t build there.” It feels slimy, because these conversations are happening amongst people who are probably gonna be okay with things like that happening. I’m just one elected official, and I feel like we all need to be thinking about it.

Have you already tried to talk with your colleagues about it?

I have. And there’s a lot of, “Oh, we already tried that and it didn’t work,” or, “We’ll never be allowed to do that.”

Is this how you thought it would be when you started this position?

No. Not at all. But then I think, if I were a representative or a senator, I would still have to contend with bad people in leadership.

So with all of that in mind, what do you think is the way out of that?

Honestly, I think education. …With climate change, we’re seeing the effects but they’re not impacting our lives in a restrictive way.

What would be a good place to start with that?

Maybe the river. Everyone loves Waterfire*, but it’s starting to become really difficult. In the next five years, it’s regularly going to be flooded. And the coastline—in Charlestown, they’re no longer insuring houses in those areas.

*I wouldn’t say “everyone.”

*

I worry that I don’t worry enough, partially. People are saying there’s no place for recycling anymore. And if there’s nothing else being solved on a macro scale—this thing that it took the USA a decade or more to do—what kind of solution is going to be found for anything else? I keep putting things in bins because it’s a habit.

Are there other ways of participating that you’ve tried, or looked into?

I feel like there were parts of my life where I was more in tune with that. In the last few years I’ve concentrated more on building the power to do what’s best for myself, building a career, consolidating my position to do more. But I feel like time is slipping away—there’s not a someday to work towards. It’s good to remember that there are tangible, actual ways.

*

Person 1: I’m worried I’m choosing a career path that I’m not going to be able to support my family.

Person 2: It’s disturbing that access to stuff in the face of climate change depends on having enough money.

What are you thinking of doing for work?

Person 1: I’m not sure yet. But I’m seeing a lot of people go into finance, these lucrative jobs that I do not want to go into, but I’m worried that I’m setting myself up for greater difficulty.

What if there weren’t going to be jobs anymore?

Person 2: Like focusing more on learning basic survival skills.

Person 1: It depends on if we’re talking about a cooperative jobless world or an individualistic jobless world.

Person 2: I feel like sea level rise and climate change in general could make that landscape completely different. But you can’t really plan for that—it’s unimaginable, there are so many different possibilities. When I’m being rational, I prefer to think about things I can do to help [with] climate change now. My anxieties lie with stuff beyond the present.

Person 1: There’s a lot of control issues.

How do you live with lack of control?

Person 2: Everyone just kind of goes about their daily routine. But you could get run over, you could find out that you have Stage 4 cancer. You kind of have to ignore it—it’s a mental health thing. A lot of mental illness comes from not being able to put those worries away.

Person 1: I worry, and I think certain things I get a little obsessive-compulsive tendencies over. Sometimes I deal with it by trying to pretend that I know things—like, Oh, if I read enough about it, I’ll understand it, even though that doesn’t change the unpredictability of it.

What is the cost of thinking about it? I mean, what do you have to give up if you think about it?

Person 1: Ignorant bliss and self-indulgence.

Person 2: What makes it so much more difficult is that industry has made it about shifting the guilt onto individual people. Like, yes, plastic is bad for sea turtles, but plastic straws are not that big a deal.

*

[This was from a group of four who came up together; person 4 was quiet.]

Person 1: We were just talking about the plastic bag ban. It seems like a good thing!

Person 2: I’m just bothered that people are so ignorant about [climate change].

Which people?

Person 2: People on the internet. Apparently it’s not a problem. If it doesn’t affect you now, why bother?

Person 1: People who don’t have small children, they don’t have to look as far forward.

Person 3: I just learned about fast fashion and it’s stressing me out. I’ve been trying to go through my closet and get rid of stuff.

Person 1: I feel like it’s that subtle guilt that you give yourself.

Person 3: I start thinking about every little action I do—seven billion people are doing the same thing.

*

What are you anxious about?

Person 1 (indicates very small daughter): She’s on my shoulders.

Have you talked with her about it at all?

Person 1: Not that much so far. She’s a little young for it.

Person 2: I know that she and I have had some conversations about it.

Person 1: We do talk about the importance of conservation and recycling, we have talked about that.

Person 2: I know we were talking the other day about diminished habitats for animals. And we’re going to Narragansett Bay next weekend—this isn’t climate change so much, but there’s that area preserved for the [piping plovers].

That’s definitely connected to taking care of the rest of the world, the living world.

Person 1: And making her realize that it’s worth it. Of course it’s all in the news—that the environment is gonna be irreparably damaged by 2030, 2050. Well, she’s three years old and it’s 2020. By the time she’s my age, things will have come to this point. And I don’t feel like timetables for remediation are realistic.It can be really paralyzing. We can do individual things, but if it’s not accompanied by universal effort—I’m not gonna stop doing the individual things, but–

What about doing things with other people?

Person 1: Not really. We’re pretty atomized as a culture. I’m in school with people who are working on this, and I support them in their work. I’m planning to work on employment, community development, land use. I’m in law school, and to some extent I rely on social scientists to inform me about some of these things, like how we might bring people together with a better plan…

What do you do when you start thinking about these things?

I have a cigarette, or I drink a beer, or I get some food—some kind of quotidian pleasure. But also I think about these things late at night, when I’m alone and my family has gone to bed. I don’t know what it takes to focus people’s energy.

What would it take to focus your energy?

I mean, if there was something, I would show up and lend my voice. If I got an email, a call, I don’t use much social media but if [my partner] were to see something on Facebook, I’d show up.

*

Person 1: My anxiety is that people who are most affected are not causing it. A lot of it has to do with people who have a lot of wealth, and they’ll be able to survive….That the whole thing will be very unjust. In wealthy countries, the focus is on sustainable development, the focus isn’t on big impact things.

Person 2: A lot of the things that people do, like electric cars, the popular trendy things to do, in the system the money goes back into using more resources. You’re not really reducing the use of things. People need to be okay with consuming less, not just with resources being redirected.

How do you feel about all of this? Like, are you pissed about it?

Person 1: Anger is directed toward someone or something. This just feels inevitable. …

What are some things you do about this with other people?

Person 1: I don’t drive to work, but my coworkers do, so I try to talk to them, to encourage them to try other things.

Person 2: I do see people being less wasteful, and I think, how can I be more like them? Bying used clothing and furniture, making food at home instead of going out to eat—having more discipline.

*

I have a lot of guilt because there’s no way to overcome the amount of shit that we have on this earth. I’m somewhat of a hoarder, and when I’m trying to donate things, I’m like, “Oh, I should try to donate this, I should try to share this,” but then sometimes I just have to get rid of all of it. If I’m stressed, I shop.

What does that do for you?

I think it’s the rush of something new …

What else gives you that feeling?

Connecting with people. When I connect with someone, I like to know everything about them … But then if I try to [make these changes], there are still so many people doing nothing.

So is it fair to say that even as you’re feeling guilty for the amount you’re doing, you’re also feeling resentful of people who are doing less?

Yes, and I wanna know, is it gonna make a difference? Will me finding all these little piece of plastic make a difference?

What if—I’m not telling you this, I’m just saying if you definitively knew that it wouldn’t make a difference, what would you do differently?

I think I would just say, “Then let’s find a way to make it make a difference. We need to do better.” I wouldn’t just be like, “Fuck it.”

20190608_112157

[Image: A postcard addressed to the Army Corps of Engineers, asking that they reject a permit for the fracked-gas power plant proposed for Burrillville, RI.]

I’ll have more postcards like this at my booth sessions next week, Wednesday 6/12 through Monday 6/17, 2-5pm, in Burnside Park opposite Kennedy Plaza. Come and fill one out!

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.]

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Broadway at Sutton St, 9/28/18

Weather: Sprinkling mist, chilly.

Number of people: 3 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 2.5

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 15, mostly from afar

Dogs pet: 0, but did receive one sniff/lick on my extended hand

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.00

 

Observations:

 I was doing this partly to get attention for a fundraising event for No LNG in PVD later in the evening. No one who stopped to talk with me attended the event, which was their loss, because it was amazing. We raised just over $1400!

 Interpreter Eveling Vasquez was with me this time, but no one who stopped needed her services.

This is the first time I’ve ever done the booth in my own neighborhood.

 

Some conversations:

I worry that it was never a big issue with a lot of people, and now it’s even less of an issue with a lot of people. In the national conversation, it’s fallen out of the limelight. People are more interested in other stuff. It used to be people would debate about whether it was happening. I don’t see people debating it anymore, but they don’t want to do anything about it.

 Why do you think that is?

 The problems of today seem much bigger than the problems of tomorrow. It’s tough to hold onto a problem that’s very big. You want to focus on something else, something you can make a difference on. There’s a little bit of apathy. I do it too … I don’t do very much. What am I doing in particular that’s helping the climate? I don’t drive much, but that’s not because of the climate.

 *

 Who doesn’t [have climate anxiety], who has any sense?

 What are some of yours?

Air pollution, plastic, garbage disposal. Just about everything you can think of. And we got a guy who’s not gonna care about it if he gets confirmed. I’m gonna be very depressed when he gets confirmed. It’s not just this, it’s gerrymandering, everything—the whole Republican party voted for that tax cut. They are truly diabolical. You feel like the country’s going in the wrong direction. I got a lot of older folks where I work, and they always want the TV turned to Channel 10, Channel 12. Sure, it’s good to know local news, but you know right away they’re Trump people. I talk to other [patients] who think he’s crazy. But they’re used to looking at Channel 10 and Channel 12, they’re not that well educated, blah blah blah.

 Do you get into it with them?

 Not really. I get an idea of where they’re at, I talk and joke with them. It’s not worth talking about. I won’t get into it ’cause I know they’re not gonna like me. Sometimes I do.

*

I’m taking an oceanography course, and we spend a lot of time talking about the earth and how old she is. The professor’s talking about the atmosphere and its interactions with the ocean, and of course climate change is having a lot of impact on that. I left in tears. I’m disappointed in the human race. We’re destroying so much, and that’s awful, and it’s embarrassing, like when your parents give you something to take care of and you mess it up. We’ve failed in a way, and what’s really hard is what we’re taking down with us—we’re not just destroying ourselves. So that’s what I’m thinking about. I’m embarrassed. We should’ve done better. Part of me thinks we should be trying to make amends, but that in itself feels selfish. The earth will heal itself [if we’re gone] and things will kind of spin around. We’re really just trying to preserve ourselves.

 

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 with the Manton Avenue Project, 6/29/18

The students and teachers of the Manton Avenue Project did me the honor and kindness of inviting me to do a guest workshop with them. As part of that, I did this model climate anxiety counseling session with one of their teachers, and some students asked her questions too.

They’re writing plays about climate change and “saving the world” this summer: you should go see them, on August 2nd and 3rd at 7pm at 95 Empire Street, and on August 4th at 6pm at the Waterfire Arts Center, both in Providence.

*

I look at weather patterns and I start feeling like, sad to the point of angry, because I feel like we’ve known [about climate change] for a long time, but there’s a large population of people that keeps insisting it’s not real, just because they want to keep driving cars and making money the way they’ve always done. I can’t believe we’re so shortsighted, with no sense of [how it will affect] the next generations. Our policies aren’t generous—it’s the policymakers. They have access to experts. They have control over how much information goes out, especially with social media. They should know better, but they’re on the side of a small population of very wealthy people who are probably not grounded in a lot of fact…

Do you talk with other people about this?

Yeah, but all we do is just voice our worries. I talk about it and then I try to get quiet. I try to think: how much space do I personally take up in the world? Even if I’m just one person, how can I pull back on fossil fuels, not live a live full of disposable things? I can write to companies and be like, “I love your product because it uses recycled material,” or whatever. When I talk to people, we’re complaining, but nothing gets done.

What would you like to see happen?

I’d love it if someone could tell me it was going to be okay, like, “Don’t worry.”  … It would be nice to be able to talk out plans and to be encouraged by actions we’re taking so that we can do more.

Can we go back for a second to what you’re feeling?

Sure. Especially about things I can’t exclusively control, I start feeling very alone. … It affects my energy to do things, my energy or willingness to try. I’m an anxious person anyway. When it gets really depressing, like a thing in the news makes me feel sad, I try to be what sometimes people call present. Petting my dog helps me do that—she doesn’t care, she doesn’t have an opinion other than, “Uh, it’s hot.” All they want to do is be with you …

I’m okay for the moment, I’m alright. I’m comfortable, I have clothes, I have food, I have a community of friends, and I realize that I can talk to them.

A student: How are you feeling right now?

I’m enjoying—it’s nice that it’s a nice day. Also the fact that it became summer. It was chilly earlier. I’m always feeling a complicated mix of feelings about that, but the smell of the air and the vitamin D make me feel good.

A student: What do you do to help with anxiety?

I try to look at the things that I feel I’ve been trying to do. After Christmas, for the New Year, I tried to get plastic bags out of my life, see how much I could use paper bags. I have cloth bags I keep in the car. I got compostable waste bags for the dog. So, what have I done [that is helpful]?

A student: What’s the connection between plastic bags and climate change?

It all gets bundled up to how our relationship to the world is. Plastic doesn’t break down when it goes in the garbage. And petroleum products, mining petroleum, those are unsustainable resources, just like the gas we put in our car, the fuel we use to heat our homes.

Me: What’s your takeaway from this conversation?

Taking it and keeping track of some sort of progress will encourage me to keep on with it or to explore different practices.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/13/18

Weather: Cool, gray, breezy, sprinkling rain; later sunnier and windier, then back to sprinkling

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 4

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

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

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for the Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.15

 

Observations:

Today, artist Becci Davis ran a beauty shop in the park as well.

I made some janky repairs to the booth—replaced the “IN” sign for “THE DOCTOR IS IN”, repaired the big lower sign piece with duct tape, replaced a broken dowel on the small upper sign piece.

Over the years, I’ve noticed a slight rise in people saying, “I have anxiety,” instead of, “I’m anxious about…” (The number of people who mentally edit out “climate” from the sign and just see “anxiety counseling” is about the same.)

I noticed the horse cop in the park behind me at 12:24, but I don’t know when he got there. An older Black lady asked the cop how old the horse was. A park ranger drove by at 12:50.

Someone asked me, “What is anxiety?” on this day, and I should have asked, “Do you have anything you want to talk with someone about?” On the other hand, “I’m not a real doctor, I just listen” is a pretty good short version. Also, I need to remember that while the form of the question matters, there is no magic unlocking question.

 

Some conversations:

 

I just got a job at Wal-Mart. My mom, when I called her to tell her, she was so happy for me, I never heard her so happy. … I gotta not drink vodka. Sometimes I drink vodka to deal with the anxiety and to forget things that happened to me. But then I wake up with a headache, my stomach hurts, I’m vomiting, my stools…

What are you going to do if you want to forget and you can’t drink vodka?

I can text or call my friends. But they’re busy, they have things to do. I can drink a beer. Beer doesn’t have as bad of an effect on me … I want to save some of my money, not for drugs and alcohol but for like, soap and stuff. And I want to give. If I see someone in need, I want to give them money for food, or buy them food. If I had sacks of money under my car, I’d wanna just stop by a person with a sign and give them $900–$500–let’s say $900, and I would say, “Here you go, have a good day, a blessed day.” My friends and I, we give to each other and we give to other people. It makes me happy, too. It feels good to give.

Is it okay to post our conversation online? 

Yes, absolutely. If I had a website I’d put that up there.

 

*

 

[This person has spoken to me before.]

The plastic cleanup continues! You know what I’m thinking about today? Those fluorescent nip bottles. They got like a prismatic thing on them. And here comes a pod of Wright’s porpoises, the babies are gonna eat that and it’s gonna kill them. I took a fishing pole and I threw one in among the lily pads—everything that was alive in that pond came to see what it was about, because of the color.

But I was down in the Bay at low tide and I saw species I haven’t seen in years. Bay scallops! [He makes the size of them with his hands: about as big as an Oreo.]

*

 

 

What anxieties do people have about climate change?

There’s a really wide range. Some people talk about flooding, sea level rise, stuff like that, because we have so much coastline here. Some people are worried about the way it’s going to affect the way we get our food, because of the way changes in the weather are going to affect food production. Stuff like that.

What’s your main anxiety?

Honestly? Ecosystem collapse. That so many things will die that the ones that are left won’t be able to keep going.

That’s something to be anxious about. What should we be doing?

Well—there’s a lot of things to do.

What’s the easiest thing I could do?

Okay, so, none of it is all that easy, but to know what’s going to be easiest for you I have to ask you a couple of questions. Is this something that’s been on your mind a lot?

No, not really. Ten years ago, when Al Gore was making a big deal about it…

Is there something you would like to set right?

Yes. I’d like to see equity across all genders and races.

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/8/18

Weather: Warm, bright, sometimes breezy, sometimes heavy.

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 1 walkby.

Number of hecklers: 0!

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

Dogs seen: 8

Dogs pet: 0

Cats seen: 2, in a stroller

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $10.25!

 

Observations:

I forgot my notebook, but people I know who were working in the park shared some paper with me.

A cop car drove through at 11:44, and one that might have been an unmarked one was parked by the old Greyhound stop.

Seeded the map with “asthma in South PVD.”

I was a bit late starting because I stopped to chat with two friends. The first food truck arrived at 11:30, soon after I did. After some deliberation, at noon I switched sides, west-facing to east-facing.

Things I couldn’t help with today included the location of the barbecue truck and the high enzymes in someone’s liver.

I swear that the second conversation down is not secretly a dialogue with myself.

 

Some conversations:

 

 

 

I’m generally a person who has anxiety about things outside of my control. I keep it at bay through relaxation techniques: stepping back from events, looking through a lens other than time. Am I anxious about climate, yes. Is it as intense as my other anxieties, no, ’cause it’s so gradual. It’s not like there are that many days where the heat is so intense. It’s so hard to feel something out of your own personal experience. It’s the same reason that the world has no empathy for each other.

… I have this unrealistic and yet very overwhelming expectation to do everything right all the time—a certain unrealistic way of organizing one’s life. [It comes from] a very superficial set of learned rules from when I was a child. It takes active unlearning in how I’ve got to operate. In my later life, the ways in which I’m trying to carve new ways and understandings of doing things—it has some opposition with some of the other ways. … I’m good at thinking, but that plays into my anxiety. How much thinking do we spend on things that don’t require thinking?

*

Definitely climate change is at the top. Plastic particularly. I’ve been feeling guilty this week concerning plastics. I’m really busy right now, so I eat on the run, and I was cleaning out my car and there were five-six different coffee cups all with straws. It’s not right, and I need to do something about that.

I hear you on the plastic but I want to talk about the busyness for a second, can we?

Sure. I overcommitted myself. I have a hard time saying no. I can get things done and I’m pretty good with the stress of managing things, but different things overlap and I’m pulled in all different directions. I didn’t acknowledge it until I became an adult. I said yes to one thing, and then something happened that I couldn’t say no to. So that was two big things, then I just kept going, “Oh, you need this, and this.” And these are all things that I love to do! I want to do them! I have a stake in it. It was clear in the beginning what the parts were, but the rest of it came from being a perfectionist and adding more things on, [and] then I have an idea so I want to follow that through. But I cannot follow all of these. I need to collect them and do them at a later date. But I got to the point with these where it was too late for that.

What’s something you think you might take with you from everything you’ve just been telling me?

To try to do more planning ahead. To be more organized earlier on rather than doing crisis management. Taking a minute to sort things out, doing what’s right in front of me.

*

I work by the river, right where they put in the new footbridge, and after Waterfire there are these weeds that catch everything. You know that big silver sculpture, and the steps where the ducks are? … There’s graffiti down there, too, it says, “Where will we go when the water rises?” and sometimes it’s covered a bit.

*

I worry about [the cats], I worry about the noise—just constant worry. I had a cat that was sick and died two years ago, and that may be why I worry a lot with them. If they don’t finish their food I get shaky and nervous, I get irritable. They’re working on our building, and there’s all this noise, and men going up and down. I was worried about how they’d react to it, but they seem pretty good.

*

 

 

I’m an environmental educator, and something that comes up a lot for me is hearing in people the resistance to learning anything about climate change, or resistance to doing anything. I just moved up from the South. People in the Northeast are more informed.

What age of people do you work with?

People my age to their 60s. They tend to be pretty informed. And then with students, 15-18. It’s hard to identify what everyone is resistant to. People have twenty different things they don’t want to know, or care, or spend time learning about. It’s easy for me to see that I’m not alone, so I’m trying to get them to join in any movement—even recycling—then they wouldn’t be alone. If they spent a portion of every day of their lives thinking about climate change, maybe we could do something about it.