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

Weather: Warm and bright

Number of people: 4 stoppers

Number of hecklers: 0!

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

Dogs seen: 5

Dogs pet: 0

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

Observations:

I had Elizabeth Malloy of Living on Earth, with me, listening and recording (with permission), to see if there’s a story in all of our stories. She also asked some questions, so if you see italicized text starting with E:, that’s her. (Italics with no initial are me, regular text is people who stopped at the booth.) Elizabeth will be with me at the booth for the rest of the season, at both the Providence and Newport sites, so come along if you’d like to be on the radio.

Sorry about all the [brackets] and …, I had a lot of fast-talking people today!

Nonhuman animal presences: seagull, ant on booth, monarch butterfly, red admiral??? butterfly, pigeons. Elizabeth saw a hawk.

Some conversations:

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

What was interesting about it?

For one, because some people were there who had kind of the same outlook as me, and then there were some people there who didn’t have the same outlook. I think it helped us us understand—well, it helped them understand the situation and it helped us understand where they were coming from. But it seemed like what they were saying was mostly from what they heard, not from what they experienced, where I’m talking from experience. I think it’s really because they’re not really doing their research—they’re just going by what they’re hearing. I try to pride myself on just having conversations, not believing everything I hear.

What were some of the things they had heard?

That there’s no such thing as global warming. Maybe they don’t even really think about it to try to figure it out, or maybe they don’t even care because they’re not gonna be around…I want to learn more because it takes so long to say anything. Some people who were part of this conversation knew a lot, and they were answering questions that I might’ve had too. I’m worried about what’s going on. I have a son. I live in Newport, we’re right near the water. I need to start learning, because I live near the water, and the tide might come up, and I might go under.

*

[This person, who works with the Newport Health Equity Zone, has taken on the assignment of asking market vendors and shoppers a different question about disaster each day.]

So my question of the day is: If the bridges were shut down both ways and you only had two days of food, how would you survive?

What have people been saying?

People have been saying they’d fish, grow gardens, trade stuff—a lot of trading. A lot of people said stealing, taking stuff. One little girl I aasked, she’s eleven, she said she’d look to her mom—she can’t really do stuff by herself so she’d look to her mom to carry her. [We’re trying to] find out what people know, maybe do a little class on survival. People don’t all have the resources they should or know everything they should. But the idea is, this is serious, climate change is serious, so what are you gonna do to prepare for it?

Do you have ideas about how you’d deal with it if it brings up new fears for people?

I would let them know that before this time period, people got through cold winters and they got through hot summers. There was a past [where people got through harsh conditions] and we can get through it, and you can get through it. There’s older people I’ve talked to and they’ve gone through it, they’re eighty years old.

How are you feeling about climate change yourself?

I don’t know. I’m personally scared. I’m not gonna lie, I just this year found out what climate change was. Now that I’m seeing it I don’t even know a lot of the things we’re using and we’re doing, but I feel like we’re making it worse. I’m really scared. I can say that.

People are scared to leave the island. You have everything you need here. But with climate change, we live on an island, so if all of downtown gets flooded, there’s not enough room for everyone to live up here. Would I be homeless? I’m scared of that. What if I’m a person who’s afraid of leaving? I mean, I’ve been places, but only for a week. This is where I’ve grown up, it’s where I was born, I went to elementary, middle and high school here. I’ve never had to go anywhere to work for a job, I’ve always found work here. You can leave, but why would you want to? I don’t know life outside of Newport—everything is here, all the resources I need are here, even though there are some resources that could be more.

What do you do when you feel those feelings that you just described?

I ignore it, I’m not gonna lie. And I feel like that’s the issue.

What do you think might make people more willing to not ignore it?

Knowing how to survive. If I knew how people work, how things work with electronics…But with things like washing close with your hands—I’m so impatient. I have a dishwasher, why would I spend time and wash each dish by hand?

E: It seems like for you, climate change correlates a lot with survival.

Yeah, like losing what you need to survive. Are you worried about losing other stuff?

… So like speaking for my future … I wanna help people with substance abuse, and it seems like with climate change that problem would get way bigger. No one would want to use that resource [of healing from addiction] because there would be nothing to live for. My Pop, my grandpa was in I think the Vietnam War, and he was getting high because the tragedy from it was so terrible. It’s like you’re not trying to be there, when you really need to be there.

Would you be willing to let go of some stuff before you had to?

At this point, honestly I would. Having these conversations [from the daily questions] really started to get me thinking about it. If it’s gonna give me a few years of time…

*

[This person started by reading the map of worries, which says, among other things, “Too many hotels and not enough parking.”]

Too many hotels and not enough housing. We do have homeless people [in Newport]. I think as a native Newporter, they care more about the tourists than they do about us.

The city?

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

Is it getting worse?

My rent goes up, my income doesn’t. … But I’m glad I got a roof over my head. I’m not really complaining, I’m just feeling for some people who don’t have that. I have a friend that just sold her house and she’s looking for a place, but every place has a waiting list. I pay almost $300 a month for Blue Cross. This is the richest country, we should have [affordable health care].

. Why do you think we don’t?

We’re probably spending too much money on—maybe we could bring down Congress’s salary. They’re not doing anything. Republicans right now, excuse my language, are sucking up to Donald Trump.

[Talking about mass shootings] What’s sad right now is you’re scared to go anywhere. I remember in ’77, they were talking about nuclear war–I don’t remember if we had to get under the desk.

Are people here afraid?

I don’t know anybody here that’s afraid, but I’m sure they are. This is happening because people are having problems—they have no job, they have no place to live. I worked for the government for twenty years in [CITY], and then on the base for a while, and when you work for the government you realize how much waste there is. Whatever money you have for supplies, you gotta spend it or spend less next year. So you’d see people paying $40 for a hammer.

[Candidates say] “I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that,” but they can’t do what they wanna do. When I was younger, we picketed the Housing Authority … I talk to a lot of young people and they don’t vote. They don’t care.

Do you know why? Do you talk to them about it?

I do talk to them about it. I even have a couple of grandkids who don’t vote.

…People don’t believe in global warming. I watch Planet Earth and a lot of things like that. Look at the polar bears, they don’t have enough ice. … It concerns me, but I don’t worry about it. There’s nothing I can do. I think it’s a bigger problem than I can solve. I mean, I can talk to people about it, which I do. I’m at the senior center a lot, they see stuff on the news—well, they mostly watch soap operas.

*

I have a strong and long scientific background [that has given me] a sense of inevitability and the fact that humans don’t like to face change until we have to. It’s not anxiety anymore. I do have some [anxiety] that people get fixated on the weather, rather than on vectors in the viral sense, effects on monocrop systems—those things are more of a risk to my children.

… I’m a [MILITARY] officer and I try to lead people, and it’s so incredibly difficult to change someone’s mind through a direct, almost attacking approach… [It works better to be able] to say, “This is what I do.” Do as I do, not as I say … I wish it were facts and logic, but it’s not, and even feelings aren’t going to do it. Your values are indicated by what you’re going to do. But I understand the futility of it.

How does change work in [your branch of the military?]

We’re usually faced with evolutionary change rather than revolutionary change. Part of the problem with [this branch of the service] is that we’re so technologically tied—we can’t separate our intellects from the technology we use…

The Navy and the Department of Defense understand [climate change] as an existential threat to our economic systems and our health as a country. [The Armed Forces] fundamentally do not do politics. Our strategic goal is to maintain the freedom of shipping and communications. No sailors or soldiers are fighting for a political statement. … They’re massively invested [in preparation]–every Department of Defense housing facility is mandated to have solar. Upgrades to systems…We’ve got bases in places that are going to be wiped out really quick. [When something bad happens], we have all these things we’re gonna be able to do, but until the bad thing happens to the right people …

Who decides who the right people are?

[The military] is subjugated to the will of the people, which is the civilian authority. … The problem is too big for people to think they can do anything about.

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: Miantonomi Farmers’ Market, 7/22/19

Weather: Medium temperature, muggy, cloudy; later, breezing and brightening up

Number of people: 12 stoppers

Number of hecklers: 0!

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 11

Dogs pet: 0. This ratio is terrible. Do better, Newport!

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $1.05

Observations:

One of the conversations that I didn’t get permission to post, I don’t think I mishandled exactly but I think there was probably a way to do more in it/with it, with more honesty and more compassion.

On the other hand, I had a five-person conversation (including me) that I think went really well? See if you think so too!

I was in the back corner on this day, but it didn’t seem to slacken traffic any.

Nonhuman animal presences: Big housefly, monarch butterfly, somebody who I’m almost sure was a silvery blue, crows, white butterfly of some kind, robin, sparrows and a doe who wandered around the edge of the park. I don’t know if she was okay or what she thought was happening.

Some conversations:

I feel like as a species we’re in a constant battle between good and evil—maybe more like greed and wanting to help. Will we ever be able to improve our ongoing battle or will it continue as long as we’re on this planet? Whether you believe in climate change or global warming [or not], a greener world makes sense just from a health perspective—but we’re locked in this eternal battle. I used to work for Greenpeace, [but] the environnmental issues aren’t where I put everything these days. I try to help where I can. There are only so many battles that you can fight, there’s only so much time in a day.

Are you willing to talk a little more about your time with Greenpeace and what you did with them?

I was part of the action team, so I helped organized protests, we went and put our hands on nuclear subs, we climbed smokestacks. We tried to shift the political agenda—both policy and grassroots education. Then I realized I was living in a city where I didn’t know any kids, and I was drawn to see what was going on—[working with kids] seemed to make more sense for what I wanted to do. In the space where we work, I was there the other day after class and there was just this Hansel and Gretel trail of candy wrappers. It’s so much about the demographics—who you grow up with, where you grow up. From an environmental perspective, youth are a product of how they’re brought up with their families. Schools have some influence—well, schools with more resources do.

Can you tell me what the goals are for the kids in your program?

To grow their confidence. They learn how to make stuff—sewing, coding, design—and in doing that they develop skills, they learn to collaborate, they meet people. I’m thinking of one kid, a rising junior, a smart kid, hard-working—he’s doing three jobs. And a lot of kids, people … will try to push them toward certain careers, like, “Do cybersecurity”–kind of fear them into it, make them fill a slot in a program. They can make anything they want—we want them to work at it and be excited by it too.

*

[These four came up together, and Person 3 was semi-in-charge of People 1, 2 and 4, who are kids.]

Person 1: I don’t really think about it, but sometimes when I see it on the news I start thinking about it. When I see it on the news I get a little worried.

Person 2: Whenever I go to the beach I look at the—what do you call it—the high water marks on rocks, like when we went on the cliff walk.

How do you feel about it—is it scary?

Person 1: It kinda scares me sometimes.

Person 2: It doesn’t scare me that much. It’s not gonna happen in my lifetime.

Person 3: Yes it is.

Hold on a second. Right now, it sounds like you guys are disagreeing. But how can we find out if that’s even true, and if it is true, how can we find out if you could still work together?

Person 2: We can look for the similarities in what each other’s saying.

Totally, that’s a great idea. Also I think it might help us to slow down, see what the other person is saying and if you even are disagreeing, because we go fast when something is important to us. Both of you are saying what you’re saying for a reason, so maybe it would also help to tell us where you got your information from.

Person 2: We did a project at the end of the year and we looked at sea level rise projection. We were looking at a map that showed where the water would be in 2050, how high the water would be in 2080. That’s what, 61 years from now, so the odds of us being alive then are—actaully they’re pretty high. But I can’t really worry about it.

Person 3: I learned my freshman year at [college] from my biology professor about things that are happening—everything we’re doing that’s affecting the environment. Since that class … I stopped eating meat to conserve water, I stopped using single use plastic. I try to thrift my clothes and not purchase unnecessary things. I feel like it is happening because there’s been snow in the spring that we used to get in the winter–

Person 1: The weather is all mixed up.

Person 4: I notice that it’s like kind of been getting hotter during the years. A couple years ago we had so much snow and each year it’s getting smaller and smaller. There was barely any snow this winter. And I noticed this weekend that it was hot at nighttime. The cats outside and my cat have been hiding because it’s so hot.

Person 2: With our camp, we bike a lot. We biked to [ILLEGIBLE, SORRY] today and it was the first year ever that I got sunburned. I didn’t recognize it, I was like, “Why does my skin hurt?”

Person 1: Like sometimes I’ll be sleeping and I’ll dream about stuff that’s happening in real life.

Person 2: Like that movie Crawl, where the water is going over the land. And now there’s a lot of flooding.

What would make you feel more comfortable to talk about it with people?

Person 1: People that know a lot about stuff that you don’t know.

Person 2: And people that think about it the same way as you.

*

[Seeing the sign] No. No. So much to worry about.

Would it help to talk about it?

No. Believe in the science. That’s my contribution. Just believe in the science. And believe insurance agencies, because they know that it’s happening, and they’re raising their rates. Be a good capitalist and believe in science.

[IMAGE: Three drawings of snails that live in Rhode Island: the forest disc snail, the rotund disc snail, and the wild hive snail. I gave these cards out to people who talked with me.]

Climate Anxiety Counseling and Future Mapping with Rejin Leys on Governor’s Island, NY: 7/13/19

Weather: hot and bright and muggy; not bad in the shade

Number of people: 9 stoppers

Pages of notes: 20, but a smaller notebook than usual, so ~12 normal-sized pages

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 3

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: I didn’t collect money this time.

Observations:

This was during a scheduled, arts-and-culture-related time, in front of a house where artists were gathered to make art about water (the link goes to a record of last year’s residency) and where other organizing and informational efforts related to climate change were going on in the houses nearby. The island is a slight, though not huge, pain in the ass to get to—you have to make a point of it, and some people were making a point of getting there to see the arts-and-culture-related things; some people were also there mainly to picnic and have a good time. Many of the people who spoke with us were residents or participants in the houses.

In that post, I’ll also write more about the way that Rejin Leys (artist-in-residence, collaborator, and friend) and I planned this collaboration, what actually happened, and what we learned from that. For now I will say that either before or instead of talking with me, people who stopped by our table were being invited (by Rejin) to draw a “blind contour” map of the continental US in order to think about borders, coastlines, and change. Here are two:

[IMAGE: two drawings of the map of the continental US, drawn while looking at the map but without looking at the drawing, on paper handmade with Poland Spring labels.]

The upcoming post will include more and better examples of the maps. Because of this exercise, I started many (but not all) conversations by asking, “How did it feel to do that drawing?” Note that in the conversations, italics are me, plain type is the interlocutor, and R (also in italics) is Rejin speaking.

Some conversations:

How did it feel to do that drawing?

I liked it actually. I already knew starting out that it was going to be totally inaccurate. I wanted to draw in the shapes of the places. It was a chance for me to practice nonattachment–[attachment] makes my life more difficult. It’s nice to feel like I didn’t need [the drawing] to be anything.

Does attachment affect the way you think about the future?

Yes. I have really severe anxiety and depression and they [contribute to] an inability to live in the present. I’m always looking to the future—not just 30 years from now when everything is horrible, but little things that are happening in the next few days, and every mistake I’ve made in my past. It’s obsessive and it’s bad—I can’t sleep. So having a moment to let go of all that is really nice.

What are some ways that you look for moments to let go of it?

That’s a hard question to answer, because when you’re so deep in it, any attempt to get out of it results in feeling guilty for taking time—like, “I need to rest, but do I deserve that?” I know that, I do recognize that, and I try and hold that but I don’t know how. I’m here and I’m recognizing that [moment]. But I think more to the point is the acknowledging that it’s happening–”This is a moment when I felt this—how do I keep this moment?”

What’s a change in the world that would free you?

Knowing that people cared more about, in particular about things like climate change but in general that you could count on people for more empathy. … So many people are all, “I have mine and screw you, unless it actually impacts me—my sister, my mother, my brother.” And maybe not even then. It’s hard to get people to care if they can’t personally go, “It affects me,” yet.

How is caring about it part of your day?

You have of course your little things that you do, like recycling—

I’m gonna stop you for a second. We can come back to the things that you do, but I also want to know how it feels. How the caring feels on the day-to-day.

I think about it a lot, especially because I’m from Florida, which will be underwater. I mean, the form it takes is anxiety, because I start to be very anxious about the loss. It kills me. It absolutely kills me. I’m so stymied by the fact that people don’t care. I feel so impotent to do anything. It’s very frustrating. I’m just this one little person, and I do what I can, but I’m not always doing what I can.

What are the things you do with other people that have to do with this?

I make art with other people a lot. I’m a big fan of collaboration. When I make art it’s generally to impart something to people about stuff based in the environment. I love to teach and to make things entertaining but also hopefully make people think about stuff more than they would have. My sculptures are all made of garbage, I try to have as little impact as possible—art can be super toxic too. 

Can you tell me more about Florida?

There was just a bad red tide. There are dead things washing up all the time, and it stinks. And then you contrast that with the constant need to be pristine for the tourists—there are trucks that come and pick up the seaweed. It feeds itself. I’d love to see less attachment to the idea of perfection, this ideal. They keep replenishing the beach—they dredge the waterways, and there are all these beautiful shells, but it’s because we’re killing these creatures. But nobody says anything and they keep doing it because people want their beautiful shells.

R: It seems like they see the coastline less as a part of nature and more as someone’s garden.

As a theme park. They want to be able to use it an unlimited amount, then they leave and don’t ever think about it again. That’s something that I try to deal with in my work. I want people to care. If the world were a smaller place– It’s cheesy, but the Mad Max apocalypse, something like that is the direct consequence that will cleanse the Earth. We’ve been here for nothing, no time.

How does thinking about that play into your trouble with attachment?

Cataclysmic change is actually comforting to me. When I get really crazy it helps me, to think I’m nothing. If you’re watching an animal documentary, it’s like, “This blue-footed booby doesn’t give a shit about me.” It helps me to zoom out and go, “We’ll be gone and that’ll be the best thing that could’ve happened.” Because we’re such a speck, such a small kind of meaningless speck.

So it sort of sounds like—a lot of people, with climate change, they feel like they don’t matter enough, and you said some stuff like that too earlier, but with this it seems like you’re trying not to feel like you matter too much.

If we matter too much then we think, we follow this Great Chain of Being…we think everything else is here to serve us. I get so frustrated alone in my house: Why do we think we’re more important than this grass?

So with that in mind then, you said you like to collaborate. How could you collaborate not just with other humans but with the rest of the living world?

Cultivating the wild, cultivating wild spaces. This is really hard for me. There’s a value in being uncomfortable. We can have less and we can survive. That’s something that everybody, that a lot of people, myself included, could benefit from, is accepting less in the way of comfort. You’ll get used to it, you’ll get over it.

*

I work in environmental policy and I am dealing very frequently with having to be very aware of the very terrible forecast. Climate anxiety is very real for me and my colleagues. Office conversation in other places, you think of it as light and easy, and it might start out that way but then it’ll take a turn toward some article that someone saw. It’s strange having conversations about terrible things in this casual way. I think you’re forced to ignore it to a large extent.

Can you leave it at work?

Not really. I try not to take it over into too many of my conversations with my wife and other people.

Have you seen any motion while you’ve been doing the work that you’re doing or does it mostly feel like spinning your wheels?

There’s been some motion in that there are different ways to think about these things. It’s hard to feel that something productive is happening—there are sometimes small victories, but they’re a drop in this ocean.

How about the literal ocean?

Obviously some of the changes that will happen will be in the ocean. I’ve only been a handful of times, but scuba diving was amazing—to see all those amazing things, but then I think, “Is this the last time?”

What if it was the last time?

There are times where I can sort of take that, like, “This is a fact in the world,” and then there are times when it’s incredibly depressing. It depends on whether I’m in a situation to talk about the sadder parts of these things or not.

*

[Person 1 and Person 2 came up together. Person 3 came up toward the end of that conversation.]

How did it feel to do that drawing?

Person 1: I was extremely confident when I was drawing it, and now I’m kind of amazed at how inaccurate it is.

R: What makes it correct or incorrect?

Person 1: I was trying to replicate [the map]. I can see places where I did that. I like the way it looks, but it was not what was intended.

R: Of course the coastline is always changing.

Person 1: My aunt lives down in southern New Jersey on a barrier island, and since Sandy—there’s a nature preserve there that’s all dunes, and since Sandy the sand is collecting much further out and forming a new island. They were thinking about dredging it, but they just left it there to be a new island.

R: We’re always thinking about what we’re losing, but this is just something that changed.

Person 1: It’s just further down. What’s interesting is that no one has a claim to it—it’s not part of any township.

R: It’s a truly free space.

Person 1: Well, and on the rest of the island, they’ve got the Army Corps of Engineers pumping sand back onto the beach. They can only [leave the new island in place] because it wasn’t developed. My aunt works for an arts and science foundation, and people just developed right up to the water, but the place where she works was less affected by Sandy and it’s because of the preserved wetlands around it. So she gives tours and explains how wetlands are supposed to be a natural barrier.

How does this idea of letting it go, just letting the island form, play into your anxieties about change?

Person 1: What if letting things take their natural course—things might get a little bit unwieldy, there might be blowback. But…if I don’t have awareness of what’s happening, that vulnerability is scary to me. My reflex then is to try to exert control, which I intellectually know is futile, to have control over all possible outcomes or even have awareness of all possible outcomes. My instinct in that case is to use mindfulness to come back to right now, see what’s actually present. Things that are maybe going to happen but haven’t yet—what are the things I do have control over in this moment? I can pay attention to the breath. If I’m in an activated, anxious state, that might be valid but I’m probably not going to think about things clearly.

What are the coastlines that are important to you?

The Jersey Shore. My grandfather built a house on Long Beach Island, and my aunt lives there full time. Her husband is a fisherman, a bayman. And we just moved to Cobble Hill, so we’re right near Red Hook and Buttermilk Channel. Red Hook feels like a little seaside town. And the Hudson River—I grew up in Northern New Jersey up where the Hudson gets a little bit narrower. And [to Person 2] you’ve got Florida.

Person 2: Yeah, but I don’t claim it. I don’t feel connected to Florida. It wasn’t my choice to live there, and as soon as I had a choice I left.

Person 1: Do you want to feel a connection to it?

Person 2: I prefer rivers. Rivers with mountains or cities—they give me a sense of scale.

What are some ways to take care of the rivers in this city?

Person 1: … I’ve been learning about the Billion Oyster Project–not only are they using oysters to rehabilitate the waterways, but they’re creating these community reefs, where people can be involved in rehabilitation in their neighborhoods. I look at something like the Gowanus Canal—it’s so polluted, what can an oyster reef do? But people now have a relationship with the waterway. There’s also the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club–you can sign up to go out and take trash out of the water … But I think with the canal, a lot of people are like, “It’s too gross to think about.” So anything that changes that—I haven’t signed up with them yet, but I’m trying to make it a priority … I’ve been holding a weekly climate grief support group Wednesday nights, and it’s good to have that time, but one of the other people involved pointed out that we could also be using that time to be doing stuff.

Can you tell me more about the support group?

Person 1: For two months we were having it every Wednesday. There’s a core group of three, sometimes it grows to seven, and we’re open for drop-ins. I try to combine contemplative arts and talking about climate change, because I noticed that if I just start talking about it, I start talking faster, and then the people I’m talking to pick up on that. So we start with contemplative practices and share some of the physical tools of slowing down. If we start getting breathless, slowing the breath down a little bit. We try to keep it casual, make it a little bit informal. People have such a wide variety of responses. Getting together in one place lets us not feel so alone. Climate change is something I’ve been concerned about for years—when I was at Hunter College taking an [environmental studies] class, my teacher cried in class and said, “I’m so sorry your generation has to deal with this.”  … For me, knowing that other people are concerned about it instead of being at home by myself and stewing about it is important.

Do you feel like the support group has affected the way you deal with it or talk about it outside of the support group?

Person 1: Yes. I don’t want people to be—I want people to care about climate change and be curious about it. I don’t want people to be so panicked about it that they [DIDN’T WRITE DOWN THE END OF THIS SENTENCE]. I turned to Buddhism because of climate change, and a lot of that is about preparing for death. … A teacher, a Buddhist chaplain, has talked about how when someone is dying, they might forget, and start making a plan for the future—I vacillate between, “Oh, these are the facts of things,” and going back to my planning. How do I internalize the reality so it isn’t so jarring?

We knew about each other and were in touch before this, so: is there anything that you hoped to talk about during our conversation that we haven’t yet?

Person 1: Somebody was saying that the way that we respond to climate change comes from templates that we established as children. …  Things always feel more manageable when I’m talking about it with someone else—it’s like, “Right, people do care.” I want to seek that out as I try to internalize it.

[Person 3 came and sat down at this point.]

[To Person 3] What would you like to say or hear in the work that you’re doing?

Person 3: I’d like to hear more and more interest in saying, “Yes, I’d like to become involved.” Today, there were quite a number of people who wanted information about our next meeting, and I hope they’ll come to see what it was like and then get more involved. I’m very optimistic. There was only one person who came in, and I couldn’t do anything about it: I asked, “Are you involved at all?” and he said, “ I read about it,” and I asked if he wanted to be involved and he just [mimes a shrug]. And I wanted to say, “We’re not talking about climate change, we’re talking about a climate crisis.” But there was nothing that I could say to him. That’s sad, and it feels not great. I’d like to be able to say [things like that], but I think you can’t go directly, you have to go through something else. I give talks, and something I’ve tried is starting with bamboo. [HERE SHE SUNG THE PRAISES OF BAMBOO FOR A LITTLE WHILE.] I want to be able to talk about that—it’s best to go through something positive if you can, to get to the issues.

Person 1: I feel that too. Like, “Why don’t you care about this, are you crazy?!” What’s the other way besides that—mostly questions and mostly experiential. Can I be communicating safety through my voice and body languge, even when I feel like I should be raising my voice?

Person 3: I’ve been involved with a [Project] Drawdown group—we just had our last session. One guy in the group lives part of the year here, part of the year in New Zealand, and he’s going to India to help farmers there with their soil,* and he’s begun to get on the subway and when there’s a long enough distance between stops, he gets up and says, “I don’t want your money, I just want two minutes of your time to talk about climate change.” And people ask him for literature. People say thank you. I don’t think I’m ready to do that. I want to, but I don’t know if I could.

[Person 3 went back to her station in one of the climate activism houses at this point]

Person 1: I would just say that I felt my breathing start to slow while I’ve been sitting here talking with you. When I feel alone with it, I feel like I have to be responsible for so much. Sometimes I feel resentful—why did these instructors at Hunter College burden me with this knowledge?

R: What [Person 3] was talking about might not be what I think of as the priority, but I’m glad that people are dealing with different aspects.

Person 1: I’m accepting that I’ll never be able to think about all of it or do all of it. When I’m trying to get people activated, there’s no one way—if you want to chain yourself to a pipeline, I can connect you with people who will help you do that.

*If you’re making a slight face about this guy, I am too. I would need to know a little more about him, his work, and how he’s behaving toward the other people on those trains before I could comment well on how this fits into the question of how we carry out our responsibilities to the world we share.

*

How did it feel to do that drawing?

It felt like I was not doing a good job. I was trying to sort of like get the shape, but I was getting anxious because I knew that the paper was finishing. 

Also, the coastline changes.

I don’t know how fast it changes. I mean, you can’t really tell unless you really go to the coastline. My family lives on the Mediterranean, in Greece, and I spent a lot of time in the northern islands. A big problem there is pollution—boats unloading their graywater in the harbor. There have been changes because of erosion and earthquakes that you can see from year to year. I’m now 30 years old, 32, and I see rocks that have fallen off. My grandfather had a little hut near the edge of a cliff, and this is leaning now—there’s a crack on the cement, and this year, everything is falling off. It happened slow—there were rains, there was hail, this corrosion is just natural. It was just like this forever. Nature takes its course, I guess. In a different place, it could be different. A few days ago, it rained so much in a place in Greece —when they built the city, they didn’t think about how if there’s [much] more rain it’s gonna be mayhem, it’s gonna be like the world is ending.

It’s not spontaneous, it’s just just earth’s moods anymore. We’re affecting it a lot. People don’t know what to do to prepare for seasons. It’s also about survival in some places. We [in the US, I think they meant] have other people growing our food for us—in other places there are more wars and famine, places that rely on a really tiny source of water. It’s crazy. I get goosebumps. And it’s a global phenomenon.

… I think for now, people know better, but rectifying those mistakes is very hard. People don’t generally react well. When you try to do work with the environment you will always get some resistance. It’s more difficult to convince older generations—they’re not used to thinking long-term or thinking, “What I do affects how other people live.” Individualism is hurting people.

… My grandfather has a garden and trees, fruit trees and olive trees, and he was loving what he was doing, so the things [he grew] were always delicious. When you grow something with love it always tastes better. I’ve been lucky to witness how to work the earth with your hands—you love it as a kid and it’s something normal, it comes out instinctively.

How are you feeling about all of this?

Emotional. But I can only just keep doing what I’m doing. I have scientific knowledge to share, I work with biofuels, and through my relationships around me, family and friends.

Are there ways you could give back to the place you’re living now?

People can’t change. If you live in the countryside, you don’t get enough information. I would change the mindset—maybe be selectively insensitive, maybe it’s the first step to people realizing they need to change.

*

I do this climate storytelling project and I’ve been working on it for the last few years. How do you actually engage people in a deep way? The organization is set up as a public engagement tool, and it’s tapped into something that isn’t really available to people: how to express yourself on climate change, but also how to make this kind of work matter more—to build an ecosystem for it. I’m very connected to the practitioner community and the traditional climate community—less so in terms of climate art … My life is totally different than it was before. I’ve had to learn how to be an entrepreneur, how do you raise money. I used to work in climate spaces, but it was the kind of thing where there was a paid staff position, you’d establish a position and get funding for it. Entering into creative spaces has a personal hesitancy for me. 

What’s your desire for these stories?

I want them to help transform people’s thinking, and to provide people with an outlet for expression. If I actually spend the time reflecting on climate—because I’m a parent, because I’m relatively young and I’ll be living in the future, because I care about my community—I need to deepen my competence [in communicating about it]. On the cultural level and the bigger picture, people need to talk about climate more. Giving them these tools has potential to unleash action at a much higher level. I see this as part of a series of projects that shifts or changes our cultural understanding of climate change. The personal hesitancy is so much more for me than—not in all cases, but in some cases, the letters [we collected] are so beautiful and personal that I want to do [them] justice. I feel like I’m holding people’s feelings and emotions and there aren’t that many other places where that can happen. I feel a deep sense of responsibility toward them that it will be beautiful and it will be moving and it will be helping other people to transform their thinking. I feel the weight of their concerns and I want to do a good job. … It’s so overwhelming, I’m already doing so much on it—I’m trying to build the parts that I’m good at and that I can do, and to farm out the parts I can’t do to people who are good at it. But there’s also a lack of resources to get [projects like this] attention, to fund the project in its entirety. Every piece or component is a full-time job. … How does a whole body of work get attention and funding? There are organizers, artists, social entrepreneurs doing this work—how can they get the support to sustain it?

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!

In RI? Testify 5/29 to support the Water Security Act!

The Water Security Act ensures that income level isn’t a barrier to safe, clean drinking water, and requires management plans to be accountable to the public. It will help prevent corporate control of water, protect water as a human right regardless of income, and start putting in place ways of handling water equitably and responsibly as the climate changes.

The hearing for this bill is on Wednesday, 5/29 at 4:30 pm. Can you come and testify? If not, can you call the senators on the RI Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture (especially if one of them represents your district) and tell them why you want them to pass it?

Tell them how important healthy water and healthy public land are to your and your family’s life and well-being!

Tell them about problems you’ve had with drops in water quality or rises in water costs!

Tell them how the water system where you live has been affected, or could be affected, by flood, drought, sea level rise and erosion, high heat or storms!

Tell them how a Percentage of Income Payment Plan (where your water rates are a fixed percentage of your income) would reduce financial strains on you and/or your family!

Tell them why it’s important for water systems to be accountable to the public, and for water users to have input into how water is managed!

Tell them why it’s important for water systems to take into account economic, social and environmental justice in the communities they serve, when they’re making improvements and plans for the future!

I feel like often (and more recently), when we in the US have a need to interact with the people who govern us (to govern is to control, remember), we are trying to stop them from passing a horrible law. This is a chance to encourage the people who make the laws in Rhode Island to pass a law that’s really not too bad!

Here is the bill itself, RI S0820, so you can see what it requires from the towns/cities, agencies, departments, districts, etc. that are responsible for getting water to the people who use it. Please come testify if you can!

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 6/20/18

Weather: blue blue sky, veils of cloud giving way to hot direct sun

Number of people: 5 stoppers, no walkbys [? check]

Pages of notes: 4

People I’ve seen before, back for more: 1

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 2 (this is the correct ratio)

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.71 plus a penny from Guyana

 

Observations:

This was the first instance of this market this season. I left halfway through to go to the rally for immigrant families, and when I left the crowd was just picking up.

I invited vendors to come and mark the map.

Nonhuman animal presences: brown cowbird, chimney swift, sparrow, bumblebee, honeybee, cabbage white butterfly.

Four kids whom I recognized from last summer at this site came to the market, but didn’t stop and talk with me.

I forgot the goddamn fucking Narcan and talked with one person who could potentially have used it, and I was supposed to have made a plan with a Spanish-English interpreter by this day, and there was at least one and possibly two people who would have been able to talk with me if I’d gotten it together.

 

Some conversations:

[After marking “affordable housing” on the map] With Boston moving down here, we’re moving in the direction of all this urban sprawl, but the pay doesn’t increase here. Ten to twelve dollars an hour is not a living wage, so if rent’s gonna constantly increase—when we were looking to move, everything that we looked at was either slummy or too expensive. I don’t think it’s gonna get better. And it’s also applicable if you have a business in mind—there’s no incentive for them to keep prices down. I feel like wages and respect for people’s lives just never keep pace with housing costs and food costs. And I—I mean, I did it all myself but I have a lot of things going for me. English is my first language, I’m a white female so that helps—obviously it’s worse for people who don’t have those advantages.

*

 

The mounting racial tensions in this country. Everything is so amplified by the media, and it’s bringing out emotions people didn’t know they had, unconscious bias—you learn things about people you know, people you thought you knew. It’s also, for me—I’m in a biracial marriage and it’s really coming out how opposing our families’ views are. We’re not always prepared to deal with it. [Between the two of us] there’s a lot of topics we don’t talk about, because we get so emotional. It’s hard when someone can’t see it your way.

And also, it’s not exactly the same for each of you.

Yes. And to talk about the unfair advantage—you know, you love your husband so much, and you also know he’s had this advantage over people who are just as deserving, but if you point that out you’re diminishing his accomplishments. Or things that they consider massive trials are just a walk in the park for some people … There are these questions in relationships that weren’t there before. It’s exhausting even though it’s important.

*

 

[This person helped me carry the booth to my car when I had to leave.]

I’m definitely worried about climate change and sort of what we will do as the water rises and people have to leave their homes. All the cities that I love are on the coast. In Miami, they have to pump seawater out of the streets. And yet there’s a huge development boom there. It’s unsustainable. But how much time do we have to relocate people and where do they go, especially people with less means—are we gonna have this huge refugee crisis?

… In Houston they had these floodplain maps and they knew they weren’t developing responsibly. They knew all the possible bad things that could happen. And the houses that got hit the worst there were owned by low-income people, who were tricked—I mean, the American Dream is buying a home, for some people this was maybe their first home, or they were the first ones in their family to own a home, it was exciting, and they were exploited.

I’m trying to learn more. I read about this in a couple of news articles—it’s different in Miami and in Houston and I want to learn more about that difference, focus on specific communities, learn more about community-specific issues and policy proposals by people who know more than I do. We need to have big conversations about tribalism, and how the way something is phrased to you tells you what you’re supposed to think, so people [repeat the things that their group says and] don’t learn that much about the nuances of specific issues … But I’m not going to talk to a climate denier and be like, “Let’s see what they have to say.”

map 6-20-18

On the map of worries, people wrote:

drought and food shortage (a seed from me)

Lincoln Woods

Affordable housing

South Beach

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/14/18

Weather: Warm and bright, breezy.

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 6 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

People who got the Peanuts reference: 4

People I’ve seen before, back for more: 4

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.45

 

Observations:

No food trucks upon arrival; set up facing east. Super caffeinated. Wind is more intense when I’m sitting on this side. Security-looking guy in the park around 11:40.

Nonhuman animal presences: pigeons and sparrows, a robin, a grackle, starlings, a wasp. A few plane tree seeds landed on my notebook.

Sometimes while I’m sitting at the booth I see people passing by who are just so satisfying to look at.

The wind blew my handtruck over twice today and blew the “IN” sign right off. Someone in the park handed it back to me.

 

Some conversations:

 

[After I removed an inchworm from his shirt and put it on the ground]

I don’t like to kill nothing. I let ’em go. I don’t want ’em on me, but I try not to kill ’em, even the grass. We need them. Certain things kills other things—they all kill each other.

*

 

Well! That Washington Post article about Antarctica.

What did it say?

It’s melting three times faster than expected.

What are the things about that that make you anxious?

Flooding. Coastal areas are gonna be in trouble. I’m okay, I’m 400 feet up.

Obviously you’re worried about it even though you’re gonna be okay.

Well, there are gonna be issues because people are not gonna be ready, and they’re not gonna know what to do. Look it up.

*

 

If we’re on this course, things aren’t gonna be good. I feel like our only hope is if technology catches up with it. Like I saw this thing in the ocean that just collects plastic, it just scoops it up.

Why do you think technology is the only hope?

It seems like it’s human nature to not try to solve a problem until it already happened .. They didn’t put up the hurricane barrier until after the hurricane of ’38. And those are smaller scale. Some people don’t believe in it. You’d have to get every nation on board, and preventing it is gonna be hard because of obstacles—by the time everybody gets on board it’ll be too late. People don’t trust science the way they should. So you get someone saying, “I don’t really believe in that,” and it’s like, what data or what facts—you can’t not believe it just because you don’t want to believe it.

It sounds like you’re having some of these conversations. Who are you mainly having them with?

My parents. They’re skeptical of it, they’re like, “They just want you to buy green lightbulbs,” like it’s part of some huge agenda. They’re starting to move now. The overwhelming scientific consensus, if that’s actually facts, which I believe it is—People who are skeptical don’t passionately believe it doesn’t exist, they’re just apathetic. Probably they’re Republicans, so their main concern is the economy …

 

How do you feel about these conversations?

It doesn’t anger me or anything. These are people I know, it’s not like they’re policymakers. I scoff a little bit. If you’re trying to look into it with an open mind you’d understand that that’s how it is. Some people are saying we’re already doomed.

Do you think that?

No. I think I have a sense of being like a teenager, where I’m invincible. It’s hard to imagine, so it’s not gonna happen, at least in my lifetime. Of course I believe in it and think steps should be taken, but I haven’t seen anything that shows me I should be concerned with my well-being. I read articles about ice melting, melting faster than we thought, and they worry me, but I feel like I’m never gonna understand it fully—the dangerous levels of ice that are in the ocean. I never click, I just scroll past the headline on my phone.

…I spend more time arguing about politics. I don’t consider myself a political person, but I’m against the sitting president, and I think that’s taken the place of climate change [in my consciousness]. When he comes up in the news, some issue or gaffe, or if I hear someone champion the president, I’m like, “Whoa, let’s pump the brakes.” But no one in my daily life is coming up to me and saying, “Climate change isn’t real.”

*

 

 

I’m going through a lot right now with school and work. It’s stressful because I’m halfway through it. I just took my third test, there are four in all. The problem with work is it’s a dead-end job and I don’t want to be there a long time. I have a fear of failure. I want to get into the military, but getting in is not easy. There’s the first test, the ASVAB, and if you don’t pass it you’re not in. It’s got math on it, science—I took it once and I’ve been practicing online, improving it. It’s rough … I’ve tried combat breathing, exercise, vaping, weed, walking—there’s so many things I’ve tried—but the thought just won’t escape me. I just feel like an utter failure. You take it once, then if you don’t pass you wait a month. The third time you have to wait six months. That’s a big time barrier. Things in my life are constantly shifting. Four months ago I had no job, I was sleeping on the couch. If I pass it, I’ll be the happiest person in the world, because I did it. I have issues with social anxiety and self-esteem. There are times when I do believe in myself.

Who else believes in you, that maybe could support you?

My parents, but they live so far away. I talk to them almost every day. They encourage me to follow anything I want–“Oh, you wanna do this? Go for it.” They don’t pass on so much wisdom about it. I was so happy to find a thing I wanna do, a thing I wanna be, because of my anxiety, my confidence, my self-esteem, but there’s just so many unfortunate obstacles. I don’t wanna give up, but it depresses me. I see myself as a good soldier. I just need a chance to prove myself …

Just wearing that uniform of something so honorable and noble. They make you fearless, hard as a rock. I always wanted to be like that because everything in my life is so discouraging. Everything else, it doesn’t seem necessary. Work, relationships, friends—I’ve always been moving from place to place, saying goodbye a lot to friends, girls I’ve cared about. I don’t want to make friends anymore because I’m always going to say goodbye eventually. I don’t want a break. Maybe when I pass this test, then I’ll be like, sit down on the porch, “I did it.”

map 6-14-18

I seeded the map of vulnerable places in RI with “Erosion + flooding” along the south coast.

Someone added, “WATCH HILL WESTERLY PROTECT PIPING PLOVERS.”

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

Weather: Hot and bright, then hazy

Number of people: 14 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

People who got the Peanuts reference: 3

Pictures taken with permission: 2

Dogs seen: 28

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

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $7.05

 

Observations:

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

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

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

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

 

Some conversations:

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

What would you do, if you did do something?

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

*

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

*

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

What do you feel when you think about these things?

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

 

*

[These two came up together.]

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

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

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

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

My everyday experience is influenced by that understanding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

*

 

 

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

Do you picture it?

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

map 6-9-18

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

STOP THE FRACKIN’ POWER PLANT!

Lanking [Lincoln] Woods

Stop violence and the shooting of people

Erosion at India Point Park

Johnston Landfill is getting too big

Jenks Point

BEACH

Blackstone Valley Bike Path

SAVE FOREST FROM SOLAR PANELS

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

[Next to Block Island] Underwater in 20 years

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

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.