Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 7/11/18

Weather: Hot, bright, breezy

Number of people: 3 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 4

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.00



One of my interlocutors, the first one, challenged my presumptions (or at least, the presumptions that were in my questions) a couple of times and I really appreciated it.

Slow day today, not just for me. I did notice that there’s a lot of vendors buying each other’s things and using each other’s services—getting henna designs or vegetables—and it made me think about the relationships that we’re forming that way.

A honeybee came to visit me at the booth, hovering near my face. A housefly landed on my arm and so did a tiny bug with a pattern like a cowrie shell.


Some conversations:

The worry about inequity is kind of central, just ’cause that’s already—anything that reinforces the issues that we already have with imbalances among people isn’t good. It would be—it is bringing us in the opposite direction. And I’m also worried about the despair that accompanies it. When everyone’s like—it’s not so good. Probably no one’s happy about seeing all this happen. If everyone is less happy and more anxious, it’s bad for society. It’s upsetting that this is reflective of respect being breached, respect between humans and each other and between humans and the environment.

Part of my imagination of the situation is the concept of like—is it a question about the future or is it that I haven’t been affected enough to feel like it’s already happening? I have the privilege to feel like it’s not yet upon us. There’s a disconnectedness, us being blinded [sic] to seeing that this is what causes not-tangible things to us. Some people have current tangible things. Other people in the future will catch up to them as well.

What makes you feel connected?

South Side Community Land Trust is a pretty good example. It reflects knowledge of some kind about the surroundings.

How could you get that feeling of connection into other aspects of your life?

I don’t know if how I can improve the connection between me and nature is [the way for me to] deal with some of the more systemic issues.


It’s shocking because you openly talk about it. A lot of times when you talk about it people are like, “Oh.”

…I’m afraid of being somewhere where there’s a really bad natural disaster, like Hawai’i. The weather in California is getting so hot that animals are going extinct. I saw this documentary about sea turtles—when they hatch, they think they’re following the moonlight to the ocean and they head for the city lights instead. And like 50% of them don’t make it …

But—so how would you define anxieties?

I guess I would say it’s something that you can’t stop worrying about.

I don’t want to be the victim of modern-day slavery. That’s probably the biggest one that I have. People literally lure people in. And they’re vulnerable in the aspect of dating. You don’t know who the person is, or they can seem fine [when you get together], but people change.


Alternate Histories: 7/1, 7/8


Pollution in the ocean, and then fish eat it and then we eat the fish.

What kind of pollution?

Plastics, because they’re so small it’s hard to collect them, and that worries me. Wildlife in general. You read about whales or something washing up on shore and they choked on plastic, choked on fishing nets.

(Friend: And the turtle thing.)

Yeah, the turtle thing! It’s very unnecessary. As a nation, or in the world–we’re so advanced that we’re so ignorant. We’ve forgotten the basic rules of life.

Do you give people a hard time when they throw trash around?

Yeah, and my daughter does too. She’s always holding people accountable. She’s five! and she’s like, Mommy, how come that person just littered? Her dad isn’t like that so she’s always holding her dad accountable when she’s with him.



Because we live in the same world, everything finds its way to us.

Neither Z nor R, her mom, nor JR, her dad, have ever seen a sea turtle in real life–its real life or theirs. The next day, JR used his break at work to look up Mystic Aquarium–they released a healed sea turtle in 2014 and didn’t have any turtle guests at present–and Mass Audubon’s turtle rescue.

Assist a sea turtle and you give aid and comfort to a jellyfish eater, a long-range traveler, a potential elder, an animal that can live without a human story. This caught Z’s imagination. “They shouldn’t need us, but they do need us, mommy,” she said. She drew pictures for her friends. She got them into the spirit of it.

That winter, R’s and JR’s bosses gladly gave them the week off from work when they explained their plans. They bundled Z into so many layers that the outermost coat was a grownup’s parka with the sleeves rolled up, and braided her hair to fit under a tight wool hat. Because they were first-time turtle rescuers, they took the day shift, walking until they were too cold to think. While they walked, they filled their backpacks with washed-up garbage, and R and JR tried not to fight.

All week they didn’t see a single turtle. “Are you disappointed, baby?” R asked Z on their last day.

Z squinted into the bitter wind. “No,” she said finally. “Well, kinda. But no, because that means they’re not in trouble, they didn’t need us this time. That’s good, right?”

Or it means there aren’t any more, R thought but didn’t say. How can we be sure? Intimacy takes time, it takes so much time. We would need to watch for years, through seasons. We would need to go out on boats, and maybe that would stress the turtles out, or cut them up, or scare their food. How can we know enough to know how anything is supposed to live? What can we learn about the possible power of our hands in the water?

As the ocean got closer and closer, Z and her classmates learned more and more about it. They spent day after day alongside it and, when they could, in it, using their phones to monitor changes, weeping and praying together the week of the big bird kill, dragging a landfill’s worth of trash inland to dry out its stink in the sun before figuring out what to do with it. They drew national attention.

The rise of the water all along the east coast was so sharp that year, the storm damage so severe, that even Florida set zero-emissions goals and then, the following year, moved them up, and then, two years later, met them ahead of schedule. Hundreds of sea-turtle hatching sites there had already been washed away.

We know a little about what happens far away from us, and think we know a lot. Intimacy takes time, but if we don’t have time, we may be able to make do with concentration. We may learn to know what we are seeing; we may learn to know without seeing.

Doctor’s note: This climate anxiety is from a conversation at the Sankofa World Market. I’ll be there again today, 3-6:30 pm. Please come and talk with me.