Climate Anxiety Counseling: Miantonomi Park, 8/12/19

Weather: Hot and bright

Number of people: 5 stoppers, 2 map markers

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

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

Dogs seen: 7

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $0.07

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 will be back to record at the 8/26 and 8/28 sessions, so come on those days if you want to be on the radio.

Nonhuman animal presences: Two tiny brownish butterflies, ant, white butterfly, housefly, bronze dragonfly (I can’t figure out what kind these are), seagull, little green fly.

A rare thing happened: Someone came back to speak with me for the second time and I got to hear what they did after our first conversation. If they can face their fears and expand their capabilities as steps toward participating in the world in a way that’s responsive to climate change, maybe you can too.

Some conversations:

*

What’s the question of the day?

The question of the day is: in a bad storm, what would the strengths and weaknesses of your community be?

[We talked about this some, and I think I brought up that because Providence is a city, there are a lot of people who have a lot of different skills to share.]

A lot of the jobs here are the same thing, just different places. Like waitresses. Very few people do construction. People who do construction aren’t from here.

If a bad storm were to happen like that, all of Newport is just done. There’s water over here, there’s water down there.

What’s the worst storm you remember?

Have I been through a storm? A lot of the bad storms, I’ve heard about, I haven’t been through.

*

I noticed that you wrote on the map, “It doesn’t happen in just one place.” Can you say more about that?

You can take one place and try and protect it, but that doesn’t do anything about the whole problem. I’m really really frustrated. Nothing seems to be happening and what’s happening isn’t fast enough. The Point section [of Newport], all those very old houses—and a lot of them are for sale. And they can’t move them all. Since I rent, I’m never gonna own, I don’t think of it that way. Superstorm Sandy cut off a road to the wildlife refuge for years. …

I did go clean the beach. I wanted so bad to go down to [the] Allens Avenue [cleanup], but I don’t drive well on the highway. If I can still register, I’m gonna just go and be terrified. I signed up for communication skills [courses], and computer skills—I think I can learn a lot but computer skills are going to be the most useful. And I did sign up for the climate discussion at the library. What I’m trying to do is write down my thoughts so I can keep organized. We only have a certain amount of time. It’s not funny. This is now.

*

[Person 1 and Person 2 are kids, Person 3 is their parent.]

Person 1: I don’t want the ocean to be dirty.

[To Person 2] What about you?

Person 2: It’s kinda like the same thing but I don’t want like—you know how sea turtles, they think [plastic] bags are jellyfish?

Do you talk to other people about this?

Person 2: To my mom. And some of my teachers at school and at my camp.

What do you do at camp?

Person 2: We go outside and we go sailing. Today I did a learning thing about the ocean, so we can keep the ocean clean. So [one of the teachers] did these tests and we did like—and we made our fingers look like a turtle and we put a rubberband, and it was kind of like a test of a how a sea turtle feels. And we did a thing where she said to dump out all the seeds and put it in the plastic beads and we did that three times. I think all that plastic beads was actually the pollution that was inside of the birds and sea turtles.

When you learn about stuff like this, what about it makes you angry or makes you sad?

Something dying. Something I get mad about is like something on TV—somebody choking, like an animal. … I don’t exactly tell anyone about it, I kind of keep it to myself.

Person 3: How come?

Person 2: ‘Cause I like to. Sometimes I even think if someone’s doing the exact same thing as me.

Person 3: You learned a bunch of songs about not polluting. Do you remember any of them?

[Person 2 did not want to sing the songs.]

Person 3: I think one of the hardest parts of thinking about climate change is using the right language. Especially with young people … It’s really serious [but] is that going to help the situation, talking about it with young people and scaring them?

How do you talk about it in your house?

Very experientially—something’s happening and you talk about it in the moment. For whatever reason, animals are the way to a lot of people’s hearts. Kids love animals and don’t want to see them hurt. [And it comes with] the guilt of, “It’s kind of our fault.”

What would you like to do in response to this that you’re not doing?

It would be great to take them to New Mexico to build an earthship. That’s a really big dream. We’ve gone to a couple protests…I wish there were more options. … They talk about the three Rs, but I think there should be five or six Rs. We should be teaching them about refusing things, and repurposing things…

[Climate change] seems hypothetical because you’re not there. It’s easier to do these experiential teaching things in the moment—like pointing out the cycle of something and the people who made it. …It’s shifting, the conversations are happening more. It wasn’t really a thing to talk about in the ’80s when we were kids.

How has climate change affected the way you think about your kids and the future?

I’m pretty hopeful. Kids are incredibly resilient beings. I don’t fear for them. The only thing—I guess if I had climate anxiety, which I do, it’s about accessing nature, because it’s—there’s just not going to be as much access to nature in its current state. And the ocean especially, because water is so important to the health of humans. That’s the only thing that I think I’m really concerned about, is losing … that as they get older. My kids and their generation are 100% problem-solvers, maybe because they have to be. [But] one of my pet peeves is when people are like, “It’s up to these kids.” It’s not up to them. It’s up to us to make everything sustainable and [I DIDN’T TAKE DOWN THE END OF THIS SENTENCE].

*

My grandchildren were visiting last week… I’m very concerned that my grandchildren will have no water to drink, and I can’t tell them that. We talked a lot about climate change and why we don’t have dinosaurs. “Maybe we’ll have another ice age.” I just couldn’t get into the Industrial Revolution, from the 1700s and the 1800s…So we’re all feeling pretty confident [about] our lives, they’re not terrified of dying in their lifetimes …

*

Black woman, 50s, glasses, stylish

I’m definitely anxious and I’m more anxious about the deniers in our government. These rollbacks that they’re doing…I’m frustrated about that and I don’t understand it. The frustration is [with] the “profit over humanity” type thing. I’m worried about changes that I’m seeing in the current weather patterns. We don’t know what to expect … Should I start getting sandbags? Should I get an inflatable raft and keep it in my garage? Am I being paranoid? Am I being silly? Or realistic?

They’re trying to bury the science that’s out there, and it’s up to us to try to fight it… I don’t know if they just have an agenda and they’re putting lies out there or if they don’t get it, they just don’t want to. I think the bigger thing is, our values have to change. We’re very materialistic and I don’t think we’re looking at the big picture.

What are the values that you think we should either bring back or start having?

Just the simple things in life. Community, education, just being able to live our lives without everything they put in front of us. We don’t ask ourselves [whether we need it]. … If we were to cripple [companies’] profits–

What helps you?

Reflection upon it all. My church family. …Having like-minded people around you who can kind of see that perspective—people who you can learn from and who are receptive to things that you’re saying as well. Taking a look inside and asking yourself, “Why do I have to have this?” … A big part of our problem is—as a community—is it’s inconvenient to do a lot of things and I think that’s what’s holding us back. I don’t do too much for the cause in that regard. I think that’s a big reason people don’t want to talk about it.

… I need to start putting myself in a mindset to live on the bare minimum. [On the island that] my parents were from, the island that we used to visit, they had no electricity. Do I prepare myself to go back to that? … It’s not gonna kill me to use an outhouse. My family back in Anguilla, when those two hurricanes hit, we were so worried, we didn’t hear from them for a week and a half, and when we finally got in touch they’re like, “We’re fine.” My cousin had food in the fridge and they took the food out and they had a barbecue for everyone. They knew how to do the manual labor, they knew how to put the houses back together. The thing that I find different here is that people here are all about that profit—people [with those skills] are gonna be thinking, “What’s in it for me?”

[IMAGE: The components of the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth (plywood table, wooden stool, cardboard signs, map of worries, canvas bag for other materials) packed onto a red handtruck. Nestled in the bottom of the upside-down stool is a container of cherry tomatoes.]

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

 

Observations:

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

7/1/15

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.

*

7/8/15

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.