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

Weather: Bright, hot sun, stiff cool breeze

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 3 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 4

Pictures taken without permission: 1

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

Dogs seen: 5 (4 tiny, 1 big)

Dogs pet: 0

Narcan shared: 1

 

Observations:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Some conversations:

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

 

*

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

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

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

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

Have you talked to your daughters about it?

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

How does it feel, when you think about it?

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

*

 

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

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

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

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

[Person 2 came up around this point.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Person 1: Does it scare you?

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

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

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

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

map 5-25-18

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

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No LNG in PVD: Call the Governor / CRMC Hearing

This Tuesday, there are three things you can do to fight the fracked-gas liquefaction facility that National Grid wants to build on the Southside of Providence.

Call Governor Raimondo , (401) 222-2080, and tell her to publicly oppose National Grid’s proposed liquefaction facility. Details and a potential script are at the link. You can also just call that number, give your name and address, say “I’m calling to ask the Governor to publicly oppose National Grid’s proposed liquefaction facility,” thank the staffer, and hang up.

Come to the first Coastal Resources Management Council hearing, 5pm on Tuesday, One Capitol Hill, Department of Administration Cafeteria. Come prepared to speak or just support. We’ll have lists of talking points to share if anyone wants them. The CRMC is considering whether to grant one of the permits that National Grid would need; let’s show them why they should not do that.

Donate to No LNG in PVD’s legal fundraiser, if you haven’t already.

Every person who has ever said to me at the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth that you feel helpless–here are three ways to help.

No LNG in PVD: Peaceful Demonstration, 7/13

To learn the details of why it’s dangerous and environmentally unjust to build a liquid natural gas facility on Allens Avenue in Providence, you can read this statement.

To lend your voice to resisting this facility, you can come to the corner of Eddy St and Thurbers Avenue on Wednesday, July 13th, 4-5:30 pm. Bring sunscreen, water and signs, and RSVP here.

This is part of taking care of each other; this is part of living in the same world as each other; this is part of bringing the world we want out of the world we have.

Resist Liquid Natural Gas in South Providence: Demonstration TODAY

National Grid wants to build a Liquid Natural Gas facility in the floodplain in the already environmentally compromised/environmentally unjust neighborhood of South Providence. There’s a demonstration against this plan today at the proposed site:

670 Allens Ave, Providence, RI

Wednesday, June 8th,  4-6 pm

Bring water, sunscreen, and signs

 

Get more information and RSVP here.

Here’s some more information about why this plan is bad for Providence and its people.

 

If you live in Providence and you have felt helpless about climate change, ecological degradation and environmental injustice, this is something you can do to resist those things, today.

Alternate Histories: Port of Providence

 

Note: I wrote this alternate history after attending a community forum on environmental hazards in the Port of Providence and nearby neighborhoods.

 

4/18/16

Routine releases means emissions in normal operation, emissions that might happen daily or more rarely, and they’re frequently regulated by permits … In accidental releases, planning is very important. –Barbara Morin, Providence Department of Health

*

We’re always planning. We’re looking at every event. –Michael Borg, Providence Emergency Management Agency

*

 

4/19/16

 

The next day, the hazmat teams descended on the Port of Providence, because they were responsible for reducing harm from hazardous materials. They were just doing their jobs when they gave the Univar and Motiva facilities and the staff at the Enterprise propane and National Grid liquid natural gas tanks a timeline and a protocol for distributing or neutralizing their fossil fuel and chemical holdings. The people working there were glad to cooperate, knowing that every day of dismantlement increased the chances of survival for a third-grader or an old man on oxygen or a school of fish, and knowing that as they did this work, their livelihoods were assured in the neighborhood.

 

There’s no good way to put natural gas or coal back in the ground–not every process is reversible, not every wound can be healed. A council of South Providence residents doled out the natural gas and propane out to the rest of the city household by household, rationing it for heat and cooking, knowing that there would be no more when it was gone. They built big, ramshackle structures out of scrap metal and wood from dismantled houses across the train tracks, and colored them with chalk and festooned them with fabric to make sure the drivers could see them from far away.

 

The people of South Providence made room for the people who’d worked in the Port, and learned from them and the hazmat teams how to work with the chemicals without harm. Sometimes they were able to reduce them to harmless compounds, or suspend them in substances that would neutralize them. Sometimes the best they could do is parcel them out into smaller quantities, to be stored above water. Filtration, solution, transformation. Prevention: better than cure. The people who’d worked in the Port, and the hazmat teams, learned from the people of South Providence other sets of skills: arguing, running repairs, improvisation, rapid calculation, code-switching, field medicine. They all breathed more easily.

 

The next hundred-year storm hit before the tanks were fully emptied. A lot of fish and seabirds died, too many to count, and two humans trapped in a car, and an entire long row of windbreaking saplings that the people of South Providence, old and new, had planted a couple of years before. They succumbed to the chemical-infused saltwater; they stood like thin gravestones.

 

It could have been worse, it could have been better. The rest of the city’s people took the people of South Providence into their houses elsewhere and took turns cleaning and airing the flooded buildings, breaking down the ones that were too badly damaged or too far into the floodplain to make sense saving; they took it in shifts so that no one had to have too much exposure to the poisonous debris. They noted and charted the lie of the land, where the water wanted to go. They thickened and lined the walls of their homes with torn fabric, scavenged wood, leftover office paper, dry grass; they cooked on tiny solar stoves outdoors in summer, and saved their gas and wood for winter.

 

The people who were young during that storm were almost old when the next one hit, and things went very differently. All the tanks were long empty of poison; some were reefs for the shellfish that were just starting to come back. Long sections of train track ran quietly under the water, coated in algae that had evolved to digest the tar and creosote that soaked the railroad ties. People’s weather senses were better now, and with the help of predictive technology, they knew when to leave and let the water rush through what was left, if that was where it wanted to go. The city’s high points had food stores and hospitals; the city’s low points were thick with marsh grass shading into waterweed, and tiny crabs, and sand fleas, and lugworms, hunkering down to wait out a cleaner tide.

Alternate Histories: 5/8, 5/15, 9/8

[These are two anxieties from two different days; here’s an explanation of why they’re together.]

5/8/15

I saw a thing in the paper about how a sea level rise of 3 feet is going to destroy the marshes and salt ponds, down in South County, that are breeding grounds for lots of fish and birds–plovers and stuff like that.

*

5/15/15

The city–pollution. Buildings, cars, power plants. People just like to litter, it’s just fun to them. Like when I was younger and I did litter, I felt bad about it. Like why would you do that.

What do you think would make people change that, those habits?

More influence. More influences. Maybe through music–I’m a musician, reggae, hip-hop, percussion. Inspirational vibes and dancing. If it’s there, more broadcasting of it, something in there for children–the inspiration needs to be there. Rhode Island is very depressing, people hate it. It’s depressing, it’s boring, there’s nothing to do. All it really is, is an ocean, which, sure, if you have money.

*

9/8/15

The next day, I’m going to ask you to imagine, C listened to D and D listened to C. They saw that each other had said these things; they knew this much, at least, of what each other wanted.

The people living near the edge of the water broke their houses down to make room for some of the water–to make paths for it, to build rising bridges and floating marshes. D’s music gave shape to their work; he toured from site to site, and so did other musicians and bands (not everyone loves reggae, or early-’90s rock, or bachata). Back in the cities and inland towns, some couples in houses too big for them moved in with friends, opening their houses to people from the edge of the water, or people from over the water. Some, to preserve their ability to be alone, repaired houses that had stood empty. There was time to do all of this, time grouped and divided by music and silence.

Twenty-nine years later, the ocean is where music is, at certain times of day: a parade winding like a slow current, a circle pulsing around a performer like the devouring mouth of a starfish, a skein of song nourishing a difficult task. You take care of it because it takes care of you, or you take care of it because it’s where the music is, where the bus-boats fueled by algae stop to drop off people from the city, where the far-traveling boats still dock or rest from time to time. It’s on the platforms that sink and hover with the tide and that everyone works together to draw in or anchor when the storms get bad.

At other times of day, the music drops. It doesn’t stop completely–air doesn’t, water doesn’t–but ebbs to make room for terns and osprey to fish, sandpipers to stab for worms, the ears to recover their quiet. Some people learn the music, or the silence, because of the animals. Some people learn the changes of tide, the bugs, the tiny hungers, because of the silence, or the music.

Sometimes, the music turns somber. There are no more plovers. There are no more moon snails. Your home, your home, the place that you loved, the place where you learned to love, is no more, has become something else–you will never see it again, never. It will never again surround you, as this music does, as these people and other creatures do–known to you only so far, so much–as this air does, as this water does.

Alternate Histories: 5/7, 6/28

5/7/15

Girlfriend 1: Finding work. I have a job, I wanna find a better one. More money, more stability. I don’t mind dangerous–I used to work unloading the freight when it comes off the 18-wheeler, sometimes it shifts around, you can’t just take it off however. I worked with electrical and manual jacks–you have to be certified, you have to know what you’re doing. I’m not too concerned about global warming. I’m concerned about my sister’s pregnancy–she’s had three miscarriages. I’m concerned about my girlfriend’s health, she’s sick right now. My girlfriend smokes and I want her to quit. I call her a dirty smoker–she’s dirty smokin’.

Does that make you want to quit?

Girlfriend 2: Yes.

Do you know what would help you quit?

Girlfriend 2: Vaping.

It sounds like you guys are taking care of each other.

Girlfriend 1: Yep. We’re getting married, she’s not going anywhere.

*

6/28/15

Throughout the following week, DD tried to pay attention to when she wanted a cigarette and when she actually smoked: on breaks in her workday, after she and M fucked, between dinner and dishes, when she was angry or lonely. Frankly, she thought those little vaping things looked stupid and smelled sickening; they eased the cravings but didn’t feel the same as lighting up. Lighting up? DD started carrying matches, dropping them only at the last second, or letting her lighter burn until it got too hot for her fingers. She looked into the flame and while it lasted tried to be as angry as she could, or as satisfied, or as sad. She used the vaping thing only when she absolutely needed a nicotine hit, and then she did it furtively, in the bathroom, because it looked so stupid. “You’re crazy, baby,” M said, hugging her.

By the time M’s sister reached the end of her pregnancy and had to go on bed rest, both M and her sister could take time away from work without penalty–M to take care of her sister, and M’s sister to take care of herself. M’s work was changing–her shifts were less frequent because of the scarcity and cost of fuel and the drop in imports. Her hours were longer because when shipments came in they tended to be bigger, and the things she was unloading were different–no more vegetables from California, different kinds of machines, medicines for new sicknesses. “Maybe you don’t care about climate change,” DD joked, a little bitterly, “but it cares about you.” They held off the wedding until the new nibling was old enough to walk with them and strew brightly dyed grass and plant seeds in their path, since no one would be crass enough to pick and kill that many flowers. The dyes wouldn’t hurt the seeds or the soil, but who knew if the seeds would take.

Getting to see M for longer at a time made DD need less nicotine, and so did her new job on the coast, treating the land for salt after storm surges. The job was just whatever, but being near the water felt good to her, even after it came up too high and left a stinking mark on the land, and everyone she worked with understood her need to take frequent breaks, look out past the tideline and take big, harsh breaths of salt-and-seaweed air.

By the time DD’s diagnosis of lung cancer came down ten years later, M saw her every day during her hospital stays, and so could M’s sister, her boyfriend, their other boyfriend, the nibling, and three of DD and M’s oldest friends. The basic living stipend was in place by then, and of course DD’s care didn’t cost them any extra money, but M went into work twice a week to have something to do. The hospital itself was small, one floor–it used to be a big-box store–and smelled like vinegar. One of DD’s co-workers from the salt plant took the bus up to visit and brought her a little bottle of salt water to smell. They all watched her take the top off and inhale.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Bike to Work Day, 5/15/15

Weather: Cool but not cold, overcast, pleasant

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 1 bikeby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 4

Alternate Histories: 0

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

People who remembered me from last time, and I remembered them: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1, if holding up the phone with a questioning look on your face counts (I think it does)

Flyers for related concerns handed out and accepted: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.05

Observations:

Bike people, or at least these bike people, were not substantially more interested in the booth than the average range of passersby.

For longtime followers of this blog or my Twitter account: today saw the triumphant return of SSI Dress Guy!

When people say, “I think it would take a major disaster in this country,” I understand where they’re coming from, but I’m kind of wondering what would make a disaster major if Katrina wasn’t, if Sandy wasn’t, if the Colorado floods weren’t, if the California drought isn’t.

As part of Bike to Work Day, there was a table with muffins and bagels and bananas. When I asked who the food was for, the person working the table responded very coldly that it was for people who were biking to work. I said I was participating in the event and she said, “Oh, in that case, you can have some of the food.”

A lot of the most direct statements I’ve heard about climate change and anthropogenic environmental degradation have been from people whose work shows them the effects directly, and I want to write more about that, maybe for this week’s reflections.

Some conversations:

Gases going into the air, that’s what I’m worried about. I got asthma, epilepsy, COPD, scoliosis–well, that last one I was born with, but the others. And the other thing is, they should have a law, there should be no smoking in the damn park. Exposing the kids to smoke–I was exposed when I was in my mother’s womb. I worry more about the kids. We been exposed to everything now. It’s the new generation.

*

[Person 2 joined this conversation halfway through.]

Person 1: The increase of severe weather. Hurricanes. More and more disruption, we’ll become more like the Third World [sic]–you see places like Bangladesh, huge areas get underwater. It’s only a matter of time before it comes here. And just a general trend of more bad weather–hurricane plus wind plus storm surge. People who build in the vulnerable areas have money and political clout.

But–were you here in 2010, do you remember the flooding then? That wasn’t rich people who got flooded out.

Person 1: No, that’s true. But along the coast–I think it would take a major disaster in this country. Policy is reactive rather than proactive. When the beachfront mansions get washed away…

Person 2: [Gives me a flyer for a rally on June 10th, “The Environment is Everyone’s Business.“] The environment is where we live and work. There is no business, no politics, without the environment. The poorest neighborhoods have the dirtiest industries, the least cleanup of garbage, and then the city’s like, “Why doesn’t anyone want to live there?” The climate has changed, and it disproportionately affects the poorest people first. … There’s political dimensions of global warming, too. The disproportionate responses of corrupt governments, taking the opportunity to create a global empire: “Oh, there’s a disaster, we better go in and lock it down. Oh, I guess we better lock down the Navy base there.” We had that in Charlestown [RI] during Sandy. For two weeks, I couldn’t go on a street in my own home.

*

The city–pollution. Buildings, cars, power plants. People just like to litter, it’s just fun to them. Like when I was younger and I did litter, I felt bad about it. Like why would you do that.

What do you think would make people change that, those habits?

More influence. More influences. Maybe through music–I’m a musician, reggae, hip-hop, percussion. Inspirational vibes and dancing. If it’s there, more broadcasting of it, something in there for children–the inspiration needs to be there. Rhode Island is very depressing, people hate it. It’s depressing, it’s boring, there’s nothing to do. All it really is, is an ocean, which, sure, if you have money.

*

It’s not like we see a whole bunch of climate change, but what we do see is trash everywhere. I’m a fisherman, and the garbage piles I see in the ocean–plastic bottles, fish tangled up in it–you would not believe. The USA does a little to clean it up, but countries like China, Indonesia, nobody’s doing anything about it.

What if you had, like, a bottomless bank account to respond to this, what would you do first?

There’s too much out there to haul out and bring in. The problem is just too great, but you have to start somewhere. I’m an ocean person, and it’s just astounding. It would literally take hundreds of millions of barges to even make a dent.