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!

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/30/18

Weather: Warm and bright, some breeze

Number of people: 5 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 4.5

Pictures taken without permission: 1, but I got a thumbs-up

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.30

 

Observations:

I started half an hour late today, and I only got permission to share one conversation, but it was a really illuminating one for me.

It seemed like a lot more people were coming from the river side (eastward) than the highway side (westward). Of late I’ve faced the booth westward; maybe tomorrow I’ll change it. I did get some nice lookbacks and smiles.

Two food trucks today, both on the western side of the park entrance.

Say it to myself at the beginning of every conversation: This is not about how much I know.

 

A conversation: 

It’s my first time in Rhode Island. My son is six, and we live in Nevada, northern Nevada near Lake Tahoe. He’s really concerned about [invasive] flora and fauna in Lake Tahoe, which on a larger scale comes back to people not understanding how to be vigilant. And the four-year-old is just really upset about people littering in general. They’re both pretty good about that kind of stuff.

Is that something that you emphasize a lot with them, or do they get it at school, or what?

Yeah, when they dropped something on the ground my husband and I would say, “That’s hurting the earth.” And my husband and I were both raised that way. He’s from the high desert, and I’m from Florida, so ocean life is important to me, and keeping the water safe. It’s interesting in Nevada because water rights are such a big deal there, because it’s such a dry area, so keeping water pure there is important to everyone. Any new pollution or any attempt to bury any sort of waste out there, there’s a big outcry. There was a leukemia outbreak in Fallon, Nevada, about ten years ago, and they never found anything conclusive about what caused it, but there was a suspicion that it was from a waste leak.

So the water is something that people are very alert to out there.

Yeah, more out there than growing up in Florida. There it was more like people took advantage of the idea that the water was always gonna be there … If people aren’t taught it in school, they don’t understand it, and if they don’t understand it they don’t wanna talk about it.

Do you talk about it with people?

Well, I work with the military full time, and we do talk about it quite a bit. It’s not as much of a partisan issue in the military as it is in other places. We mostly talk about different solutions we can bring to the table … It’s a much easier area for [men and women] to collaborate on.

Compared to what?

Any sort of lines of security when it comes to war, or to terrorism. When you talk about gender—it’s less threatening in a context of natural disaster, where people will have different perspectives on a war zone, for example. But with a natural disaster, people tend to want the same things, food and shelter, to get back in place.

You mentioned that there’s less party politics to it in the military than elsewhere. Why do you think that is?

Maybe because it’s solutions-based. I’ve worked on national security in the Pacific and the South Pacific, and it’s really a long-term endeavor, so you have to have consistency, and partisan politics tends to fracture that consistency. Also in corporate America there’s maybe more of a difference between the haves and the have-nots, and in the military we’re all aligned with the same cause. … I could see there being dissension if a particular weapons set or technology created greenhouse gases and we had to figure out how to balance out their collateral effects—but there again, it’s the difference between short- and long-sightedness. It’s most acutely felt in the South Pacific—you’re talking to people whose homes are gonna be underwater in the next two, three decades.

How do you talk with them?

What’s tougher for us is if you’re not the person whose home is gonna be underwater. It’s a lot harder to explain to them why they should care. Sometimes you can use human interest, sometimes it’s leveraging. If they’re not in immediate threat, you can ask them where they think they’ll be in ten, twenty years. But a lot of people are just making it day to day, and so for them, you have to make those people more secure, with infrastructure within the community. But the average American above the poverty line, who wants the next generation to have a clean and safe environment—you mostly just have to include educating them and offer solutions.

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling at AS220’s Foo Fest, 8/12/17

Weather: Heavy, humid, cool but with underlying warmth

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 6 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1 video!

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 7

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $20.20

 

Observations:

I did the booth at Foo Fest a couple of years ago, and I was inside the perimeter (where you have to pay to get in, and where other activities and the bands are). I talked with 23 people. This year, I asked to be outside because I don’t like to do it in places that people have to pay to get into—part of the point of the booth is to keep access to it very easy (even the 5-cent donation fee is optional). I only had 11 conversations. My (totally unscientific and untested) hypothesis: that people who are paying for an experience (e.g. an arts fair) are more likely to stop and see me if they understand me as part of the event they’re paying for.

Possibly relatedly, I always make a ton more money for the EJ League when I do the booth at an arts event or an event labeled “green”, as opposed to doing it on the street or at a market.

Also relatedly, I moved from one side of the gate to the other about an hour in, so that I’d be more visible and so that there wouldn’t be a police officer standing behind me.

A bunch of sweet friends had a drawing session with me to make RI organism cards to give out, and that evening felt amazing to me and made me recognize my love for and rootedness in my city. Also, one friend and her daughter and sister stopped by and brought me a container of tiny tomatoes, and another friend shared her cucumbers with me.

 

Some conversations:

I’m troubled by the fact that we’re moving closer and closer to a point of no return, where we’re not able to reverse the damage that we’ve done to this planet. Everyone has the right to have a family. An amazing and vital part of our humanity is to have children. But it’s sucking up resources. The population is growing large enough that it’s not sustainable. Plenty of people try to live in an environmentally unharmful and neutral way, but regardless of that there are just too many people on the planet. I don’t see education about how to live more sustainably—people are still eating beef, for example.

Do you talk with people about this?

Not in any activist type of way. It comes across in conversations with friends, like, “Oh shit, what are we gonna do, what can we do, what’s the point”–those conversations don’t necessarily lead anywhere productive. I guess it reinforces my commitment to how I live, how I teach my children. … We all have the right and we all have the instinct to reproduce. It’s very difficult to say. There are many reasons why people choose the size of family that they choose. I know in China they have ordinances around the number of children—that doesn’t feel right.. I don’t have daughters, I have sons, and I teach them about birth control … I think all you can do is live as mindfully as you can and support efforts and shore up people’s energy for making efforts to do right by the earth.

*

How often do you have to do this to feel better?

*

We won’t be able to change things fast enough to have a bicycle-based society in time—to change our infrastructure. Even in my own habits and where I live—how am I going to get to work? How to enjoy relaxing without using a car? My parents live in Little Compton, and when I go out there I try to stay for two nights—I’m not zipping all over the place—but still.

How could you be involved in making some of these changes?

I would need to start going more to city planning events. In DC, I think, they have a tax on nonpermeable infrastructure, for any new structures. But as the the climate’s getting wacky, I worry about people not having reliable access to food … It’s a limited world with limited resources, and we have a culture operating as if it was still a frontier with the potential for unlimited growth. If you’re a person with me, with low productivity, you can work less, drive less. But I have no retirement savings. … If I felt like I had less wealth and resources in my social network, I wouldn’t be so comfortable with it.

*

[These two came up together and had similar fashions.]

Person 1: Donald Trump is worrying me.

What about him?

That he exists! That he represents 30% of a once hidden population, so that now you know just how much you are hated. And behind him, you have a theocrat who wants to dismantle the [US] Constitution, saying there’s no such thing as global warming because there’s no such thing as science. “Don’t drive your car, don’t go to the doctor.” They’re cutting arts funding—and art and design come into all of that.

Person 2: What do you recommend for someone who feels hopeless in the face of all of this? When you do what you can, you go to marches, you sign things, but you feel like it’s just not gonna do any good?

Person 1: [Those events are] preaching to the choir.

Person 2: They have absolutely no effect at all. I feel like I’m just biding my time till something changes.

Can I ask what else you’ve tried?

Person 1: I’ve signed every petition there is. Senators aren’t gonna listen to me, the governor isn’t gonna listen to me … If you see someone who you think might be targeted, it’s a good thing to smile at them. You don’t let people around you be abusive in words or actions. You don’t add to somebody’s burden.

Person 2: If I can’t do anything to alter what’s going on in DC, you can be civil and generous to people in your environment.

*

I’m really worried that humanity, even though it knows what’s going on, just loves its creature comforts better than giving up one or two things. I see it in myself … Maybe a huge marketing campaign, but if that’s what it takes for the human course to shift, maybe we’re doomed, if truth and information and knowledge isn’t enough in itself. It has to get packaged up and delivered. Maybe it’s always been that way. There’s always been wars, there’s always been people becoming parents. Maybe the marketing thing is more the positive, the love, and war is more like the fear. We have the concept of the planet as our other parent—we’re inside of it, but there’s not that much connection today. Maybe we need another psychology, where the planet is the child.

*

I see the LNG trucks down on the water there. I live in Olneyville, and I remember when Merino Park was just a brownfield. Now people have a place to take their kids and ride their bikes. I’m afraid that they’ll just dump it. One of the things about that park is that it was given to the neighborhood without gentrifying the neighborhood. So many times, they just kick everyone out—why don’t you just do it for the people who are already there?

*

The fact that we all die. And also that we’re destroying our planet, and that future generations will look back on us like, “They had so much and did so little.”

Do you imagine what it’s going to be like?

It’s hard for anyone to put their imagination to exactly what the world would look like. I tend to go towards the apocalyptic. And a regression of the life that we enjoy, of the plenty we enjoy in US consumerism. We feel guilty, but we still do it.

So is it that you’re worried about not being able to get hold of things you need?

Every leisure activity I do is casual consumption. I use products that are made to be thrown away. … I just don’t have the willpower or mindfulness to go against society. I don’t necessarily believe that society will make choices for the greater good. Buying things is an easy way to feel better. My joy comes from my family and my friends, from creating things, writing, reading—but when I’m lonely and there’s no one around—I think if resources are available people will go toward them. Our best hope is the expansion of technology and the ability to create solutions.

*

I’m worried that I’m part of the problem. Everyone plays their part, but I could do a better job of fixing my carbon footprint. I used to really care about what I ate and how it affected the environment. But I had an eating disorder, and not being vegan is part of my treatment. It’s just difficult to go between being hardcore vegan and not, and I get worried that I’m not doing enough.

*

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: Finding clean water sources. And saltwater intrusion.

Are you from Florida?

I lived in Florida for five years. I struggle a lot with the whole climate change idea in general. Most people think climate change is just warming—they don’t realize that it’s killing the oceans. It’s a lot bigger than people think it is.

Person 2: A lot of people in this country are very isolated. They know, but they don’t want to know so they can keep living their lives.

Have you ever had to make a big change in your life? You don’t have to say what it was, but what was it like?

Yeah, I made an impulsive decision that then I had to live with. I don’t know how to put it into words. … I think it’s gonna take something drastic.

Drastic things have happened.

Yeah, but then they pay scientists to say it’s bullshit.

How do you handle it when you have these feelings?

I kinda go into the abyss of my brain.

Person 1: We’ve had some discussions and I still think people can work together to solve the problem.

Person 2: I’m a little more pessimistic about human nature.

Person 1: I think that if we can get over our petty squabbles and unite as a [species]–if we put your faith in solving this problem and not destroying the earth–

Person 2: But people have different priorities. If we don’t fix this in the next 5-10 years–

Person 1: As a species, we’ve solved every problem we’ve ever encountered. I guess I just hope we can solve this one.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market, 8/2/16

Weather: Sunny and hot, a small breeze, nice in the shade but I didn’t have it the whole time.

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Picture-takers with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.55

 

 

Observations:

 

This was my first booth session since I had to abandon one halfway through in June, and I’m definitely out of practice, both in booth-wrangling and in getting into “doctor” mode. For example…

 

… I got “that’s-alrighted” by someone near the beginning of my shift, and I really had to make a conscious effort to dissipate my rage. (It worked in the sense that I did not yell at her or make a horrible face.)

 

On the other hand, sometimes people have a really lovely and unusual way of putting things that shows up in almost everything they say, and I talked to such a person today.

 

A few people–vendors and market organizers–told me that the market’s been slower this summer than it was last summer. Today it seemed about the same to me–sparse, but not, like, desolate.

 

 

Some conversations:

 

 

 

 

[These two were friends]

 

PERSON 1: I’m kinda overwhelmed with climate anxieties. I’m in environmental studies and we say our department should have our own climate therapist.

 

What makes you the most anxious, what knowledge is the most burdensome?

 

People are resistant to hearing the truth. They’re set in their ways, they can’t change. It inhibits action–it feels like a roadblock you can’t work through. It’s not promising.

 

For what?

 For climate change in general. Even to acknowledge that it’s anthropogenic*–if that’s not recognized … we’ll keep exploiting natural resources and sending more greenhouse gases into the air. Agriculture will be threatened–there won’t be enough to eat, to drink, to use water for agriculture. Contaminants, pollutants–

 

PERSON 2: People have trouble seeing that climate change issues are also issues of social justice. Environmental racism, public health, what neighborhoods are safe to live in.

 

PERSON 1: I talk a lot about food access and the intersection of food access, public health and sustainability–local and global food supply. We all eat, so it’s not this far off “climate change [is] somewhere in the future.”

 

What’s it like to be the person who talks about this when other people don’t want to talk about it?

 Isolating. I have a good community of people who [didn’t catch the word] to do some actions, spread some knowledge. But I’m from Florida, and it’s illegal there to say “climate change” in school.

 

What happens to you if you do it?

 

It’s only if an administrator or someone from the county is in the room, there aren’t cameras or anything. But it’s a three strikes thing–first you get a warning, then it goes on your record, then it’s some offense–you go to court? In my AP Environmental Science class, never once was there a mention of climate change. I learned calculus through “disproving” climate change, disproving that it was caused by humans … In Miami, people wear rainboots to work because if it rains at all, there’s so much sea level rise and flooding, people are gonna need an extra pair of shoes. People recognize that there’s change, they just don’t think humans are causing it.

*human-made/human-caused

 

*

 

 

What makes you anxious, what sets it off?

 

When people don’t do what they say they’re gonna do. I can’t take it out of my head. If I don’t let them know about it I get even more anxious. I can talk to everybody but unless I talk to the person, I stay anxious. … I been fighting it since I was a child. I came through a crisis when I was pregnant with her [indicates younger daughter], like an existential crisis. I don’t wish it upon anybody. I learned that I need to take some people out of my life, and I don’t need anybody’s approval. I think anxiety comes through life with a message: you need to change the way you think about your beliefs. I’ve learned a lot, it’s been a rollercoaster–I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness anymore. They were always looking for perfection and we’re not even close to that. I think everybody has an inner voice that tells you exactly what you need to change, but it takes more effort to change than to stay the same.

 

*

 

 

Everybody’s gonna have to move north. [Areas that are warm now] are gonna be barely habitable. North is not really north anymore–it’s just gonna never be cool. Yes, it does bother me that southern Florida’s gonna disappear. It’s not that critical to me personally, but where are those people gonna go?

 

 

*

 

 

[To one of their companions] You know that’s one of my biggest worries. [To me] If everybody was to spend a little more time maintaining and keeping the planet a little more clean, we might be able to last a little bit longer–not only for us but for future generations. Especially our waters, especially our grounds. And if companies would spend a little more effort–it’s not based on the money, it’s based on health. What’s the use to have money if you can’t have health? You can’t eat dollars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alternate Histories: Oblong Books & Music, 6/2/16

I gave a reading at Oblong Books and Music, the bookstore I went to and bought books at when I was growing up, and I invited the audience to write alternate histories for each other’s climate anxieties. These are what they shared with each other and with me.

As with the climate anxieties people share at the booth, I want to make it clear that I don’t endorse these, necessarily: rather, they’re expressions of what people are able to imagine for each other, part of the picture of how people are thinking, and what they think change and responsibility and possibility are.

 

CLIMATE ANXIETY: Less rain, water will become more and more scarce, more droughts, harder to garden, grow food and bathe.

ALTERNATE HISTORY: I read an article in the Times that some MIT student resorted to Kickstarter to get funding for his Rainmaker. No conventional grant givers were interested, since they don’t believe in global warming. But on his own, he made it rain on the farms in California last month, and he’s on a path to everywhere. He tested it first in his own garden. It does not require clouds, or even sky. Sometimes where there is a quirky smart guy, there is a way.

 

*

CLIMATE ANXIETY: I fear that in the next 50 years, 100s of millions of people will die because of climate change–what will happen to compassion?

ALTERNATE HISTORY: In the process of losing everything, people will suddenly awaken to their true nature as children, and will make their first priority to go outside each morning, kiss the ground and then bring something yummy to their neighbor. All extras will be brought together and shared as needed.

*

CLIMATE ANXIETY: Losing my inherent instinctual connection to nature because of habitat and/or species loss such that when looking at my cat one day we both realize something crucially important is gone even as this loss bridges a potentially powerful and unknown connection between us.

ALTERNATE HISTORY: Knowing the love and connection you have to nature, do not dismay. Mother Nature thrives and survives, is deeper and more regenerative than our comprehension. The ecosystems which may be dwindling now create an environment for an evolved version of its ancestor.

*

CLIMATE ANXIETY: My child is too gentle, kind and anxious to survive in this harsh, harsh world

ALTERNATE HISTORY: “Global” anxiety may be at an all-time high, with resultant aggressive and defensive emotions and behaviors by [adults? illegible] in difficult situations around the world. The only saving grace for society, some will realize, belatedly, is to foster a new tenderness and gentleness in children. Your child will be an ideal person to help others in pain and denial. The talents of your child/growing adult will be more and more valued with each year that passes. A child of peace grows into an adult of mercy, compassion, love and health. It is only from such souls that the cosmos continues. NB: A delicate perennial may appear too vulnerable to possibly survive the predatory vicious freeze of an intense northern winter, but survive it does–and can re-emerge next spring even more lush and powerfully beautiful than before.

*

CLIMATE ANXIETY: Political corruption is everywhere. Politicians working to better themselves and not the common people are everywhere. We can’t do much about this.

ALTERNATE HISTORY: 3 children in a desert devise a mind-altering “helmet” that is so beautiful, everyone needs to put it on. It tells the wearer to share, not thinking about rewards. Soon, everyone has all they need. All feel compelled to uplift, educate, feed, heal, comfort … la dee dah.

*

CLIMATE ANXIETY: I fear the powerful corporations that produce much of our food because so much of it contains things like sugar that bring on diabetes; individually people suffer and require medical care.

ALTERNATE HISTORY: There have always been toxins (although we have not always been aware of them). Life did go on–perhaps in forms yet unknown to us–but it survived–and we will–but we might not recognize now what it will be then. I only wish I could visit then to see now what will be–

*

CLIMATE ANXIETY:

– Werewolves in the White House

– Death camps for dissenters

– Disappearance of hedgehogs

ALTERNATE HISTORY: In the same way that smoking in public places went from being desirable to nearly gone, those who have the sensitivity for compassion will overcome their fears and provide safety and kindness.

*

CLIMATE ANXIETY: I’m worried that we don’t teach our children enough self-love and compassion, and that we let magic and imagination not take enough importance.

ALTERNATE HISTORY: In this world you cannot succeed. You are not helped to jump over the wall–you are helped to laugh at the wall or sing to it. You never want to win or get it or manage it. You never think it is now compared to then. Everything is liquid and inviting and sweet and amusing.

*

CLIMATE ANXIETY: In a world of resource abundance, I feel hopeless that some take so much without caring [for] those who need.

ALTERNATE HISTORY: People will share what they have. New resources will replace old resources, no longer needed.

*

CLIMATE ANXIETY: My anxiety is that people will never stop thinking that time is what they think it is. My anxiety is that everyone will forever be imprisoned–trapped–by the idea that it is now.

ALTERNATE HISTORY: One day, the sun rose and every single person rose to greet it. People woke up and breathed in peace and felt peace. And exuded peace to each other and all of life on the planet. And every single living thing sang the song it was born to sing.

*

CLIMATE ANXIETY: My fear is that we will run out of drinkable water in the foreseeable future.

ALTERNATE HISTORY: Drinking water is being synthesized from the rising sea–billions of gallons of fresh water pours from international spigots. Everyone bathes three times a day and drinks all they want.

 

 

Alternate Histories by Other People: 10/14, 10/15

This is one of two alternate histories from the Alliance of Artists’ Communities conference: the climate anxiety comes from one person, and the alternate history from another person, neither of whom are me.

10/14/15

I’m worried about people in developing countries who are already having trouble getting water, or food–everything that they need. We’re a rich country, we’ll be able to help ourselves. It just feels so unfair. They’re not the ones causing it–we rich nations are causing it, and they’re the ones who are gonna suffer for it.

*

10/15/15

Despite the physical distance between places on the planet, residents on one side feel the real, deep, even cellular-level connection among all beings and things on the planet. We think consciously how we can provide for each other as we see ourselves in the other–we are one. Human consciousness has been raised.

Alternate Histories: 6/6, 4/23

6/6/14

I’d rather talk about global anxieties than personal anxieties! I have to talk about it! Auuugh! I just wanna shred things! I think the most impending one seems to be that there are a lot of people and places that could quickly be gone and nobody seems to give a shit about that. Like is this just another form of watching people die because they’re different from you. What island cultures will be gone? And people are just like, “Yup, that’s the deal.” And the other thing is seeing people talking enthusiastically about the profits to be made from water. Like, “How can we monetize this? Here’s the opportunities in this.”

*

4/23/15

In the following year of the drought, growers in the San Joaquin Valley agreed to phase out their crops over the next three years. As they’d involved and tangled so many other people in creating the drought, they prepared to untangle them slowly.

Individual farm managers worked to learn what else the people who’d been picking fruit could do: medicine-mixing, carpentry, speaking with the dead, tinkering with machinery, sign-lettering, smelling out a lie, butchering a goat, sorting out a dispute, weaving a rope, preventing a pregnancy. Some of the older people had grown food in their home towns, enough for a few people at a time. Could everyone who was on the land at the moment stay there, if they wanted to, if they let the monocultures wither, planted and foraged with care, lived more in line with the temperatures and the weather and helped the soil to recover? Would there be water enough for that?

If you’re dishonest with us, said the people who’d been picking fruit, if you try to hurt or shoot us, if you bring police or soldiers in to destroy us, we’ll kill you. You understand, we’ve never known you to act right. You need to prove yourselves to us.

If I tell you that the growers said Yes, we understand, will you believe me? You believe me when it goes the other way–the menace, the suspicion, flowing from strength toward weakness–because you’ve seen it, or maybe you’ve lived it, or someone has told you about it. But there’s nothing natural about that. It’s not gravity itself, but alignment with a certain set of forces. There are others.

Yes, we understand, the growers said.

On the loose and crumbling rocks of the Great Divide, on the mountains that cast the rain shadow, rivers flow downhill both ways, and female grizzlies climb up with their cubs to protect them from male grizzlies, who want to kill the babies that aren’t theirs. The rocks are too loose, too slippery; the males can’t manage there. The females barely can–they have to walk carefully. The babies are fine. Of course some of them do die, and of course some of them do grow up to prowl, frustrated, at the edge of the loose rock, where they can’t climb.

People aren’t the same as bears. After all these years, people aren’t even the same as other people. We can choose what we learn, the forms and sites of our danger and our safety, the direction of the flow of our justice and our mercy.

Alternate Histories: 5/29, 4/17

5/29/14

Social unrest and collapse because of food and water shortages. They’re saying corn is going to be a luxury. Especially with kids, it’s very concerning. If I were alone I wouldn’t mind so much, I could just jump in the river with rocks in my pockets.

Why is killing yourself better than dying in one of these other ways?

I think it’s a fear of what’s gonna happen. You can say well, we all die anyway, and if we die in a flood, we all just go at once, you don’t have to grieve … Part of having a kid is it’s forcing me to become more aware in the moment, more present, more spiritual, and consider spirituality even more. I think of spirituality as the bigger picture, bigger than economics or politics — it encompasses everything. I keep hoping for this worldwide awakening.

Do you feel like you work to bring it about?

Yeah, in art–all my paintings the last couple years have been about consciousness or crisis, a crisis of consciousness. It’s got me focused on the two sides of that coin. Making work is part of that awakening processes–it’s flowing through me, that greater collective unconscious, universal mind.

*

4/17/15

N recognized in himself the lust for enclave and siege, the stockpiler, the man who when the castle’s on the brink of capture by an enemy kills everyone in it and then himself. He countered this by trying to induce visions while he planted tomatoes and corn and tried to nurse an apple tree along in the shadow of his little yard, by meditating in between lessons on sucking chest wounds and keeping someone’s spine immobile in EMT training, by breathing through his older daughter’s desire for princess gear instead of warrior gear, by looking for signs and portents in the smears of sweet potato his younger daughter left on the floor.

The thing about N’s own neighborhood, the place where he lives, is that it’s on a hilltop, and as with most high ground in places near the sea, the people who live there have more money and more status than the people on the lower ground.

N painted spells. He painted at night, at first in his studio. Then on the sidewalks, every few nights, in harmless chalks, starting by the edge of the river. Come out and paint with me, he said to some other artists he knew–white men, feared and fearful. They painted the patterns the wind made in downtown Providence, blowing around the convention center and the Dunkin Donuts Center and the big hotels; they painted the future shadows of the municipal trees; they painted the tracks of animals that once walked there. They exchanged nods, wary at first, with people selling sex, people seeking doorways, people tagging walls and bridges; they worked around the tags, around the sprayed DigSafe instructions. They made nothing that anyone would have to work to clean up. They stashed their chalks in openings at the bottoms of lampposts; they trailed paths from the river’s edge back to higher ground on their way home.

When they went out again after a break of a few nights (it was N’s turn to make dinner and draw baths and read stories and soothe diaper rash and argue about lights-out and lay out school clothes, and he wanted to do it while he still could), sometimes the drawings had changed: the signs, the portents, the directions of the arrows. Sometimes the chalks stashed in the bases of lampposts were more worn down.

“Together” doesn’t always mean at the same time or in the same way. But a lot of people survived the next storm–a “surprising number,” WPRI Eyewitness News said, when they started broadcasting again.

Mutual Interview: Devi Lockwood and Kate Schapira

This is the first of my interviews with other artists about public/participatory art, climate change, ecology and climate action. Poet, touring cyclist and storyteller Devi Lockwood is on the move, collecting stories of water and climate change. You can read more about her, her process and her travels at One Bike One Year. Devi and I emailed these questions and responses back and forth between Fiji and the U.S.

DL: First question for you: when did you first start becoming anxious about the climate?

KS: Your question has two answers. I started being … provoked, I guess … by the possible effects of climate change (mainly sea level rise) in 2010 or so. But I started feeling real fear and grief and helplessness in the fall and winter of 2013 after reading an article on ocean acidification–so not climate per se, but carbon-caused changes–and ecological decline. And then I started learning more and more about the fragility of ecosystems, and the ability even of smaller rises in temperature, for example, to disrupt them. I don’t know if people were writing and talking more about larger-scale ecosystem effects of a rise in global temp around that time, or if it was just like when you notice something and then you’re switched to noticing it, you see it everywhere.

Do you feel that fear and anxiety are part of what’s moving you to collect stories? What are the other things spurring you, and what do you hope the project will lead to or push for?

DL: I try not to let fear drive me. What’s moving me is a combination of my love of listening and raw curiosity. I just graduated in May with a B.A. in Folklore & Mythology, and so the act of listening, for me, is an act of love. this project is a love letter for me to the world. I’m not a scientist, but I am a listener. I can’t measure change, but I can document it through recording the words that people tell me. I am twenty-two years old and I think that water and climate change are and will continue to be the defining issues of my generation.

I was recently in NYC to record audio stories surrounding the People’s Climate March. 400,000 people flooded the streets to demand more meaningful measures to address climate change. I spoke to activists from Uganda, Mexico, Indiana, Toronto, and beyond. The energy in the march was electric. You know those moments in your life when you feel that you are doing something that is just right, both for yourself at this moment and for the world you are a part of? That’s what’s moving me. It’s hard to put into words, but I’m doing something that feels right for me at this time.

I am intrigued by the complexity of the problem, and also how it intersects along axes of race, gender, and class. I hope that this project will push for greater listening––that it will allow folks who listen to the stories I record an opportunity to get outside of themselves and their experiences and thoughts for a moment and to feel the weight of another’s story on their shoulders, to consider their point of view. Climate change is a global issue, and to address it we need globally-minded folks with open ears and small egos and open hearts. I believe that climate change poses a challenge to humans to reinvent our relationship to our surroundings and also to each other. I want to be a small part of that effort.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a wonderful talk called the “Dangers of a Single Story”. Listening to another’s story is a way of knowing. Listening is an act of love. If there’s one thing we need across lines of race, gender, sexuality, class, and nation right now, it is love. And if not love, at the very least openness and a willingness to listen.

Are you anxious yourself? How does this project help you temper that anxiety?

KS: I am very anxious! As a person, but also about the effects of climate change in particular. But what you’re saying about listening to people’s stories is resonating with me very much, because if I’m listening to a confidence I invited, then I’m concentrated on hearing what that person is saying to me and seeing what they’re showing me. They were real before, but now my acknowledgment of their reality is active and laborious–I recognize them and want them to feel that.

Being able to acknowledge the realities of others, shared and also different needs and desires and fears, seems like the small version–the seed version–of bigger political and practical changes that could help salvage something from the effects of climate change. I think love has power when it is an action, something we do, not something we feel. How can I love, actively, the inlet in Jamestown, RI where I go swimming? How can I love, actively, the guy who started out as a climate trivializer and may still be one, but I’m not sure, because he ended up talking a lot to me about his mother’s tomato plants? How can I love, actively, a tiny frog that only lives in a place where I’ve never been?

When the answer seems out of my power is when the anxiety comes back. But when I’m listening to people and we acknowledge each other as members of a shared world, I feel like I’m answering that question of active love in that moment.

That’s another thing that I think our projects share: their temporality. They’re not totally evanescent (we’re writing things down when people share them with us) but mine, at least at this stage, feels more like a pile of brief and powerful encounters that transform the moment and maybe seep into a longer-term state of mind than it feels like, for example, recruiting people to a sustained commitment to practical action. Can you talk about how you see these stories and your relationship to them and their tellers adding up and shifting over time?

DL: That is a great question. Right now I am enmeshed in editing the hours of audio that I have recorded so far. I’m only adding fades to the beginning and end of the piece, but it is slow going. I am doing my best to be fully present in the experience of listening.

There is a beauty in temporality. That’s what I love about people––we’re always changing. We’re moving. We’re dynamic. We’re unfixable. The me of today is both like and unlike the me of yesterday, the me of a few hours ago. The question of which stories I hear (and those that I don’t) is left mostly up to chance.

I know that I am changed by listening with the whole of my heart. I know that listening connects me to a sense of place in a way that simply looking and taking pictures does not. I have always been an auditory learner. I hope that the recordings I am making will become an audio archive that people can visit and revisit in the years to come. It’s a small trip, a small snapshot of life, but an archive nonetheless.

While recording, I am doing my best to be attentive to not only the content but also the rhythmic structures of the stories I collect. Anna Deavere Smith has this wonderful paragraph in her book “Talk to Me” where she says:

“Character, then, seemed to me to be an improvisation on given rhythms. The more successful you were at improvising on language, the more jazz you have, the more likely you could be found in your language, that is, if you wanted to be found in your language. Some people use language as a mask. And some want to create designed language that appears to reveal them but does not. Yet from time to time we are betrayed by language, if not in the words themselves, in the rhythm with which we deliver our words. Over time, I would learn to listen for those wonderful moments when people spoke a kind of personal music, which left a rhythmic architecture of who they were. I would be much more interested in those rhythmic architectures than in the information they might or might not reveal.”

I’m listening for “rhythmic architectures,” for iambs and trochees and dactyls and spondees. Ultimately, I want the stories I collect from around the world about water and climate change to be in conversation with one another. We can go nowhere without dialogue, and dialogue doesn’t just happen at the level of governments. If we entrust everything in authority, we are toast.

I believe that storytelling (and, perhaps more importantly, listening) are forms of activism.

This is a big question and I’m curious about your response, too: Can you talk about how you see these stories and your relationship to them and their tellers adding up and shifting over time?

KS: Now I want to read that Anna Deavere Smith book, too. The rhythmic architecture of who a person is, and how a person might build themself in speech, or build themself into speech–how listening, then, might make room for someone to do that.

The short answer is, I don’t know right now, and I’m feeling my way towards it. Here are a couple of things that have happened since the project’s beginning, in May:

A bunch of times downtown, I’ve run into people who spoke with me at the booth, and we’ve recognized each other, and asked how each other are.

I’ve collected a bunch of names and email addresses and skills/interests, in both formal and informal ways, of people who seem like they’d be interested in acting together or sharing with each other if they had some sort of plan for that.

Some people have invited me to talk about the booth, up to and including the North Kingstown Rotary Club, a class of Brown students who want to do a similar project around disability and access, and a group of Providence teens who are meeting to talk about the future of the city.

But how to bring all those things together? Climate change feels very near to me, very urgent. Because it’s already happening, because the sooner we make the large-scale decisions that could reduce the damage we’re doing, the better–and I agree with you in that my hopes are slim for people and entities making those large-scale decisions in any kind of protective way, or based on any acknowledgment of the reality of other beings–I sometimes get infected with that feeling of, “It’s really important for me to know what I’m doing with my tiny little project immediately, and do it immediately.” In fact, if this is going to work toward any shift in people’s attitudes toward anyone or anything other than themselves, it’s not going to work that way, and I want to offer people concrete options for action as well, so another part of “moving forward in time” is figuring that out. Part of my commitment to the booth was offering people what they wanted, not just taking what I wanted from them, and one thing that people did say they want was a way to act to protect what they love–sometimes that thing was threatened by climate change, sometimes by other things, like exploitation of their labor, or having no safe place to stay, or their own fears about asking for help.

I have a question that’s maybe a little more pushy. To make this trip, you have to fly a bunch in between biking stints, right? How did you decide on your methods and routes for the trip and weigh the damage of your travel against the benefits of listening and sharing?

It’s hard to ask this question without making it sound like a call for purity of behavior, which I think is not even a good goal, so I hope you won’t think I’m accusing you of not having it! I’ve been grappling with the idea of complicity, what it describes and how we use it, recently. I feel like “involvement” better describes what I see around me. We are involved with each other and with nonhuman systems and human-made systems in many and various ways, some of which are destructive. As people working in what we hope will be an art of connection, how can we navigate those involvements?

DL: I think that talking to people and listening, just listening, is one of the greatest gifts that a human can give. This needs to happen more across borders of nation, and I have set myself the task of doing that kind of work. Yes, the 10.5 hour flight that I took to Nadi, Fiji from LAX was doing nothing good for the climate. I hope that the work that I am doing offsets this ecological toll. Misconceptions about climate change come from a lack of awareness about the impact that these issues have on people: real living, breathing, and specific humans with their own stories to share. I am out to make a platform for these voices, to listen and to share what folks around the world have to share about those issues (and yes, even those who don’t believe that they exist).
I am not asking people to stop taking flights, to change their behavior. I am on a quest to document stories about water and climate change, and this necessitates putting my body in motion. If I had an infinite amount of time to do this project (and if I didn’t have a deep-seated fear of the open ocean) then I would take some kind of seafaring vessel instead. But this project isn’t about being on the water, it is about listening to and talking with as many people as I can. In order to do that kind of work, I have to take a few flights.

Another tough question: what good could come from climate change? We’ve talked about anxiety, but do you see any positives to this kind of shift?

KS: About your “across borders of nations” point: a lot of the conversations I’ve been having lately, about my project and about how to sustain one another, have had to do with methods that are portable, replicable and adaptable. I’ve been talking with Amy Walsh of the Apeiron Institute, and thinking about what I’ve learned from looking at Voices UnBroken’s model of setting up those who learn with them to teach and advocate for each other. Maybe the next phase of my project could become something like this: not just one person (me) listening to the people around me and, with them, talking and thinking about how we’ve been living and how we might live, but also explicitly equipping them to listen to others. That would be a different interaction than the kind I’ve had so far, which hasn’t been demanding in that way, and didn’t require anything of people that they didn’t offer. I would have to give up the openness of the interactions I’ve been having in order to move in a particular, more explicitly sharing / spreading direction. The people speaking with me would probably lose something, or give something up, as well.

With all of that in mind: I don’t see any positives in climate change or its effects as such. I do think that groups of humans will have the potential to respond to it anywhere from horribly to pretty well, and that the “pretty well” could be mutually nourishing and sustaining in ways that are maybe less common / widespread now. I’d like to be part of that if I can, and I want to learn more and think more and work more toward what it might be–how we might arrange and build it, and what we might gain depending on what we’re willing to give up or what we might have to give up, might no longer have access to.

Ecological disruption and its effects are the conditions of our present lives. If we live, we live with that. One thing I think our projects have in common is that we’re asking people to consciously inhabit, to be present in mind, in that reality. For me, and for a lot of the people who spoke with me, that’s hard to do and it feels bad. But the ability to do it is a necessary condition of responding to this reality and to each other, I think.

Is there anything you’d like to leave people with, that you’d like people to keep in mind, about your project that isn’t necessarily explicit in the way you’re doing or describing it?

DL: I think one thing that I didn’t take into account about my project is how it is, in many ways, an endurance event. I have never been involved with one project for so long (one year). It is both freeing and constraining at the same time. Travel can be exhausting. I am constantly adjusting to new people and places and foods and ways of communicating, all the while doing my best to prioritize self-care. I recently got sick for the first time on the trip–it wasn’t anything serious, just a 24-hour flu–but it definitely reminded me that in order to finish this project, I need to stay on top of taking great care of myself. A Buddhist chaplain I met in the cancer ward of the Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco told me that I need to treat my own body as well as I would if I was caring for someone else. I’m doing my best to live by those words, but it’s not easy. When I travel alone, there is no filter between me and the world around me. It is the strength and weakness of this project, I think, all at once.

What about you–is there anything else you’d like to add? I feel like we’re pretty near finished!

KS: I do too! I cosign the recommendation to take care of yourself, which includes the whole bodymind.

For me, the thing I need to constantly keep track of is the ways my project is and isn’t “about” me. Anything that has an element of making to it (the booth itself, the write-ups, the poems) is always about the maker at least a bit; I’m the one who had the idea and did the thing, and I had this particular idea and did this particular thing because of the person I am in the world. But there’s a mental trap where it’s almost like, “You should care about climate change because climate change makes me feel bad,” or like, “This person has a problem I can make a recommendation about. My advice is so good!” or even like, “I am a vile person because I can’t put even the tiniest halt on a centuries-long habit of exploitation and disregard.” All of that is so wholly beside the point–maybe there isn’t a “point”, exactly, but if there is one, it isn’t any of that. If there is one, it has to do with enacting a mutual, constant, flexible acknowledgment of the reality and importance of other beings besides the self–and that’s what this particular self has to keep in mind, and what I hope others will keep in mind too.

tellmeastory_peoplesclimate

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 9

Thanks to Camila for keeping me company today (and offering translation services, even though no one took you up on it) and Julia for an energizing and idea-filled conversation!

 

Weather: gray, humid, cool, rain promised but never delivered

Number of people: 12 stoppers, 3 walk-bys

Number of hecklers: 0

Number of really committed homophobes: 1

Pages of notes: 9

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 2

Business cards proffered and accepted: 1

People who asked (and received) permission to take a picture: 1

People who did not ask permission and took a picture anyway: 1, from a car!

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.08

 

Observations:

I don’t know what the white trees are that are in bloom in Burnside Park right now–I didn’t go up to them–but they smell awesome.

Big themes today were “all-encompassing worldview” and  “interdependence.”

 

Some conversations: 

Are you the climate person? I’ve been seeing you from my car! Obviously I’m concerned about the environment, but it’s mostly personal stuff. Getting into law school–well, I got in. I’m interested in international human rights law.

[There was a transition here that I don’t remember and didn’t note — this person came by while I was still setting up.]

How can we make interdependent, healthy connections?

There’s some connection here with your field too–as people get displaced, as there’s food shortages–

Absolutely, and water shortages, like the water wars going on right now in Africa. I’m interested in environmental law as well.

*

[The second speaker came into the conversation while I was talking with the first.]

Person 1: And I also find myself wishing that I had a lot more money so I could do some of the green things I read about, like putting a green roof on my house. I fantasize about buying and destroying parking lots, but I can’t afford to buy property to smash it up.

Have you tried pricing one of those things–not the parking lots, but the other things–just to see if you could do it?

Person 2:  And if you do that, you can also see if any of your neighbors want to do it–do you live in a neighborhood?

Person 1: We do, that’s actually one of the nice things about where we live.

Person 2: So you can talk to your neighbors, show them what you’re doing, see if it’s something they’d want to do on a larger scale–often the city doesn’t want to do it but if a neighborhood is willing to pay for it, they won’t have a problem with it. And you know, there are grants you can get to plant trees on your street.

Person 1: We’re doing that! Some people actually went around and said, The city will pay for this.

Person 2: That’s great, because not only does it maximize the impact–the more you know your neighbors, that’s the biggest safety net that people can have. That elderly person who lives on your street–you can make sure they’re okay, or you can invite people over to use the same A/C.

Person 1: That’s true, and that’s definitely not something I would’ve thought of.

*

I’m anxious because I feel personally responsible for this. I’m such a part of the system, how do I fight it? … We need to change the way we’ve been doing things for the past 200 years, and people with influence are not prioritizing it–other things seem more important. But this is pretty immediate for people who live on islands, people who live in big urban centers. I study it every day, I read about it every day, I’m very familiar with it, but how can I talk to people who don’t even know what it is? Am I studying something invisible? I think sometimes I’ve chosen the wrong career — if I was a doctor maybe I would be able to help people more directly. But also, I can use the knowledge to maybe influence policy, maybe in talking to people. So sometimes it’s discouraging, sometimes it allows a positive light.

*

Are you gonna scare me?

*

I’m anxious that climate change will happen but that the things that make the world unjust, or unequal, now will get worse. … I still feel like it’s urgent, it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna be bad, but it can be better than what it’s going to be. I used to have a hard time integrating my work for climate justice with work on race and labor, but now I emphasize those two–those are the reasons why there’s injustice and oppression, those are the problems that I have with the world and the things I want to change.

*

I work a lot on climate change, and my anxiety is that more knowledge won’t help. I’m in the university, in a place of power, and in a position of power in the world, and so I get listened to, but I’m worried that people outside that won’t listen to me, and that the strategies I choose to focus on might not do anything positive.

What would be positive? 

That’s the thing, I haven’t defined that for what I’m doing. We can say 2 degrees C, but we already know we’re gonna go past that, and that’s not what it’s about–it’s about how it affects people. … And like it or not, people are watching what’s happening on campuses. Now that they’re looking at us, what are we gonna say?

*

I’m doing a lot of work on the expansion of the universe, on supernovas. I’m just an amateur, but I’ve conducted studies–my most recent one is on binary star formation. I think that in part the sun’s nuclear reactions are heating up earth, but I think it’s mostly man-made objects–what the sun is doing is not as drastic as what we have done.

 

Today’s poem: 

We should do more

fun stuff this summer

like lying down

all over the land

like staying away

from all of the land

you can’t get away

from all of the land

you’re in space

you’re in style

the key to behavior

change you hope

you have hidden

in your mouth