Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market, 8/9/17

Weather: Warm and bright

Number of people: 2 stoppers, 3 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Number of children: Approximately 1000

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.05



A good day for the food part of the market (which is important!), a slow day for me. I’ve asked if I can put my booth nearer the front to see if more people will see me and stop to talk.

I could smell the clover. And when I bought parsley, collards and limes, a wasp came to investigate them.

Wiser people than I have written about the flaws in the most common understanding of overpopulation, but of course I didn’t bookmark the places where they did it. If I can find them, I’ll come back and link.


Some conversations:

I was thinking about this because I knew I’d be able to make it here today. It’s not anxiety. It’s sadness, just a lot of sadness. I’ve been trying to focus on it more since November. It was never my thing, I was in land use and conservation—it felt like there were enough people interested in the climate thing. A lot of the dialogue is in terms of human goods, and conservation is a harder sell. Since November, I’ve had this feeling of, “I just need to be with people doing something.” I was never sure that we would get it together, but it seems so unnecessary that we would take over all the resources in the world for human benefit. I mean, there’s a conversation that needs to be had, but “Why wouldn’t we boil ourselves to death”–except for billionaires–I don’t understand your game theory here, people.

I’m not in denial but I’m in avoidance. Someone made the point that I’m not in the category of people that’s gonna be most affected. It’s going to be be incredibly harder and less avoidable for the majority of other people. And the social problems that’s gonna cause, I can’t contemplate that—I’m baffled and sad that people would make the world meaner.

… I don’t stay with the sadness very often. It took a lot of thinking for me to get to naming it as sadness. That wasn’t conscious. I became more interested in looking at the maneuvering and social capacity for change. I worked on policy and legislation, and it started to feel like banging my head against a wall. I don’t wanna be banging my head against the wall, talking to a different version of the same city councilor! How can we increase the social capacity for change in other ways? I don’t mean I accept it as inevitable—I very much hope it isn’t—but things are already happening and they are going to keep happening. Even without climate change, there’s this inequity of access to opportunity, the resources of living in a way that’s possible and pleasurable. …. I acknowledge that humans as a category are already using too many resources, so it’s a question of fairer distribution, which seems pretty easy. But what do we do when we start coming up against the resource limits?

What are the things you’re saying people should have?

A place to live that feels nice and safe. Good food. Knowing that there will be continued and sure access to good water. To be able to relax—not just be fighting through trauma, not having that take away your opportunity for something more. People don’t have to do more than survive. If we continue with the orientation of US society– “We will give you fertility drugs and food, but not birth control”–it’s not reasonable for an ever-increasing population to have everything that everyone would need. We need caps on population and if they’re not self-imposed, they need to be externally imposed. …

[What I’ve been drawn to is] “This is where we focus on the community that we have here”–organizing for a generative purpose. Speaking up, being heard, that’s important, but it doesn’t feel like a whole answer. I want something more like, “We’re gonna clean this space, we’re gonna grow food.” My big project that I come back to is: how does one respond to someone else coming in and claiming space that you don’t think should be claimed? “Don’t mine the fossil fuels, this is a preserve, this is off limits.” How do you do that? Is there a way to do it?

One way to do it is what we’ve seen with water protectors, at Standing Rock and in other places.

Yeah, but when the other side wants to obliterate them, is willing to—I mean, maybe that’s what it takes, you keep doing it and you keep showing up, maybe you just need more people. But what does that look like for people who don’t have the physical ability or the transport abilition to be there and show up?

A question that I’ve been asking is, what are we holding back and what are we willing to give up?

That assumes you’re holding back, or that you have to give something up rather than gain something. It depends who you’re speaking to and why … It’s not about people feeling the lack of things so that we can survive, but there can be a limit on where we settle, a limit on population growth. Historically these have come in the form of resource limitation—fasting and amenorrhea, for example—or resource non-use, like marine protected areas where there are stories about that being a cursed place where you don’t fish. Things built into how we live, not a penance. … But in terms of giving up—I use fossil fuels to go see my family, but cutting myself off from my family that way is not where we necessarily are. And then—my husband just got his greencard renewed, and so I’m thinking twice before doing things, or even tweeting things—we just found out that he’s eligible for citizenship, and until he has that—on one hand, it’s playing into exactly the reasons that people do it. This is the person I have my life with, and I don’t want to put that in jeopardy. Even though he’s among the least likely to be targeted and stigmatized. Is that selfishness? I wouldn’t go lie down in from of an ICE truck. Is it reasonable for this to take space in your like? I don’t feel like being me and living my life is compatible with going to pitch a tent. One of the things that troubles me about the two sides is that the money and oil powers get to have proxies. They have the police, they have the army. And the expectation on the other side is that everyone to be fully involved should bodily be there. And that’s not fair. What are we really weighing or examining?

What our responsibility is to our fellow creatures?

I want that question to go with “…that works for me also? That respects myself?” If it’s not going to, what’s the reason? That’s just this incredible choice between self-harm that’s chosen because you have the compelling goal to reach and self-harm that’s chosen just to harm, and harm that’s imposed. … This feels really important to me for someone who has to be goaded into thinking about it: what’s the best use of you? My hope is that it can be a moment of recognition, not an imposed asking. It’s a matter of people, in dialogue or because of realizations, saying, “This is not the best use of me.”


Sometimes you get overwhelmed. Every little thing is like maximized. I come home from work, and I’ll hear the water running or something, and out of nowhere I just get overwhelmed.

How does that show up? What do you do when you get overwhelmed?

I lash out, I scream. I feel hot.

What do you do after that happens?

I try to make myself change the mood.

Letters from Earth: Poetic Eco-Journalism by Aurora Levins Morales

Aurora Levins Morales is getting set to do a project similar to Climate Anxiety Counseling, but more mobile*. She says:

“Letters from Earth is a poetic journalism project, part travelogue, part documentary, an exploration of the impacts of environmental injustice on our land and our bodies.

Starting in early 2016, I’ll be traveling around the country in my tiny house on wheels, specially designed to be non-toxic, accessible and semi-sustainable, visiting the individuals, front line communities, and wild habitats most affected by our extract-and-consume economy, and writing and recording my most powerful poetic prose to tell their stories and my own.

I want to inspire people to understand and act on both the urgency and the potential of this moment.

Environmental injustice falls most heavily on people who are already facing multiple kinds of injustice in their lives, so Letters from Earth will center their lives, their bodies, their stories, and their leadership.

My audio blogs will be broadcast nationally on Flashpoints, on listener sponsored Pacifica radio.   Text versions will also be posted on my website, and I will post calls to action for each edition of Letters from Earth, as well as links to further information.”

If you have a little money to share, consider sharing it with her.

* Similar to Devi Lockwood’s One Bike One Year.

Alternate Histories: 6/13, 6/13, 9/14

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


Him: My big anxiety is that if you look back 65 million years, when the temperature jumped, it jumped in a span not of 100 but of 15 years, 8 degrees Celsius. We couldn’t adjust for it.

Her: The sea level rise from that–

Him: Basically if you melt all of [the] Greenland [Ice Sheet] you get 8 meters of rise. If you melt East and West Antarctica, you get an automatic 300 feet. Countries other than the U.S. are gonna push for geoengineering, but that has massive negative consequences. And the other thing is methane. There’s a tipping point with methane release as polar ice melts, and it’s greenhouse gas with 27 times the power of carbon dioxide. That’s really the thing that’s gonna put us over the edge. No policy can stop that. Barring geoengineering, this will happen.

Her: Based on the models.

So if this is definitely happening, what does that mean–

Him: For civilization?

I don’t think you know that. For you.

Him: It would be very sad, because we’re of the generation that actually had a chance to have an engineering impact for future generations. Cheap agricultural production is gonna collapse, and there’s gonna be an expansion of people who are denied their basic human rights.

Do you think there’s structures we could set up now that would reduce the chance of that?

Him: When I was younger, I went to Cuba and I looked at agricultural reform that was part of the reaction of the government to Russia’s collapse. All the imports of things like grain stopped. So they had to move from an agriculture that was focused on producing coffee, sugar and tobacco to a diversified local agriculture that could feed the population of the island. They were overall able to adapt the food supply, shift away from state-run agriculture. If we could facilitate such a shift–but agriculture runs off fossil fuels and glacial meltwater … I got burnt out on international development. Now I’m just trying to make money enough to make sure my family is safe. I’m building nonmilitary drones–they make 3D plans of buildings … I don’t see a total extinction event, I just see a very rough period for human rights. We have a tendency to hunt till there’s no more, drill till there’s no more. I personally think that humans are awesome, because humans make awesome things–humans are grasping the fundamental nature of reality in a way that no other creature has.


More storms. But it doesn’t feel personal to me, not like a personal fear. It’s more like the collective weight of an increasing level of disaster. It feels like a heavy weight, a collective weight of too much–too much happening at once. I have some sense of the fallout of that kind of [event]. I think there’s a lot of people that would vanish, would fall away, would die, and then the few people who are left would have to sort it out.



G sees history, and N feels it, looming above them, poised to fall. Let’s entwine not what they imagine, which is similar, but how they imagine it. When G is frightened, they gather data–names, relationships, likelihoods, projections, things that seem to them incontrovertible. When N is frightened, they register emanations–feelings that they share with other humans, with the strain that will show later in the year as blight on the edges of maple leaves, ground turning sour under heavy, sudden downpours, edged jokes about the Ocean State.

G can help tell us what structures we might put in place, what resources we might make available. Will we need new ways to balance what we permit with what we object to? G can seek out ways that people have handled this in the past, all through storied time, and correlate them with our coming needs. They can weigh the effects of different methane-capturing technologies and paces of reforestation. N can tell us if what we’re doing is working. Is the weight lighter? What does the air taste like? Which excuses do the violent try to make, and do they fly?

This happens–they tell us these things, and we listen, and act–and people who think like G go to places where that kind of thinking is needed, or wait where they are for people who think like N to reveal themselves. They come to recognize that data describes them, that history is something they are in, that the fundamental nature of reality is not something we grasp. It operates through us–we are among its tissues and its elements.

Through conversation, through proximity and through shared effort , people become better at each other’s kinds of thinking. Of course there are more than two; there are more than ten, or even a hundred; when we look away from all the different ways that people can see and understand the changes, we’re faced with the ways squids “understand” them or the way rocks “feel” them. And as we know this–as it’s expressed in numbers or in sounds–we may change what we do. This seems abstract, semantic, but history in us is as palpable as a dash of cool wind, the taste of bananas, a neck muscle easing.

Alternate Histories: 5/27, 5/29, 9/11


Bringing my son out to swim, which he’s been wanting to do. He’s autistic, and I get anxious when I wanna bring him outta the water–I had a lot of problems with that today. And last night we had a little trouble sleeping ’cause we have no electricity, so no A/C. I had to take like a wet rag.

Any chance of getting it turned back on soon?

I’m hoping in the next six months. I work over here at the mall and they’re not giving me enough hours. Matter of fact, climate change messed up my hours at work. I work at [REDACTED] and no one wants to be inside playing games.



All this air conditioning–too much of it. We don’t condition ourselves to higher temperatures. I was on the coast in [KwaZulu] Natal, South Africa, when I was a teenager, and there was no air conditioning, full stop. One day I remember was 80 degrees Fahrenheit at 8 a.m. and there was 80% humidity, and we just went to school, we went home, nobody talked about the heat. And in the middle of Harare, in Zimbabwe, there’s a building that is cooled entirely through the use of air currents. We need to go and ask hot countries how they do it.



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

P and F don’t really want different things, but each brings his own knowledge, his other needs–met and unmet–and the net of others’ needs and knowledge he inhabits to this need, this desire for cool air. They bring their presumptions and their prejudices, the blank spots in their understanding and experience. If F has never been in a building cooled on a hot day not by chemical means but by its very construction, he may not know that’s possible. If P has never spent a day caring for a  child when neither of them have slept, he may not understand that cool air is more than a luxury, and heat more than a test of fortitude.

(Remember, I don’t know that they don’t know–I’m guessing, from what they said and what they left out.)

F and P now draw on other kinds of knowledge, other stores and stories. Thickening a wall is relatively easy, lining it or filling its empty spaces, but they need help and someone’s sense of materials: what will hold up? won’t offgas? can be easily replaced? Moving a window is harder: they need someone versed in structure, weight and angles, a tool-user and a measurer, and someone to be aware of light and wind, not just this day, or that day, but on any day. Someone to build shutters from reclaimed wood. Someone to germinate a screen of plants and the dirt they need to grow in and the story of their care, plants that give in the summer their necessary shade and die back in the winter to admit the necessary light.

As they offer this knowledge, they also accept some. They learn how to understand and be understood by F’s son, building with him common languages and perceptions. They learn from each other, borrowing methods and tactics–motions as small as the way to hold a nail to drive it in, skills that this task doesn’t need but that emerge in conversation or while they’re resting. They adjust to a matrix of work that’s more intermittent and slower, less taxing, with different rewards. It’s strange, to not be paid, to not have money as a marker of what you take away and what you’ve given, and yet have enough to eat well, a place to sleep safely, the certain knowledge–in some cases, based already on experience–that if you need to receive what you’re currently giving, it will come to you.