CLIMATE ANXIETY COUNSELING by Kate Schapira

About the Project

I’m frightened, sad and angry about the effects of climate change. Rather than try to think about, save, or mourn for the whole world, I decided to think about my city and state, and the living creatures — including other humans — who share it with me.

From May 13th to June 7th, I’m stationed in Kennedy Plaza — opposite Providence’s bus terminal, and just outside a big downtown park — with a Lucy-from-Peanuts style booth, inviting people who stop to share their anxieties with me. After a week, I’ve honed and adapted my explanation for people who stop: “So the thing I’m most anxious about right now is how the changing climate is gonna affect Rhode Island, because I live here and I love it here. So I wanted to find out if other people were anxious about that, or what they’re anxious about. Is there anything you’re anxious about, that’s pressing on your mind?” I ask if I can write down what they say, and I respond as seems appropriate. When no one’s talking with me, I write poems using their words as starting points, or make more cards to give away–little drawings with RI organisms on the front and a link to the project website, the Environmental Justice League of RI, and Resilient RI on the back.

*****

 

What do you imagine when you imagine that kind of future?

 

That everything’s melted and burnt. So hot that you can’t go for a second without drinking water. Doomsday scenarios. And we know that humans made it, that it’s because of our use of natural resources.

 

*

 

I’m filled with climate anxiety all the time. It doesn’t bother me on a day-to-day basis, because my life is fine right now. But we’re gonna have a planet that’s going crazy–deserts, no food, storms. I feel embarrassed to say that it bothers me, because everything is working fine for me at the moment. But it’s hard to have hope.

What about stuff that you could do to ease things for people who’d be less okay?

 

What I could do to ease things for people — well, I volunteer, I vote. I do stuff with 350.org.

What about taking someone into your house who was displaced by flooding, something like that?

 

 Well, I don’t even have a house of my own right now. There’s limits to how much I really wanna do. I mean, I like my own personal space. Then you get guilty that you’re not doing more.

 

*

 

The shame of feeling fear for someone else

or worry the terrible embarrassment

of caring or calling out

the sitting in your own filth of guilt

pigeons picking around your feet

never fear for someone else

not even for a second

never say you need it

to fear to be cared for even

have a drink of water every second

have a drink of black water

water you have to bite into

 

*

 

I got hives sophomore year of college thinking about climate change.

 

*

 

It’ll all come to us

when we’re gone

30, 40, 60, 70 years

the north, the south, all gone

humans and animals

will come to pass

will never last

will be a loss

a dead loss and acceptable

will lessen

where we’re going

it will all be changed

be lost as whole

or partially the lesson

under the icecap

on the wing and leaking

losing sleep

and getting rich

and giving what you can

to everyone and let loss

and get less

and be given

to everyone in trust

for less and less

held in bewilderment

by someone a stranger

a passerby openly

stepping over the doorsill

as over a body

the livelong day

what’s worse

an invading vine

or a blank isle

what’s the wrong question

how will you give

yourself away

what’s the right ocean

the living one spelling out

what remains to us

what is lost to us

since you asked me

I’ve sat here for over

two hours of people

and passage and seeming

not to stare or staring

like a hole

in a coat

I don’t bother to hide

like a bald spot

unsightly

unshapely

a garbage animal unseemly

how they make a living

how to make someone or

something else living

how to make a living thing

how to make a living thing dead

how to make a living thing die

by turning to me

we’re basically dead

we’re basically already gone

no we’re basically dying

it’s different

 

*

 

You know the North Pole, it’s melting. This whole area is gonna be affected extremely bad.

 

*

 

Stasis is data

when no one said

I don’t want to believe

it believe me I’d

rather have ecology

believe in me long

enough to be

long after me

to keep coming back

to each spring

like a site

 

*

 

When I go home

I will look up St. Francis

whose illness of the eyes

and surgery of the same

at the time makes for very

tough reading apparently

who he lay down with

and what he did when he got up

a man with dreadlocks and

chin-beard I saw go by

several times yesterday

and today back

and forth walking

with no place would I

lie down with this person

a planet’s a wanderer

and so this person’s

a planet forever

chilled in space

without resting

each human planet

each gathering place

 

*

 

Did you wanna know what I’m anxious about with the environment or what I’m anxious about in my life?

 

 

 I’m very concerned about the environment. I think people are ruining everything, and not really all people. I think it’s capitalists. I’m worried that my son’s not gonna have clean water.

 

*

 

I was just reading in the paper, the ticks and Lyme disease is gonna double because of the cold winter. It was 732 and now it’s over 1400. And my mother lives down in Westerly, they lost power …

 

*

 

I want each person who stops to tell me how I can become something else, something that will flow like nourishment into the veins of dying leaves and their world. I want to become a transfusion, to remove all my structure and reduce to my nutrients and water. I want someone to tell me the secret of this, someone with wisdom locked in them, maybe something that isn’t even wisdom for them, but will unlock my marrow and unknit my sinews, something that will precipitate the heavy metals to the bottom, making me useful, used, undone.

 

*

 

I’m worried about the food, food production. I’m worried about extreme temperatures and flooding. I’m worried that the people who seem to have the power to make these decisions don’t. I’m worried that it’s too late to institute changes that will halt the state that we’re in, melting ice caps–how anyone can say nothing’s going on, after what happened in New York …

 

*

 

I don’t see how anyone can  be anything but harmed. I don’t see how anybody can be anything but silent. I don’t see how anyone can be anything but on the ground. When I hear about these kinds of changes I am stricken. When I turn on my computer in the morning I am stricken. When I come to the late middle of the good part of my life. When no one will all admit it. I can’t see how anyone would all. I can’t become nothing yet. I don’t walk up to anyone. I don’t walk up and down all day. I can make my own blood boil. I can’t say I anymore. Or I am all I can say. Or I am feeling forsaken. Or you should stop pouring poison into the air because it’s making me cry.

 

*

 

A big wave, a tsunami.

 

*

 

I work in a boatyard. We’ve seen some damage from storms. But I know some rich people who live on Nantucket and they moved their house back 150 feet because in 10-15 years the house is gonna be in the water. All these people with waterfront property–in 10 years, who knows if the boatyard’s gonna be above water. Where’s the water all gonna go? The state’s not gonna help, the federal government’s not gonna help–120 employees, they’re not gonna do anything for that.

 

*

 

80% of the summer days are humid now because of fluctuations in climate. If you raise the ocean a single inch it can kill thousands of species. The John Curran Reservation, you know that? I grew up in those woods. Every year it’s more garbage, more pollution, deforestation. They wanna build more cell phone towers. What I hate the most is people who say, “What is me littering gonna do?” If you and every other person, made the difference, it would make a difference.

 

*

 

No matter what you do, the weather’s gonna pick anybody. It’s not going to spare the communities that do the most. Everybody’s worried but nobody’s pissed off. I think because we’re not desperate enough, we’re still comfortable … I don’t think we have the infrastructure for what new world might happen. So much relies on fossil fuels and electricity. Clean water, sewage — if people have a plan, they’re not making it transparent to the layperson.

 

*

 

The oceans are gonna acidify and kill everything.

 

You laugh when you say that, like it’s a joke, but do you believe it? Or what?

 

I believe it. I go between it’s so bad I don’t even know if I can do anything about this, and trying to put enough blinders on to do what I can. Insects and parasites moving but trees can’t move fast enough, so whole forests are just dying. We’re just done, can’t breathe. When I’m optimistic I hope people will be forced to change their ways, but when I’m pessimistic I think people with money will just keep going and people without money will be the ones who have the problems, maybe die. It isn’t like all humanity dies or nobody dies. It’ll be the end of the world for people who can’t get food. I sort of think the world will move on, but I don’t know if people will.

 

*

 

When you think about this hard future, what do you think about in terms of setting up something that would help you and other people sustain existence?

 

I don’t know about setting up something. I do what I can do to model behavior, to keep the discussion out there.

 

*

 

I’m not worried about this at all. The science is garbage.

 

What are you worried about?

 

 Not this.

 

That’s not what I asked you.

 

Staying healthy. I’m not worried at all about this.

 

*

 

We were studying the problem of care for the elderly, you know, as the baby boomers get older, and we were like, “So since we know this, why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?” and our professor was like, “Basically, people don’t care until it’s too late.” So all the arguments that are like, “What kind of world will your grandchildren live in?”, people don’t care …

 

*

 

Take a look at animals that are coming out of their habitats because we’re taking everything away from them. Just this year there were snowy owls around here, because it was so cold. Our children’s children are going to end up seeing animals only in exhibits.

 

*

 

I’m worried about the environment in the big picture, but I don’t have time to think about that in my own life right now. I have to hustle what I can to take care of my child and me. Recycling and what’s happening to our earth, it does bother me, but I’m not in a stable place where I can give time–what’s that called, to volunteer right now.

 

*

 

Ordinarily I would

be caressed by air

the ghost of absence

like a roar caught in me

how is it going

it is going through me

a kid wailing desperately

for his mom’s lemonade

that’s me, lacrimosa

stupid and wailing

 

*

 

There must be a plug

in the grass or how

could anything grow

in the electric park

how could there be

any unwired ground

unbusted wilderness a missed

chance to make eye contact

why can’t the grass

evolve a plug for us

in the time it has

looking down and forgetting

my DNA humming me

like it’s stuck in my head

there may be a way

to dance here someday

there must be some dance

whose juice we can burn

out through our probosces

our eager mouthparts

without stopping

 

*

 

Losing the bees, definitely.

 

Because they pollinate things we need?

 

 And it would be sad just not to have them.

 

*

 

Climate anxiety, that’s not real.

 

It certainly is real, I’m feeling it right now.

 

But climate anxiety, that’s like climate change, that’s BS.

 

Well, is there anything that makes you anxious?

 

 Life.

 

Come on, you gotta be more specific than that.

 

 Life, life, just life.

 

Everything about life? Every single aspect makes you anxious, there’s nothing that you feel good about?

 

Not everything. You see all this negative on the news, all this negative over here–I’m not judging I’m better than them, I might be worse, I might be equal. It’s just a crazy world. We don’t understand people’s behavior. There’s no trust no more, there’s no morals.

 

How should people act toward each other?

 

They should love each other.

 

How do you show love?

 

You show concern, compassion. You just talk to someone and you can lift them up, give a key word to someone and lift them up.

 

******

With many of the predictions, or projections, for the next hundred years, there is no “after.” There is no “through.” What do I do with these projections, or predictions? Do I believe them? As the many people of faith who’ve spoken to me at the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth could attest, believing is different than knowing–than being sure.  I think this is part of what confuses many people about global climate change and eco-catastrophe. Scientists and others have written that using the language of belief about climate change is misleading, because people conflate “belief” and “opinion”, making it sound like it’s up for debate. When something happens to us, we switch from believing to knowing. But for something that hasn’t happened yet, we have to believe, or disbelieve, or fear, or hope, or work. 

I want variety, diversity, tapestry to survive on this earth; I want humans to care for, to make room for, each other and for the nonhuman world. At least two people have stood at the booth and said to me, “I wish there was something I could do.” I feel like there probably is, but I don’t know what, and without knowing, all I can think of to do is this. 

*****

ImageKate Schapira is a poet and teacher living in Rhode Island. She’s the author of four full-length books and nine chapbooks of poetry. She co-runs the Publicly Complex Reading Series, teaches nonfiction writing at Brown University and poetry for Frequency Writers, and is holding Climate Anxiety Counseling sessions in downtown Providence through June 7th, 2014.   

You can see more at Climate Anxiety Counseling, where some of this material also appeared.

 

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