Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall.

Here at Possibly, we try to make climate change feel more manageable and less overwhelming. 

But there’s no avoiding that this problem is terrifying. It makes a lot of us feel… anxious.

So to help us face our fears, I decided to talk with Kate Schapira. She teaches non-fiction writing at Brown University and has spent nearly a decade listening to people’s climate anxieties. 

When I first met her, she was sitting at a table that said, climate anxiety counseling, five cents. It looked like that booth that Lucy sits in, in the Peanuts comic strip.

Megan: Where did this whole idea come from?

Kate: So in about 2013, I read an article about coral bleaching. It was the first framing that I'd seen, that wasn't like climate changes in the future. It was like climate change is already harming the world and damaging the world. That threw me into such a state of grief and anger, confusion, helplessness.

Kate says she wanted to find out if other people felt the same way. 

Kate: And my husband is a cartoonist. And so there's collections of Peanuts comic strips all over the house. I saw the booth, the little booth that Lucy has. And I was like, I could do that. I'm going to make a little booth that I'm going to invite people to come and talk with me. And I'm just going to see what they say.

When she set up that booth, a lot of people were confused. 

Kate: The first thing they asked was, what is this? Which is still a question I get a lot.

And not everyone had something to say about climate change. But one conversation stood out. 

Kate: One person who stopped I remember he is a gigging musician.

Kate: I said, “Do you imagine climate change?” And he said, “Yeah.” And I said, “What do you imagine?” And he said “I imagined that everything is melted and burnt. And that we've done this, we've destroyed the earth.”

Kate: And it was wild, that moment, because that's a nightmare, right? And he had been carrying it.

She’s spent about 8 years having these kinds of conversations.

Megan: Does talking about this make you feel better?

Kate: Sort of. 

Kate says it makes her feel less alone. And now she has a better understanding of people’s reasons for ignoring climate change or actually doing something about it.

Kate: Which I think is important, because it helps me communicate better and listen better.

She also says she’s better at letting this climate anxiety wash through her. 

Kate: you know, when like, you're walking along a road and a car passes you. And there's a crescendo, there's a rise in the sound and energy and intensity, and you're like, am I going to get hit? And then the car passes, and it diminishes into the distance. That's how I try to visualize that feeling. 

But it’s not just about feeling better. Kate says the booth has helped her actually do something. She started working with a group dedicated to environmental justice in the port of Providence. In the process, she learned how to read regulatory documents. 

Kate: I also learned how to take those ideas and put them into language that would be available as talking points at public hearings.

So, I thought, why not give these climate anxiety conversations a try?

Megan: Would you walk me through a climate anxiety session? 

Kate: You bet.

Megan: Will you do it with me? 

Kate: Yeah, of course. 

Megan: Okay…..

You'll have to wait until next week to hear that part of our conversation.

Possibly is a co-production of the Institute of Brown for Environment society, browns Climate Solutions Initiative, and The Public's Radio