The Earth Stops Our Shopping

Reverend Billy Talen Mar 16, 2020

Reverend Billy.

The Earth is forcing us to do what we needed to do, but couldn’t. The consumption economy has stopped. Time and time again the scientists conclude their studies with a warning that “unless we radically reduce our burning of fossil fuels…” Well, we’re doin’ it now!

The question is, what took us so long?  Why did it take a pandemic for us to act?  

The passivity of consumers in the face of the climate cataclysm has been the great implacable riddle. We keep swiping our way back to fossil fuel convenience and comfort, speed and Wall Street. Consumerism is a more powerful drug than anyone imagined. Business-as-usual is not done casually; it is a deeply programmed series of impulses. We will die buying. 

And die of the coronavirus, too. Not many people living in fear of it think of the virulent pestilence as a savior of life. But the coronavirus has broken a society-wide consensual hypnosis that doomed us.  

Consumerism, the cultural arm of capitalism, is designed as an everywhere, all-the-time immersion. And so, as the viruses stream toward us, we see the fusillade of mini-movies blasted from the oil economy’s media. The counter-attack on the outbreak has story-lines that we recognize from the reports of superstorms and continent-sized fires. There is Trump’s comedy of errors, the tragic human interest tales, featuring children and cute dogs, interviews with patient experts, stories of heroic Christian sacrifice — and love-boats full of vampires who have to stay offshore. We see desperate consumerism trying to be the ultimate product, the counter-pandemic.

Key to consumerism’s spell over us is that a natural disaster like coronavirus has no cause. It comes from nowhere for no reason — this deadly disease that stops our way of life in its tracks, emptying the arenas and highways, forcing us to stay home and breathe through filters.

Coronavirus has broken a society-wide consensual hypnosis that doomed us.

The only ones who would talk about the reaping of the whirlwind as if there actually were a reaper are the people of Earth cultures, who meditate on the intentions of a conscious Earth and her predator humans. We clumsily translate the indigenous people’s call in prayers to the “Great Spirit” — and this feels dangerous to us. We don’t go there. You mean, the Earth saves her own life? On purpose? When another storm erupts from the sky and lays waste to New Orleans or New York, we will give it a woman’s name, but we won’t credit it with an intention there. A natural disaster is only a broken machine. It isn’t a life.  

Will the coronavirus change how we talk about the Earth?  Now, as these little buzzsaws are crossing the ocean and crossing the room toward us, we have to admit that we are powerless. We missed the first symptom of our disease: our failure to remember that we are alive and our many lives are a part of many other lives and all of our lives together make an organism that acts as a single life. The Earth.

The untold story is now the most obvious story. The Earth is in a full-blown mutiny against homo sapiens. The Earth’s unexplained and miraculous dedication to the continuation of life has gotten her through five extinctions and she’s hard at work on her sixth. We may not make it out of this alive. The last time CO2 rose at its present rate, 95 percent of all life vanished. The Earth can radically alter chemical make-up. She can wait a million years and suddenly return with dinosaurs reappearing as birds.

Last week, Jair Bolsonaro met with Donald Trump in West Palm Beach, Florida, a small town of the very rich that is 12 inches above sea-level. Then a day later, Brazil’s financial minister flew to New York to meet with JPMorgan Chase, to arrange financing for what the native Amazonians call “The Bridge of Death,” a highway that will soar over great rivers and bulldoze through the rainforest so that Bolsonaro can spread the forces of fossil-based Big Ag, ranching, mining, and shoot the forest people. 

At Standing Rock, the mother elders proposed that a new compassion can arise in us so that we might work in concert with the Earth. Is that still possible? We stop shopping, we stop burning fossil fuel, we wash our hands…

Reverend Billy Talen and the Stop Shopping Choir are a Earth-justice church from New York.

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