Before We Can Fight for the Planet, We Need to Learn How to Talk With the Earth

The nation-states, corporations and NGO's of the environmental movement never address the Earth in a personal way. But they will eventually.

Reverend Billy Talen Oct 7, 2021

ACT UP, Occupy, Standing Rock, #metoo, Black Lives Matter.

On the way to COP26, there is the overwhelming feeling that we never organized a galvanizing event for the Earth. Not one that really rang out, not a story across the world. Not like the great movements listed above. The Earth has no Edmund Petts Bridge, no Stonewall.

For some reason there isn’t a representation of the crisis of our planet that makes us rise up in fury. The news, the arts, the speeches at victim’s funerals — our strongest words don’t stop our polluting, consuming ways. What would it take?  The sixth mass extinction is accelerating. The Earth seems to have blown by the environmental movement.  What would it take?

And yet a lot of us are manufacturing hope in ourselves, and our little theatre troupe in New York is spending all the money we’ve got to go and sing in the streets of Glasgow and confront the international pledge-breakers…

The story that is carrying us at present is Greta Thunberg’s refusal to go to school. It is like a children’s book, a classic faith crisis in pigtails. Now as Greta matures before our eyes, it turns out that she is a mesmerizing speaker, quite unintimidated by the world’s most polluting CEO’s. She is adding chapters to her book.

It is frustrating that the Greta Thunberg story does not seem to be enough  (And yet, where would we be without her?) The CO2-emitting corporations, banks and armies have already absorbed giant super storms and wildfires and millions of humans flooding the streets.  But they are on schedule to offer unenforceable concessions in Scotland followed by the usual promises in the press. And Greta Thunberg is refusing to attend.

Our activist’s search continues, looking for another kind of story — a story without a hero this time? 

* * *

I suggest that we share a practice, a simple daily practice. It is a decentralized story form, more like a song that everyone remembers. Goes like this: Go to the park, walk across your backyard and out into the woods beyond the back fence … or climb the fire escape and find a patch of sky. Go to the Earth.

For some reason there isn’t a representation of the crisis of our planet that makes us rise up in fury.

Talk to the Earth. Give the Earth a name, if that helps. Gaia is good. Gaia works.  Bobbie, Jamal, Tereke, Maria. There are tens of thousands of names that we humans have made for the life that surrounds us; they’re all good. I use Sophie, my grandmother who died when she was 20.

We have been discovering for decades now that the elephant, honeybee, whale and octopus — every living thing on this planet — has a kind of intelligence. And for most of our 300,000 years on this planet, we humans have believed that the Earth, all the life forms put together, is one, big conscious being. Take this leap with me. Talk to the Earth. 

Ask the Earth a question. “How are you feeling?”  “Having a good day?” Have a sincere conversation, leaving pauses in your speech — the chance for the Earth to reply.  And then really listen.  Keep doing it as if the Earth hears you and likes you and wants to talk to you. 

Some of us would rather do this by singing.  And if you are in a forest, a wetlands, an alpine meadow — wherever you are on the Earth — the natural world is full of what seems like singing.  The thrushes and crickets and bullfrogs will soon be filling up those pauses you offer in your conversation.

Whichever way you get to the Earth, it’s like learning a language — do it a little every day and things begin to change.  Soon enough Earth’s presence will be felt all around, showing up in all sorts of ways. You’ll feel like you have a bank of dreams full of vivid clouds and waving branches and full-throated singing animals…

* * *

The riddle for Earth activists has been that we are too far away from the Earth too much of the time. It is a basic feature of modern life for most of us. We need intimacy with this living thing so our activism against the poisons is a duet of radical risk.  Do you have an idea, a new way to be closer to the Earth?  If you do, share that idea.  Contact us.

What is our main tactical objective in an Earth Movement? Stop the flow of oil before it is turned into greenhouse gas emissions. Get 50,000 people to go to a pipeline pumping station and turn the valve.  How do we have faith enough to do that?  Know that the Earth is with us.

The Earth Movement. This living thing, this conscious being spinning in space. I feel an uprising of love in my blood just imagining it. Yes! The Earth will help us raise our direct action to new impact.

The Earth is turning our culture inside-out. The life inside the storm is speaking to us — not just as another natural disaster — but telling the great story that rings across the world.

The nation-states, corporations and NGO’s of the environmental movement never address the Earth in a personal way. And they won’t at COP26. But they will eventually, because they will notice that the Earth and you and I — we are in talks. 


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