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What do you believe in? The Earth is THE issue

BY BILL TALEN | I’m in the belief business, working with artists who look for new ways to defend the Earth. We battle fossil emissions of oil companies and their banks, mostly. And I have to say, passionate belief in America is a dangerous place to be. The U.S.A. has always been the land of wacky religions, but this is getting ridiculous. This morning I’m reading about Kid Rock bulldozing over Bud Light cans because Budweiser featured a trans person in an advertisement.

Types of belief. First, there is a vast and vague kind of believing, made of consumer clicks and polls and trends. This biggest measure of what people think is pushed around by the trillion-dollar marketing of corporations, governments, religions and militaries. This country has more external change-your-mind-and-buy-this aggression going on than anywhere else, by far. China’s advertising budget is about one-third ours, and Britain’s is only 15 percent our size. This is the single, most powerful cause in making us a conservative, read “fearful,” society.

Can we “believe our way out” of such a brain bath? A recent study puts the number of advertising events for a person who owns a computer and lives in New York City (description fits me, alas) at 10,000 per day. Can a thoughtful individual come to her own conclusions without intimidation? Well, what has happened is our belief has become a state of anxiety. It comes from both the political Right and the Left, but it also impacts the language of those in the vanishing center. We are all impacted by the Trumpian brand of belief, where victimization is used like rocket fuel.

Some time ago we were relieved when the polls showed that 70 percent of Americans believed that climate change was caused by humans. At the same time we held our breath as a small number of proto-Trump climate science deniers were able to hold us all hostage. The fate of the Earth was angrily dismissed in one breath with interchangeable grievances against the coastal elites, the companies moving offshore, Hillary Clinton, guns and abortion, the vaccine… .

We are trapped. We are surrounded by issues. Everyone everywhere is issues-based more than ever, and we really need to be, to defend ourselves against aggressing by other issues-based people, some of whom carry guns. We run back to our issue, to the protection of our own issue, a well-fortified bunker. We don’t dare spend time conversing calmly in public space with people we disagree with. But without such considerations of opposing views, issues-based people sacrifice complexity, doubt, humor and forgiveness. Treating our own grievance as an “issue” — with privately customized language and meaning — is an unnoticed habit across progressive culture. The environmental movement is no exception.

It’s been clear for years that the Earth’s crisis, the thing that very soon will end much of our world, cannot be just another issue. I can’t remember who said it, but — “When we are all inhaling our last breath, then there is only one issue, and that is the issue of life itself.”

In London over the Earth Day weekend, Extinction Rebellion hosted 60,000 earth lovers. They gathered on Friday the 21st and stayed through Monday, around Westminster. More than 200 groups showed up with their signs and costumes and drums and horns. As I walked around the famous buildings, with Big Ben rising above, I found the many points of view had made a constellation of rallies and concerts and workshops and speakers… . I found more and more people, from Greenpeace to your local recycling advocates.

So there was a single issue, the Earth, and there was an absence of adverts. The politicians who inhabit these buildings were challenged to cut fossil fuel use drastically, but meanwhile XR managed to invite everyone to come with their own issue, and blend their issue with all the others, to build up the single issue — life itself.

When it came my turn to speak, I couldn’t stop shouting, “The Earth is Alive! The Earth is Alive!”

Talen performs and preaches as Reverend Billy with the Stop Shopping Choir at the Earth Church, at 36 Loisaida Ave. (Avenue C), at E. Third St.


  1. Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz April 29, 2023

    Sorry, but I’ve heard these alarms about climate change many times before and prefer them issued by scientists instead of by some pretend cleric in a shocking pink suit with a turned-around collar.

  2. Jay Crockett Jay Crockett April 28, 2023

    Wow. Great piece. I was amazed at the differences in advertising budgets, although I guess that makes me rather dumb. Or at best, naive. I will add this to my own list of issues.

  3. Stephen DiLauro Stephen DiLauro April 28, 2023

    Bill Talen is one of our time’s great original thinkers, and an amazing entertainer.
    Looking forward to seeing Rev Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir at Joe’s Pub one of these 2 upcoming Sunday performances.
    Life itself – indeed!

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