Social Studies of Environmentalism

The Global Going-Crazy Tipping Point

In Consumerism on May 10, 2013 at 3:16 pm

By Reverend Billy

Messianic leader of the Church of Stop Shopping and author of The End of the World, Reverend Billy confronts collective denial in the face of impending doom.

Something broad and deep about human nature is deleted now. That evolution instruction “Fight or Flight” is reversed into “Stop and Shop!” This is the End of the World as a White Hot 2-Day Sale at Best Buy!

Did someone say that reports of the Earth’s death are greatly exaggerated? In June 2012 a study called “Approaching A State Shift In Earth’s Biosphere,” from an international group of 22 natural scientists, systems theorists, and climatologists was published in the journal Nature. The report’s lead author was Dr. Tony Barnosky from UC-Berkeley. It came out after the record 109 tornadoes in North America in May, and just before the hottest July ever recorded.

The scientists asked: Could the life of the entire Earth be a single ecosystem? Could it collapse all at once like smaller ecosystems have, like the North Atlantic fisheries, or the aspen forests in the Rockies?                                                       

The report is a premonition, a brave gaze across the border into planetary Armageddon. Read this paragraph carefully. If you’re shopping you might not notice The End of the World.

Rapid climate change combined with highly fragmented species ranges can be expected to magnify the potential for ecosystem collapse and wholesale landscape changes may in turn influence the biology of oceans.

And later in this Mother of all Apocalypses:

The global ecosystem … is approaching a planetary-scale critical transition as a result of human influence. Humans are now facing the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience.

Now children – maybe I’m a shopper like most of my country. Maybe I’m waiting in line like a zombie. But I sense a predator in these warning words. My reptilian brain is flickering, what are those reflections on the shiny gossip magazines? The shadow is falling toward me fast. The heavy hot furry weight is on me and there is a great jaw around my neck. Help! I’m gonna turn and fight for my life! I’ll throw this Golden Dawn detergent at the tiger of Climate Change!

The Barnosky study is as grave a warning as I have ever read. Yet these natural scientists are so isolated from mainstream culture that no one much noticed it. No parallel professional class will take up The End of the World, even with the combined testimony of these 22 illustrious researchers. For one thing, scientists have no Carl Sagan now, no Stephen Jay Gould, no Rachel Carson or Wangari Maathi or Aldo Leopold or Edward Abbey. The great planet-criers are gone. Do we have a living counterpart?

This is a time of widespread distortion. Unless we have a blast of honesty from Wikileaks or Ai WeiWei – the world is just seeing things. What a strange echo-chamber we live in. Beyonce has a billion hits. There are clouds above us full of songs and jokes. But, how do we talk about the weather? We are standing in line, silently, there with our soap.

Elizabeth Hadly of Stanford, one of the Barnosky study’s authors, added some warm-blooded remarks:

We may already be past these tipping points in particular regions of the world. I just returned from a trip to the high Himalayas in Nepal, where I witnessed families fighting each other with machetes for wood – wood that they would burn to cook their food in one evening. In places where governments are lacking basic infrastructure, people fend for themselves, and biodiversity suffers. We desperately need global leadership for planet Earth.

Global leadership? You mean Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Copenhagen climate conference three years ago? What did they do with that historic opportunity? Show-off shoot-em-ups with China, India, and Brazil. Some photo-opping and a little duty-free shopping and they fled in their jet.

Children – This kind of scary study usually pops up in newspapers as a little squib on page 8. I always look for the sentence that calms me down, something along the lines of “Sea-rise, population pressures, and mass migrations from coastal cities will peak by the end of the century.” It’s that first phrase that I look for, with its promise to hold off destruction till 2100. That 80-or-90-year gift would give my daughter Lena a life.

In the last year or so I have been unable to find the “end of the century phrase.” Barnosky’s team is eerily silent on the question, but each sentence seems to scream THE END IS NEAR!

There is “Fight or Flight! There is “Stop and Shop!” And then there is “Going Crazy!” I’m wondering about mass schizophrenia, as the sky worsens, as the ground shakes, as the fires and floods make their way toward us?

We are zombies no go go, unless you tell us to go. We’re consumers standing in line. We are told to stay in line, promised a steady product-drip of orgasm-lite if we buy and buy. If we are zombified, then who inherits the old get-up-and-go of active humanity? The Corporation. The Market. This is crazy-making.

Let us now damn famous money. It is bonkers that the leading players in the life of Earth are these corporate cults, with logos and slogans and budgets bigger than countries. Our national leaders are corporate spokespersons: green-washing pours from their mouths. But the sympathetic traits of the hero go to giant blocks of money shot this way and that by thousands of suits at computers. “The market is nervous today.” “Investors are in the pink, after good earnings reports in China.” “Corporations are waiting as the Euro hesitates.”

Yes, the old pluck of the survivor has transferred to corporations. They have got us so involved in the outcome of their touching story that Black Friday grosses are actually presented as the emotional climax of the year. Corporations fight through the hard times with the language once reserved for pioneer families on the Oregon Trail. Oh yes, corporations have endless resiliency. They will bounce back forever.

Of course, the corporate market is people, you and I, and we don’t bounce back forever.


Roughly 400,000 people have already died in climate disasters in the last 12 months. They are dead, and off the market.

Where are you? Children, are you walking through the air that is 50 degrees wrong? Are you walking under the tampered sky in the 10th year of no rain?

We are millions trying to get dressed and go to work as screams travel back and forth inside our bodies, as our own shock and disbelief pulls on our faces. We push in the ear-buds, Adele sings “Rolling in the Deep.”

When did our lives start drifting up a fluorescent aisle of dazzling products? The corporations study us from their surveillance cameras and they see that we still remember this thing called Earth.

Sometimes our suspicions are aroused. Was that fire supposed to be size of France? The investigators see that we have Earth in our eyes. That we know – we are the main predator. We ourselves are the internal workings of that tiger, as we buy our Golden Dawn. Then the corporations hold their breath. Will we turn on them? Will we break from our line inside the beast, and try to live?

They watch us as we leave the store with our shopping bag and walk to the bus-stop, making a concerted effort not to buckle over in sobs and fucking-fuck rants.


We are falling together. The slaughter with the perfect cover. Each of us is absorbing this tragedy personally. It is the best-kept Apocalypse.

Yes, I’m crazy. My city is crazy. My species is crazy. The human soap opera makes no sense at all. And nobody can talk about it. That’s what is surprising me. This is the Information Age, but some subjects are prurient, like our survival.

These days are deadly and funny. The comedians are less hilarious than my daughter and the tragedians not nearly as dark as the leaders who make excuses for squandered life.

Bill Talen (aka Reverend Billy) performs with the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir on the streets of New York and around the world. In addition to The End of the World, Reverend Billy is author of What Should I Do When the Reverend Billy Is in My Store? and The Reverend Billy Project: From Rehearsal Hall to Super Mall with the Church of Life After Shopping (co-authored with Savitri D and Alisa Solomon).

Excerpted with permission from The End of the World (ebookby Reverend Billy. Available from OR Books. Copyright © 2012.


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