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Is the earth completely f**ked?

Reverend Billy

Reverend Billy exorcises BP demons from Tate Modern, in 2011. © UK Tar Sands Network

Not if we fire money and hire survival, argues New York performance activist Reverend Billy, who is in London this week with BP sponsorship in his sights.

‘Is Earth F**ked?’ was the name of a scientific paper submitted to the American Geophysical Union in 2012 by a California researcher named Brad Werner. His conclusion was that empirically the answer is yes – but that history has examples of social uprisings, by activists who break from the prevailing conditioning and risk life and limb to make change. He held out hope that such people would turn society away from ecocide. In his paper, the professor wrote that the evidence suggested this was the only remedy.

It is clear that we are listing toward disaster here on our Earth. The life systems of the biosphere are torpedoed by consumption and population. CO2, methane and nitrous oxide continue their basic alteration of the chemical balance of the atmosphere. The material fact at the centre of all this is late-stage capitalism’s inability to leave the fossil fuels in the ground.

Space-ship Earth is going down. At least the one that features our predator species in its present civilization. If we were to attempt a crash-landing that saves some of us, that stabilizes the scary feedback loops that have us veering off, we would have to organize large counter-intuitive measures, sacrificing like wartime, abandoning the consumer project.

The major planner of our lives has been money, maximizing income for the topmost players. We would have to fire money and hire survival. We’ve had a couple of decades now of trying to green our capitalism without slowing it, and that may have been an error that included in it the passing of our species’ tipping point. With stabilizing the life systems of the Earth our primary aim, the fetish of increased growth in the quarterly corporate report would have to go.

And fossil fuel would remain in the ground – and all the dreamed-of money that it would have made for investors. Oil reserves not yet drilled but traded already in the energy markets would be cancelled, with all the associated losses. Why? To survive.

Essentially then, here is The Climate Movement for Dummies: money and power would have to be taken from the wrong people and distributed to the rest of us. But all of us would have to change how we live every day.

Many of us are not surviving. At least 1,000 people a day died in 2014 from fire and flood, drought and super-storms. Extreme weather events have tripled since 1980. If we were to pull this spaceship out of its dive we would save lives immediately. But no-one represents the people of the Global South to the executives in the oil corporations. Case in point: the BP spill in the Gulf.

British Petroleum, with the Exxon Valdez as its mentor, has considered its problem a public relations matter. Full-page ads in the New York Times – with seemingly ordinary people swearing by BP; actors who physically resemble the people of the Gulf who are suffering the most from the ongoing toxicity – have slowed in frequency. BP is back. And deepwater drilling is back, with its White House blessing.

Major cultural institutions, such as the Tate, the British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, have never stopped accepting BP’s sponsorship. The executives of high culture allow the BP sunflower logo to grace their exhibitions. And so the longest-held traditions that the public presents to itself, from ancient Greece to Indigenous art, lend this rogue company the stately facade of civilization.

But this cheaply purchased cultural leadership clashes tragically with BP’s reckless policies. Putting the sunflower in the lobby of a museum is corporate advertising with deadly consequences.

The public should have long ago demanded BP’s plan for how it will leave its reserves in the ground and scale back operations. This is the reality of firing money and hiring survival.

Now the activists that the California professor hoped for are here, ready to confront the false sunflower of BP. Our New York pack of singing activists, the Church of Stop Shopping, is ready to join UK activists BP or not BP? this week. We will try to force ourselves between the logo and the public institution – then chase the logo as it tries to flee, and imprison it for life, at company expense.

Reverend Billy

Join performance activist and manic street preacher Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping in London on 2 May. In the morning they will bring the BP Deepwater Horizon spill to life in a BP-sponsored cultural institution. In the evening they perform their wild punk gospel show ‘Faster! Monsanto Die! Die!’ at Wilton’s Music Hall.

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