Climate heroes: Rev Billy Talen and Savitri D

Down to Earth
The Guardian
March 31, 2022

The American climate evangelist Rev Billy Talen is a one-of-a-kind preacher. He began giving sermons to his Church of Stop Shopping after looking into the hazardous effects of a glyphosate pesticide called Roundup. Ever since then, he has rallied voices against their use in New York’s public parks.

For the past 20 years Talen has broadened his activism to include what he calls “capitalism’s attack on nature”. Alongside his partner Savitri D – “director of our arrest-risking actions and concert-hall performance” – he orchestrates sit-ins, lie-ins and ambushes against multinationals such as Monsanto, Exxon and Amazon.

Savi and I write books, make movies and get arrested together,” he says.

Last year New York lawmakers voted to ban toxic pesticides from routine use by city agencies and switch to organic gardening techniques.

On Sunday afternoons, Talen’s 30-voice Stop Shopping Choir meets in a former East Village bank to sing the gospel. “Then,” he says, “we go out with the audience to occupy the lobbies of fossil banks or surround pesticide-spraying trucks in the parks and ‘exorcise’ them.”

Wearing his uniform of fluoro-coloured suit over a clerical collar, Talen intensified his work against the “shopocalype” after the 2016 election, when he led a prayer session outside Trump Tower. Since then he and Savi have performed with Extinction Rebellion and launched a podcast of sermons and music, which drops every Wednesday. Their 2021 Earth Riot Tour of the UK ended with two shows at COP26 in Glasgow.

During New York’s first Covid-19 lockdown the choir recorded an original choral work, composed by Talen to lyrics from Yeats’ the Second Coming, from each of their respective homes. You can find it on Soundcloud.

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