US anti-consumerism campaigner Rev Billy reports from Hellnar, on the western tip of Iceland - a sur

This morning we walked across on a grassy bluff to look out at the ocean, and found a crater, with jagged black rock walls. But then we noticed that it had the sounds of gulls coming out of its depths, and angling around it we discovered sunlight shimmering down there. We found that it was a cave that made its way to the sea.

This is one of those surreal Edens, like Patagonia, in which the earth stares down human beings and dares us to believe. Believe in what? The answer would be: impossible things. Mysterious complexity that encourages a response of meditation as much as science. It’s good for us to be here. Tomorrow we return to New York. Back to the daunting task of slowing down American Consumerism.

In fact this place makes us feel as if the jig is up for the retail world back home. The thing that product-life can’t possibly do, not the new iPhone or Shrek 3, is greet the mind with this level of complexity. And we need it like we need breathing. Amen? Of all the things that are routinely promised by corporations as they hawk their products: youth, status, sex – the glaring lack is complexity. Products must per se be dumber than nature, and thus dumber than people.

Just lately, the complexity of nature has been obvious to the average lay person, as the climate crisis has stood up like a brilliant student at the back of the class and suddenly recited a physics of a hundred feedback loops of sunlight and trapped gasses and ice. We have felt this here, being so far north, amid glaciers and lava fields, and hearing the native talk of seasons gone by. And the Greening of the Corporation appears laughably late in the day in the land of the midnight sun. Shopping our way out of this? Are we that stupid? This earth isn’t.

I predict an uprising against this great dumbing down by product-life. A withdrawal from middle class habits because they are less interesting. There is something in human beings that must demand the complexity in which we were created and evolved. This evening we climbed up through one of these caves, up from the black stone beach, and pulling ourselves up to the grassy edge at the top, we found a snowy mountain peak awaiting us in the sky above. Breath-taking, barely imaginable, so complexified, how could this be? We were given, then, something from the earth that we can bring to face down the corporation’s reduced world. Children, from nature we came, and to save ourselves, to this higher art of living we shall return.


Reverend Billy is a US anti-consumerism campaigner. He and his Stop Shopping Gospel Choir spend their time “singing and preaching for local economies and real experience”. They argue backing away from the the product will put the “odd back in god
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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.