From Iceland — How To Manage A Conservation Conversation

How To Manage A Conservation Conversation

Published March 1, 2012

A one-act play about community communication

How To Manage A Conservation Conversation
Photo by
Megan Herbert

A one-act play about community communication


The Corporation
The Farmers
The Friends
The Locals
The Nature
The Narrator
The Philosophers
The Researchers
The State
The Tourists
The Wardens
The Worker

In a room—a small room, a bedroom—live three-hundred-thousand people with their pets and plants. Outside of the room is THE NATURE. THE NATURE is also inside of the room. THE NATURE is also the room. THE NATURE is also the people, but the people may or may not be aware of this. It is possible THE NATURE listens to the people at all times. At all times, it is possible the people do not listen to THE NATURE. People have opinions. The people have opinions about THE NATURE. It is possible THE NATURE has opinions about the people.

THE TOURISTS: You have all of this beautiful nature right here.
THE LOCALS: We do own this.
THE STATE: We let you own this.
THE PHILOSOPHERS: Do we own this?
THE NARRATOR: “…one of the greatest natural disasters of all times…”

The people exit the room. They walk in THE NATURE, view hyoclastite ridges near Langisjór and pick at red scoria in Eldgjá. Rain is constant in this moment. Boulders perch on steep skriða slopes, gravity pulling their weight toward an inevitable descent. They walk with eyes toward boulders, toward hulking threat of THE NATURE. The people think THE NATURE threatens them and this makes them feel alive. THE NATURE feels alive. The people return to the room.

THE NARRATOR: “… habitat loss…”
THE LOCALS: We know something much worse is on its way.
THE NARRATOR: “… overharvesting…”
THE TOURISTS: The moon looked blood red behind the ash.
THE NARRATOR: “… pollution…”
THE FARMERS: Poisoned meat.
THE NARRATOR: “… invasive species…”
THE RESEARCHERS: Masculinity and racism hand-in-hand with fortress conservation.
THE NARRATOR: “… disease…”

The people exit the room. They walk in THE NATURE, wind gusts forcing Systrafoss to curl its falling water skyward. Rain is constant. Introduced tree species bend their towering spines as wind hurries the people toward THE NATURE. The people feel intimidated by THE NATURE. The people return to the room.

THE FARMERS: We don’t trust you.
THE STATE: But we trust you.
THE FARMERS: You have too many faces. You change people like moods.
THE STATE: But we trust your tradition. THE NATURE is silent.
THE FARMERS: You change people and laws. You change people and laws could change.

The people exit the room. They walk along the moraine and into the newly exposed bottom of the glacial lagoon. Land sags with each step. Moss blooms in mud scattered between rhyolite and feldspar. The people walk on moss buds. THE NATURE measures each footstep as tattoo, and flora eyes these marks with curious distrust. Once trodden, twice dry. The people return to the room.

THE STATE: You cannot drive off-road.
THE WARDENS: Sometimes, they drive off-road.
THE TOURISTS: It looks like a road so we drive it.
THE FARMERS: We drive with sensitivity to round up the sheep.
THE NATURE is silent.
THE STATE: It is not a road. You cannot drive there.
THE TOURISTS: It is a road.
STATE: You made it a road. It is not a road.
THE WARDENS: Define road.
THE TOURISTS: Dessine-moi une carte. (Make me a map.)
THE FARMERS: You change the laws.
THE CORPORATION: Forget about nature; change the cars.
THE NATURE stays ominously silent.

The people exit the room. They walk onto the glacier. Rain slicks blue and clear ice, sprinkled with volcanic ash, tephra, sand. The people walk with careful steps—breath caught in throats, in anticipation of bodies breaking on ice. THE NATURE throws the people into relief. The people return to the room.

THE NARRATOR: “…glacial outburst tore through power-line structures…”
THE STATE: We don’t trust the sustainability of your tradition.
THE FARMERS: You changed.
THE STATE: You should also.
THE FARMERS: You change your face and your rules with frequency. How can we trust you when you lack consistency?
THE STATE: Change is inevitable. In thirty years, you will all be extinct.
THE NATURE seems permanent.
THE RESEARCHERS: We’re moving away from fortress conservation.
THE PHILOSOPHERS: “What a long time the life of a stone lasts.”
THE NATURE erupts.
THE NARRATOR: “… ice tumbling like toy building blocks in the flood…”

The people sit in their small room—nervous of ash fall, lava flow, jökulhlaup; they do not notice when THE STATE exits the room. THE STATE boards a tourist helicopter and flies near the eruption site, eyeing new rock in the vast destruction. THE STATE plants a flag in the broken glacier. THE STATE, emboldened, flies back to the room and enters. THE NATURE progresses.

THE STATE: Do this.
THE LOCALS: You don’t live here. You don’t know here. You never visit. Why should we listen to you?
THE LOCALS: Nature is timeless.
THE STATE: Do this.
THE LOCALS: Politicians are short-term. The goals of the politicians are also, therefore, short-term.
THE LOCALS: When you are gone, and there is another, we will still be here.
THE LOCALS: We will still be here. Nature is ancient.
THE NATURE is neither timeless nor ancient. THE NATURE will not do what it is told, though it may have an awareness of time, an in-built sense of duty.
THE STATE: Do this.

The people exit the room, disgruntled. The people walk in different directions. THE RESEARCHERS push north through ash-fall. THE CORPORATION walks northwest near flood-destroyed bridge. THE STATE wades west through fluorine-enriched water. THE FARMERS hulk southwest past horse death. THE PHILOSOPHERS head southeast toward bird death. THE TOURISTS slink east past retreating glacial tongue. THE WARDENS pass northeast by weather-ravaged hut. THE WORKER cleans the mess. THE NATURE senses nonsense. The people return to the room.

THE WARDENS: Conserve, preserve, protect, save, sustain, enlarge.
THE RESEARCHERS: Conserve, sustain. THE STATE: Manage.
THE FARMERS: Sustain, grow.
THE CORPORATION: Grow, sustain.
THE WORKER: Consume.

The people exit the room. The people walk through heath where sheep graze woolly willow to non-existence. THE NATURE erodes. The people erode into melodrama, reflecting themselves through apocalyptic metaphor in what surrounds them. What surrounds them? The people may not sense what is in them. THE NATURE listens to authoritative voice-overs by bodiless men— ends of sentences dropping to finite, terrible statements. The people return to the room.

THE CORPORATION: Can we divert the Kreppa?
THE NARRATOR: “… the destruction of nature was immense…”
THE CORPORATION: Dessine-moi un hydro-power dam.
THE WORKER: I used the 50-tonne digger. I cleared the hardest path, not much space on the mountainside. I’d strapped myself in. And I cleared this mountain. The hardest part. And the next day, the foreman—he rolled it. Rolled his digger. I’d already done the hardest part. Strapped in. I was ready to die. So when we meet now, the foreman and me, we greet with the left hand. Like dead people.
THE CORPORATION: Here is money in atonement.

THE NATURE is moved. THE NATURE moves into the people, moves them out of the room. Suddenly, THE NATURE realizes the vibrant contrast between white glacier, green vegetation, blue lakes, red and yellow geothermal areas, black sands and the economic lenses of the humans. THE RESEARCHERS sense the wealth of knowledge to discover and disseminate. THE STATE senses opportunity for management and ownership. THE PHILOSOPHERS sense nonsense. THE TOURISTS sense aesthetic euphoria and spiritual aphasia. THE FARMERS sense the potential for agriculture. THE CORPORATION senses the potential for development. THE WARDENS sense damage done. THE WORKER senses the ability to subsist. THE NATURE has greater sensitivity than the people realize. The people return to the room.

THE RESEARCHERS: You’re missing the point.
THE FRIENDS: Tourism makes money.
THE FARMERS: Where is money for local product?
THE STATE: Here is money for infrastructure.
THE WARDENS: Where is money for education?
THE CORPORATION: Here is money. Hush, hush.
THE RESEARCHERS: Where is money for research?
THE FRIENDS: Here is money for research and education.
THE TOURISTS: Do I give my money? Where do I give my money?
THE PHILOSOPHERS: Do you take that money? Why do you take that money?
THE LOCALS: In our small room, everyone plays more than one role.

The people walk on THE NATURE, through black sand patched with green moss. The people do not notice the delicacy of THE NATURE. The people walk through sandstorm, rainstorm, windstorm, snowstorm, and they raise their voices debating money, infrastructure, power, laws, ownership. Their argument overwhelms the soundscape, and yet the loudest voice is the silence of THE NATURE.

THE NATURE howls silence into their doom.

THE FARMERS become extinct. THE STATE changes its face. THE PHILOSOPHERS become THE LOCALS. THE LOCALS change their points of view. THE RESEARCHERS become THE FRIENDS. THE WORKER exchanges power for money. THE CORPORATION becomes THE NARRATOR. THE TOURISTS change their travel plans. THE NATURE listens to the constant voiceless alto of river rush as swans trumpet their arrival.

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