Environmental issues not always clear cut

Mark Leiren-Young presents his one-man play in Nanaimo

Mark Leiren-Young translates his experience and knowledge of the complexities of B.C. environmental discussion into a one-man theatre show. He performs in Nanaimo Feb. 3-5.

Mark Leiren-Young translates his experience and knowledge of the complexities of B.C. environmental discussion into a one-man theatre show. He performs in Nanaimo Feb. 3-5.

Mark Leiren-Young’s earliest memory of environmental issues involved the Ogopogo.

While a teenager, he found an article in his community newspaper about how the local government would spray the pesticide 2,4-D in Okanagan Lake to kill milfoil.

He worried about the health of the region’s legendary, but elusive, prehistoric creature, so he created a science project and interviewed members of a high-profile environmental watchdog.

“This upset me to no end at 13,” he said. “That’s my first memory of doing something environmental.”

The journalist, author and filmmaker found himself immersed in environmental issues in his professional career. While writing and researching his film The Green Chain, about forestry issues in B.C., he came across themes, ideas and quirks in environmental politics that didn’t fit the film but he had to share just the same.

He developed Greener Than Thou, a one-man theatre show directed by TJ Dawe, which touches on some of the environmental issues no one wants to discuss.

“This is the first time I’ve written a first-person show that’s not for someone else,” Leiren-Young said. “I just couldn’t put it in the mouth of anyone else.”

While researching the film and co-writing My Crazy Time with Tzeporah Berman, he came across ideas like “externalities,” an event caused by a company, yet not its responsibility.

An example of an externality: a company creates a product that causes a zombie outbreak isn’t responsible for the costs – health care, police, shotgun shells – associated with cleanup and eradication of the zombie menace.

Externalities were part of the discussion in B.C., he said.

Contradictions abound through the green revolution, and what people assume are healthy choices are anything but.

Leiren-Young talks about the chemical hexane found in some soy-based veggie burgers and the high level of mercury in fish.

“There’s a lot of scary things out there,” he said.

Leiren-Young also learned about green politics in B.C., where environmentalists and corporations each bring their own scientists and compromising green principles is considered radical.

Sometimes the big picture is lost to win a small battle.

“Environmentalists spend more time sniping at each other than corporations or governments,” he said.

And, of course, he rips on the Alberta tar sands.

Despite the negative aspects of the environment and the state of debate, those involved in the field still express hope for the future.

“People who know this world can still be optimistic,” Leiren-Young said.

The play was first produced at the Edmonton Fringe Festival and evolved as audiences participated in post-show discussions. Leiren-Young said he is gathering information on Nanaimo’s environmental issues to include in the show.

He’s done that in most communities he performs, and the play changes as those discussions happen, sometimes from night to night.

“The play keeps growing,” he said. “I could turn it into something epic.

“I’m not sure what this show is going to evolve into.”

Greener Than Thou is presented by Western Edge Theatre at Diners Rendezvous Feb. 3-4, at 7:30 p.m.; and Feb. 5, 2 p.m., at Headliners (all ages). Tickets $15. Please call 250-668-0991 or visit www.westernedge.org.

arts@nanaimobulletin.com