I couldn’t help myself. I kept looking away from the huge screen at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin upon which the film Green Fire was nearing its end. I was quite excited that this event was actually happening in Ireland. I looked at the audience to see if I could predict their reaction to this inaugural showing in Ireland of Leopold’s life and land ethic. Many faces seemed intrigued. Others seemed to be taking mental notes and forming questions to ask in the audience discussion after the film had concluded. I was nervous but looking forward to hearing their questions and reactions and listening to the ensuing discussion.
I had organized this event with Paddy Woodworth, one of the leading environmental journalists in Ireland. Neither of us knew what to expect. Would we get 12 or 25 or would any Irish people show up for the showing of this film? And which direction would the post film discussion go? We would have to wait to find out.
Paddy had asked four of his colleagues to be part of a panel to give our reactions to the film and then to foster a discussion with the audience about their reactions and questions about the film. The panel included an Irish film-maker, a farmer from the Burren in western Ireland, a biologist from the Irish Golden Eagle Trust, and myself, an American visiting biology professor and an Aldo Leopold Foundation Land Ethic Leader.
When Paddy opened the floor to comments and questions from the audience, an older gentleman seemed puzzled and said, “How did Leopold get all those people together, especially the farmers and landowners in Coon Valley, to talk constructively about solving the erosion and land use problems they were faced with? They actually solved their problems together! There is a group of us from the Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin, that have been trying to do that for many years and have not had any success. What was his secret?”
Michael Davoren, who has led a large group of cattle farmers from the Burren in discussions on land use planning and has instituted successful grazing strategies on his own farm and others, immediately responded. He explained that Leopold was able to develop a sense of community, a collective common ground in that group of landowners in the Coon Valley watershed of Wisconsin. Like most public landowners they wanted some help from the government, but ultimately it was Leopold who brought them together to discuss their different ideas to bring the land back, to help them learn some new techniques and to maybe rethink their past practices of how to graze their livestock.
As Leopold said in A Sand County Almanac, “I have purposely presented the land ethic as a product of social evolution because nothing so important as an ethic is ever ‘written.’” Instead, Leopold tells us, it has to evolve “in the minds of a thinking community.” Mr. Davoren said that was just what he had been doing with his neighbors and fellow cattlemen. They had come together to discuss not only what was good for their cattle and their livelihoods but also what was best for the land.
Several members of the panel and several people in the audience agreed with these comments. The Irish people have a very strong connection to the land, and only in the last 25 years have they been faced with making conservation decisions about how to use it economically and yet also with respect.
After 45 minutes of excellent questions and comments from an audience who all stayed after the 80 minute film, I started to feel that the evening had been a great success! Over 85 people had jammed the theater to capacity with several being turned away. An excellent article written by Paddy Woodworth in the Irish Times the week before the event titled, “Environmentalist. Conservationist. What’s the Difference?” helped many Irish people get introduced to Aldo Leopold and his writings. I think many people came to hear and see more about how Leopold’s message and experiences might apply to their situations in the cities and countryside of Ireland. Afterwards many audience members, including college students, men and women of many ages, and several elementary school students, turned to each other and shared their own comments about the film.
Afterwards, as people were leaving, over a dozen individuals shook my hand and said how much they had enjoyed the film and had obtained a new Green Fire motivation themselves about the needs of the environment of Ireland. Later at dinner with all the panelists, one of the first topics discussed was the best way to get the film shown in the smaller rural cities of Ireland. Several panelists thought that there were many people throughout the country who would enjoy and benefit from Leopold’s land ethic idea and the multiple empowering messages of the film.
I can only hope that the magic of the Green Fire will continue to spread further across the Emerald Isle!