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Amongst the myriad themes that Hannie Rayson explores in her climate fiction play “Extinction”, the multifaceted discussion around the constant battle between environmental and economical values strikes above as especially significant. As the play unfolds itself against the backdrop of the Otway Ranges in Victoria, Rayson provides the audience with a broad insight into her characters’ journey towards environment conservation. Through her play, Rayson contends how the interests of the economy usually prevail over those of our environment in their fight for survival, and how the negative consequences that result from that fight influence the characters’ lives. While she condemns the importance conceived by the needs of the economy and the destruction of relationships and ethical values that follows, Rayson also encapsulates the ability of human to use the economy as a tool to serve the purposes of the environment, implying the vital role that human interaction plays in this struggle.
Set in a society polarized between the strength of the economy and the values of the environment, Rayson demonstrates how economical values are, more often than not, prioritized over those of the environment by individuals who are in a position of power. A character that is fully representative of this view is Harry Jewell, CEO of the Powerhouse mining company. Harry’s powers and charms are aided substantially from his wealth. The extent of how detrimental the economy can exert on the environment is highlighted through Harry’s Range Rover hitting the tiger quoll at the start of the play. As his “cruise missile” injured the small tiger quoll, the author illustrates to the audience the destructive capability that accompanies the expensive price tag of the car, implying the helplessness of the environment through the death of the injured tier quoll and the possible extinction of its whole species. In spite of the threats that coalmining poses to the lives of the farmers such as Corkie Dent and its damage on the ecosystem, Harry celebrates the fact that his financial resources poured into coalmining would help “bring jobs and people back to [his] hometown” as an excuse to override others’ environmental concerns. When Piper addresses the “massive damage to the ecosystem” that he is causing, Harry defends his career by stating that “you don’t serve your cause by being indifferent to the interests of working people”, clearly emphasizing how he values the economical aspect of the society over the environment. By letting Harry refers to the Chinese who “have a right to electricity” and the fact that “the light doesn’t go out when the sun goes down”, hinting the irreplaceable role that electricity thus the economy carry, Rayson challenges the audience to reflect on the connection that electricity imposes on their modern convenient lifestyle where turning “the light on” is integral. The audience is forced to consider how such an essential part of their life is indirectly contributing to the effects of global warming – a consequence of burning fossil fuels. Even Professor Dixon-Brown, who is the chancellor of “an institution committed to ecology”, also reason her acceptance of the funding for the tiger quoll project as a partial result of having “a staff of twenty-five people” who have “mortgages to pay” and “children to take care off”, accentuating the prominence of catering to others’ financial needs. Both of these two characters’ behavior throughout the play indicates Rayson’s suggestion that economical values are considered to be superior than environmental ones, even in the face of global warming.
Not only does Hannie Rayson denotes the seemingly more ‘valuable’ traits of the economy through her play, she also depicts how the decisions to prioritize the economy can result into the degradation of the environment, the broken bonds of relationships and the deterioration of ethical values. When the interests of the economy are categorized above all others, human-inflicted disasters such as “toxic waste; acid rain; air pollution” are bound to threaten human survival. These are the values that are constantly debated between the characters in Extinction. Despite his love for Piper Ross, Andy declines to continue his relationship with someone “who would even contemplate environmental vandalism” such as Piper, illustrating the importance of an alignment of values in romantic relationships. As they initially share a similar value and belief, Piper’s act of joining the tiger quoll project is seen as compromise of her ethical values, placing a strain on her romantic relationship with Andy. It is questionable whether she is genuinely persuaded by Harry’s ideology or is imply swayed by his sexual expertise and appeals, but her regurgitation of how they should “believe in [their] own species” and her inclination towards the “dams” and “mines” that she previously opposed to reveals Piper’s momentary consideration of economical values as being above those of the environment. In a similarly regressive transition, Dixon-Brown accepts the “dirty money” from Harry’s company despite previously contending that her institute is “not a casino”. In the later scenes where she is confronted by Andy, like Piper, Dixon-brown also refers to the right to electricity of the people, demonstrating her leap towards the causes of the economy. As a character with uncompromising ethical values, Piper and Dixon-Brown’s unintentional prioritization of financial principles restraints their relationships, separating Andy from his sister and lover. Lighting effects that plunge him into darkness also imply his isolation on the “moral high ground” in a world where the power of money eclipses all else. Stage directions that draw attention to Andy’s loss of physical power (“he clutches the side of the desk””) suggest the powerlessness of the people who oppose the economy as a result.
However, in addition to devaluing environmental values, the economy, illustrated through “Extinction”, could nevertheless serve to partially contribute to the survival of the environment. As much as the damage that Harry Jewell has caused to the ecosystem, his efforts in “stand[ing] for something” by funding the tiger quoll project partly redeems him as a person. With the possibility of the tiger quoll population hovering above the brink of extinction, the financial resources collected from Harry’s coalmining business might prove beneficial for the survival for the tiger quolls. However, an irony exists in the play, employed by Rayson, showcasing Harry’s desire to save one tiger quoll at the first scene while continuing to contribute to the eradication of an entire species. Through the use of this irony, Rayson criticizes Harry’s hypocritical attitude in his dealings with the environment and hint at the notion that in order to reduce greenhouse gases, changes can not only come from people who “change the light bulbs” or “save [their] lunch wrap”, but also rely heavily on corporations like Harry’s to stop “spew crap into the atmosphere”. The technology provided to the project as part of the funding such as the cameras with new “new software” is additionally portrayed by Rayson as playing a role in saving endangered species. The ability of the advanced technology that can help detect movements and the existence of tiger quolls is shown to help affirm the possibility of the ecology benefitting from technology and thus, benefitting from the wealth of the economy. The final image of the tiger quoll that has “its heart beating” leaves the audience with a sense of hope that, if possessed by the right individuals, economical values can aid the environment in its struggle of existence.
In conclusion, though the clashes between the interests of the economy and the environment may seem to be a never-ending battle in our current society, Rayson, through her play “Extinction”, establish the possibility for a better way of exhibiting economical values for to help the causes of the environment. While proving that an abuse of economical principles over those of the environment would induce negative consequences for both human and nature, Rayson delves into the capabilities of wealth to reconstruct our community and our ecosystem. In context of the 21st century, the play “Extinction” challenges the audience with its controversial yet essential debate about how individuals are expected to tackle the overlapping issues of balancing our temporary financial needs and the needs for a better future of our surrounding environment.
To learn more about Extinction, click here to navigate to Khue’s blog on the theme of relationships!
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