Why Balog went Chasing Ice
How do you show people climate change? By Chasing Ice, that’s how.
Photographer James Balog was once a sceptic about climate change: it didn’t seem possible to him that humans could affect climate. But he took the trouble to check it out, found it was true and wondered how he could bring the message home to a wider public.
Then he hit on his Big Idea: take thousands of time-lapse photographs of retreating glaciers and let people see for themselves, on the big screen and in lectures, that our reservoirs are melting – fast. It’s effective, as he explains, because glaciers are the canaries in the mine.
Chasing Ice is the story of how he did it and what he found: “I never realised you could see something so big disappearing in so short a time.”
For not only are the glaciers he filmed in Alaska, Greenland, Iceland and Montana shrinking, they are retreating with incredible speed. We are not talking inches, or metres, but in some cases miles in just three years. The speeded-up images of glaciers collapsing like deflated balloons are mesmerising.
The film is humanised through his health problems, such as a wrecked knee needing an operation, which sees him hobbling up a snowy incline on a crutch, and his tearfully frustrated response to the initial failure of the timers on the camera that his small team had set up with such effort and cost. (He’s obviously well funded, but, NGO directors will be disappointed to read, the film doesn’t go into that.)
A few scientists appear to give pithy explanations, and Swiss Re gets a look in to show that the real world of business is taking the real world of climate change seriously, leaving the sceptics as fantasists. But it’s the glaciers and the shots of giant calving icebergs that naturally capture the attention.
In Britain the film follows the recent “Frozen Planet” TV series about the ice caps, so we are perhaps a little blasé about belaying down crevasses and seeing underwater brine channels and brinicles, though I didn’t know about cryoconite. Nevertheless, Chasing Ice has some glorious footage.
“We’re living through one of those moments of epochal geologic change right now,” says Balog. And he points out that it’s more than “just” climate change – “the air is changing. This is about the stuff you and I breathe.
“The public need a believable, understandable piece of evidence – something that grabs them in the gut,” says Balog. This is it.
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