The issue of climate change is so large it can be lost to abstractions. Ice may be the key we need to regain our perspective on reality.
I was watching the Daily Show with John Stewart last night and he had James Carville on. We all remember Carville’s wisdom in the 1992 election of Bill Clinton. He cut through all the conflicting opinions of strategy and reminded the staff, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Sometimes we have to focus on a single aspect of a complex problem in order to mobilize our forces to solve it.
“Ice” may provide the focus we need. Nature photographer James Balog didn’t believe in global warming. He thought all the uproar was based on computer models, not on real life. If the globe was heating up, he didn’t think it was the result of what humans were doing.
But in 2005 he headed to Iceland on assignment for National Geographic and found himself captivated by the spectacular beauty of the icy landscape and devastated by how it was quickly changing before his eyes.
Balog had an idea: the Extreme Ice Survey, a network of 25 time-lapse cameras that would document Arctic glaciers as they melted over a period of three years. Setting up cameras and taking pictures in some of the most extreme places on earth—Greenland, Iceland, Alaska—was easier said than done. He continually risked his health and his life to document what he was seeing.
Once he recognized that global climate change was real, he went all out to use his skills as a filmmaker to tell the story. His wife and two daughters worried that he might die trying, but Balog was a man on a mission:
“How am I going to respond when my daughters ask, ‘What did you do to try and reverse the devastation? You knew what was going on!'”
Not only did he become entranced with the artistic beauty of ice, but what it can tell us about our changing planet. “Ice is the canary in the global coal mine,” says Balog. “It’s the place where we can see, hear, and touch climate change in action.” What he was seeing convinced him that climate change was real, that global climate change was caused by humans (though there are short-term fluctuations that caused cooling rather than warming), and that if we were going to survive on this planet we would have to change our ways.
He captures the devastating power and beauty of our glaciers melting all over the world in the highly acclaimed documentary, Chasing Ice, which won the award for Excellence in Cinematography at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, as well as dozens of awards at film festivals worldwide. The two-minute trailer below provides a good glimpse into the project.
The movie played in Willits the other night. I was reluctant to drive to see it after a long day at work. “I know the problem,” I thought to myself. “I know what we have to do. Most people know the problem and know what we have to do. But most people aren’t going to do anything to make a difference, so why go and get more depressed?”
But I did go and I’m so glad I did. First, whether you believe in global climate change or not, the movie is stunningly beautiful. Whatever your beliefs about global warming, it’s inspiring to see a regular guy, not a scientist, not a political activist, just a guy, risking his life to complete a project. It moved me to see him go out on the ice again and again, wrapping his knees to deal with the pain. I cheered for the “old guy” when his younger assistants told him it was time to step down and let them take over.
The movie is a story of courage and commitment and the convergence of art and science. It will inspire you to take action in your own life, to extend yourself farther than you thought you could go. It’s a story of our humanity, a story of our life on planet earth. May our species live long and recognize that this is the only home we’re likely to ever have. I hope we can learn from the wisdom of the ice.
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