Note: Author/photographer James Balog, organizer of the Extreme Ice Survey, is WINNER of the Heinz Award for Individual Achievement for his work on global change. He is also WINNER of the PhotoMedia Magazine Person of the Year Award for 2011. The film of Chasing Ice was WINNER of the Excellence in Cinematography Award at the Sundance Film Festival, 2012, for the work of Jeff Orlowski.
“Once upon a time, I was a climate-change skeptic. How could humans affect this huge planet so much? Could activists be creating a new cause to sell? Could scientists be trying to generate research grants? Could the computer models be wrong? Could the media be over-hyping the science? Though I was once a skeptic, I’m not one anymore. The evidence is in the ICE.”—Author/photographer James Balog
Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend a film festival where I saw the most important film I’ve ever seen—one which I hope everyone, everywhere, will see as soon as possible! The film is Chasing Ice, filmed by award-winning nature photographer James Balog and his small crew from 2007 – 2012, a full-length film which shows incontrovertibly, through time-lapse photography, that the world’s glaciers are not only vanishing, but are vanishing at a rate so alarming that unless something is done soon, they may truly vanish completely. One glacier studied for the film has retreated more than two-and-a-half miles in just a couple of years and over eleven miles since 1984, with all that water, and the additional melt from other glaciers, emptying into the ocean. The rising water levels, already threatening low-lying islands, are now beginning to threaten some major coastal areas and their ecosystems.
Glaciers in Iceland, Greenland, the Alps, Bolivia, Alaska, and Glacier National Park, among other places, have been studied and photographed extensively by Balog and his crew, and he has presented his results to the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change (in April 2010), to the United States Congress (three times), to the United Nations Climate Change Congress in Copenhagen (seven times), and to the National Security Agency. His film of Chasing Ice is currently being shown in a limited number of theaters throughout the country and at film festivals and is expected to be released on DVD in the summer of 2013. (See http://www.chasingice.com/see-the-film/showtimes-2/ for showtimes near you.)
The book being reviewed here, Extreme Ice NOW: Vanishing Glaciers and Changing Climate, also Balog’s work, was published by National Geographic in 2009, and includes essays by Balog and dramatic photos of his work at the glaciers up to 2009. Some of these photos are also included in the film of Chasing Ice, which brings his research up to date. (A book which includes the new photographs and research from the film Chasing Ice is scheduled for publication in the US later this year.) As Balog documents his involvement in the establishment of the Extreme Ice Survey, in 2007, he also explains how he and his crew, collaborating with other image-makers and scientists, continue to maintain twenty-seven time-lapse cameras at eighteen locations around the world, where they have been taking images of glacier and sea ice once an hour for every hour of daylight since spring, 2007. Many of these hundreds of thousands of photographs become the time-lapse films in Chasing Ice. How Balog and his crew chose their sites, the engineering that is required of cameras to survive for up to two-and-a-half years at minus forty degrees, with winds of up to one hundred sixty miles per hour, and how they are powered are also discussed here.
Aiming this book at readers in the United States, since the US is the world’s biggest per capita consumer of carbon, Balog, an American from Colorado, points out that we cannot deny the reality of climate change (which his photographs and film clearly document). As Sir Nicholas Stern of the World Bank warns, we must reduce our carbon consumption now, along with our dependence on oil, or the economic costs of fixing the problem will increase exponentially over time. Balog has some sense of optimism, however, in that “techie visionaries” may succeed in finding or creating alternatives to fossil fuels. If we do not reduce consumption and the visionaries fail in their efforts, however, “Most glaciers in Switzerland will be gone by 2100 if ice melt continues at its current pace of three percent a year.” One glacier from Iceland, featured in the book in adjacent two-page spreads, shows that glacier receding two hundred forty-five feet between 2006 and 2007 alone.
“In terms of climate change,” Balog says, “I sense that we may be at what I call a ‘Berlin Wall moment,’ a time when obdurate and seemingly permanent barriers [to fixing the problem] can collapse….I must will myself to believe that we, the people, are now waking up and will do the right thing.”
Photos, in order: All may be found on the website of James Balog: http://www.jamesbalog.com/
A well-illustrated, twenty-minute talk which Balog gave to the non-profit group TED may be accessed here:
The video trailer for the do-not-miss film Chasing Ice may be found here: