Chasing Ice: A New Documentary Melts a Climate Change Skeptic's Heart

11/22/2012 08:21 pm ET | Updated Jan 22, 2013


Disko Bay, Greenland, 20-story high icebergs broken off, courtesy © 2010 James Balog

Lord Voldemort, in the Harry Potter series, was referred to as "He who must not be named," out of fear of being found by the "Dark Lord" and killed by his group of dastardly wizards and witches. During the recent presidential campaign talking about global climate change became as taboo as shouting out "Voldemort." Whether the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, Fox News, or any other modern-day practitioner of the dark arts of political skullduggery, would have cast a super Pac funded spell on any candidate that hinted at their belief in the scourges that await us as long as we ignore the portents wrought by an increasingly warm planet isn't known.

But we do know that it wasn't until a hurricane with a rather benign name reared its head and swept Republican governor Chris Christie into a loving embrace with President Barrack Obama that a bit of light began to be seen in this forbidden zone.

This slight change in the political climate allowed the reelected president to say the forbidden phrase, "climate change," in his first post-election press conference. Which may indicate the beginning of a new era and also signal an opening for a stunning new documentary Chasing Ice that uses exquisitely shot time-lapse photography to record the climate change induced vanishing of glaciers on several continents.


James Balog with icebergs at Ilulissat Isfjord, Greenland, courtesy © 2010 James Balog

Going to the world's most remote places and taking photographs was second nature to James Balog, who developed a career with assignments for National Geographic and others. But he was a climate change skeptic. "It was hard for me to believe that people could affect something so vast as the whole planet," he said.

But he has a 24-year-old and an 11-year-old daughter and "I want to offer them, in my own way, a better future," he said. He worried that he wouldn't have a good answer for them if climate change turned out to be true and they asked him "what did you do to stop it?"
He decided to couple his "privilege as an artist," with "his duty as a human being" by documenting the changes occurring to glaciers.

Of course, the phrase "glacial pace" usually applies to, well, glaciers. Which meant casually dropping in and knocking off a few dramatic shots then heading home for a nice dinner wasn't going to be a workable approach.

Instead, he had to design rugged camera systems that included the cameras, lenses, tripods, carrying cases, timers and a host of other gear that could withstand extreme arctic weather. This wasn't something you can find at your local Costco. Then he had to find a way to install these global, glacier-monitoring eyes. "You have to have passion and obsession and work really hard," he said.


Jeffery Orlowski shooting in Uummannaq, Greenland, courtesy © 2007 by James Balog

He also needed to assemble a team to help him put these in place and someone to document the process. Jeffery Orlowski, volunteered to "shoot some videos."

This entailed traipsing along with a hearty band of adventurers as they risked their lives hopping over glacial crevices, climbing mountains and braving the elements in order to position the cameras and periodically retrieve the computer discs containing the images. After two years of seeing the stunning results that showed glaciers taller than the Empire State building actually receding, and unforgettable footage of remote nighttime skies with stars whizzing by, they all agreed they should "make a movie," said Orlowski.

The result: one of the most beautiful and important films ever made. It takes up the discussion where An Inconvenient Truth left off but with new footage, not just something scraped up out of an archive. The interviews provide real easy to understand analogies and make the science clear. Only quibble -- what can we do about all this isn't adequately addressed.

"We don't have all those answers," said Orlowski. "Nobody told James to do this. Everybody is coming to the table with a different skill set. Try to make a difference using what you can do," he said.

Which is fine, but when Balog was asked if there's any hope, he cited Churchill, who said, "We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing when they've exhausted all other options."

One step in the right direction is going to see this movie. Then figuring out what you can do. Either that or leaving the job to the policy wonks and others -- and we know what a great job they've done so far.

Chasing Ice opened in New York November 9. It opens in Los Angeles, November 23 and continues its roll out across the country.

This feature-length documentary runs 75 minutes.

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