02/25/2013 04:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Chasing Ice in a Warming World

Many believe “Chasing Ice,” the powerful climate change film nominated for an Oscar for its haunting original song, "Before My Time," should have made the cut for Best Documentary Feature too. But if you haven’t seen the virtuoso film directed by Jeff Orlowski, you still may have time to run to the nearest theater to watch it on the big screen. You may never look at the world again in the same way.

The film follows National Geographic photographer James Balog’s quest to document the melting of the world’s Arctic glaciers, where frozen panoramas will dazzle you with azure blue rivers gushing through icy channels toward the sea as they drain away the icebound regions of the world. This is not just eye candy for climate change junkies, it’s compelling evidence the Arctic is melting before us--and we'd better do something about it fast.    

Check out the clip below that captures the power of the big melt—a humongous Manhattan-size chunk of ice caught by multiple cameras calving off the Ilulissat Glacier in Greenland. The astonishing 75-minute collapse is like watching continents collide, creating a veritable tsunami in the slushy seas and adding to the oceans' inexorable rise around the world.   


“Chasing Ice” captures only a few years of a more than century-long process of global warming that scientists predict will lead to more dangerous extreme weather events; bigger and more lethal fires, floods and hurricanes, all stirring up increasingly formidable forces of nature. And perhaps no place on earth is more prone to the disastrous effects of climate change than the Arctic. Just read what the experts are saying; here’s what the draft of the quadrennial National Climate Assessment has to say about Alaska and the Arctic regions. It's enough to melt the icicles off an Iditarod dogsledder.

“Summer sea ice is receding rapidly and is expected to disappear by mid-century….most glaciers in Alaska and British Columbia are shrinking, a trend that is expected to continue….permafrost temperatures in Alaska are rising, a trend that is expected to continue. Thawing permafrost causes multiple vulnerabilities through drier landscapes, more wildfires, increased cost of maintaining, and the release of heat-trapping gasses that increase climate warming and jeopardize efforts to offset fossil fuel emissions through carbon management…current and projected increases in Alaska’s temperatures are expected to alter the distribution and productivity of Alaska’s marine fisheries, which lead the U.S. in commercial value.”

Scary stuff from hundreds of experts and climate scientists, but consistent with what thousands of researchers are reporting around the globe. The world's climate is heating up due to human-caused, carbon-based emissions. Scientists are confirming that more clearly every year, and their calls to action are only growing stronger with the storms.   

Fortunately, we don't have to just sit in our own stew and boil. We have the power to act and cut our carbon emissions so we can build a more sustainable, livable world. As President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union speech, he has the authority to cut emissions today. That includes starting with the biggest sources of carbon pollution—power plants—and implementing state-based energy-saving plans and renewable energy projects that will put people to work. Check out NRDC's detailed plan for carbon-cutting action.

This is not a foolhardy fantasy, but a bold proposal that will move us in the right direction. All you have to do is watch clips of melting glaciers and the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy to understand why business-as-usual oil industry propaganda is not what we need right now. 

The bottom line is we don't have a decade to waste anymore. If we don't slow our fossil fuel emissions, the mighty glaciers we once admired, the plants and wildlife that depend on their life-sustaining ecosystems, and much of Arctic life as we know it may vanish with the last drops of melted ice that trickle into the sea. 

Forward on Climate Rally protesters in Washington    Photo: Melanie Blanding

Fifteen years ago, while on a wildlife tour off the coast of Alaska, I got my first look at the impact of climate change along the mile-long retreat of glaciers in the Kenai Peninsula, a place of breath-taking beauty where ice fields are in steady decline and temperatures are on the rise. Since then it's gotten even worse in the region. Recent data shows the Arctic has lost more than a third of its summer ice than it had just a decade ago.

I remember when the captain of the small tour boat pulled within a few hundred yards of a glacier looming at the end of a fjord and turned off the engine. As we floated in the quiet of the freezing water, eerie sounds cracked and popped from the massive ice cliff that jutted up abruptly above us, like giant tree branches snapping off in the wind. Except there was no wind. On the water's surface, it was calm. 

But somewhere in the massive ice structure, cracks were continuing to form.