Photographer James Balog has a story for you, and it might be one you haven’t heard before. Starting in 2005, he and a team of adventurous photographers set out to provide visual, undeniable evidence for climate change. What they found he described as “decrepit old men falling into the earth and dying:” glaciers worldwide disappearing at record rates.
The film Chasing Ice is the story of their Extreme Ice Survey as they place time-lapse cameras on glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, Montana, and Alaska, and watch as they disappear. The public does not want statistics, they say. The public is being misled to believe that scientists do not agree on climate change. The public is losing interest but needs to pay attention.
As Balog and his team will tell you, the memory cards in their cameras contain the memories of the landscape, a “limitless universe of forms,” that will never be seen again. Man-made climate change (as documented by ice cores from the very glaciers that may not exist in a few years) is fundamentally altering our geology.
The film is, in many respects, simply beautiful. Balog, a renowned nature photographer, describes near the beginning his love affair with ice. His shots throughout Chasing Ice remind the viewer that there is a lot to love. It is also an adventure story: sled dogs, harsh temperatures, and manta rays for dinner remind us that it takes serious commitment to do what the Extreme Ice Survey has done.
Chasing Ice is a sobering reminder of everything we are losing. Images of glaciers larger than Manhattan spinning off into the ocean, time-lapse photography showing natural beauty lost forever, and endless rivers of melting ice show us how much damage we have already done. The film reminds us that this is not only about glacier melt; this is the visible proof of choice. And we are reminded of that at every turn:
Wildfires increasing in frequency and intensity;
Sea level rise that will displace more than 150 million people;
Hurricanes and typhoons that will grow more deadly each year as there is more water to shove around;
And, of course, the fact that as we melt more and more glaciers, the process will only speed up.
“Really big stuff is happening right under our noses right now,” says Balog. As a photographer, he says, he loves the visual beauty of his project. As a human being, however, he knows that it signals the growing crisis we face, and the opportunity we have to face it.
As Balog reflects on the impact climate change might have on future generations, his hope is to be able to say “I was doing everything I knew how to do.” As he does, the incredible gift of Chasing Ice reminds us of everything we stand to lose.
Janelle Tupper is campaigns assistant for Sojourners.