Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

See Chasing Ice: Wake up, global-warming skeptics!

Anyone who thinks that human activity and industry have little or no impact on global warming needs to see the astounding 2012 documentary Chasing Ice. (This movie was screened last week at The Heritage Theatre in Gibsons, BC as part of the Sunshine Coast’s excellent Green Films series.)


National Geographic nature photographer James Balog, a former geologist who was himself a skeptic about climate change, uses truly disturbing Arctic footage to prove how quickly the world’s glaciers are indeed receding. With the help of young male assistants, some of whom have never even worn crampons, he sets up Nikon time-lapse cameras in Arctic glacial fields in places such as Iceland and Greenland and checks them after a six-month interval.


What he discovers surprises even him. When he initially holds up a photo taken a half-year earlier of a glacial landscape that stretches in front of him, he thinks that he must be looking at a different location. He can’t believe how much ice has disappeared in such a short time. But when he rechecks the contours, he confirms that yes, it is the same spot.


As part of his self-created Extreme Ice Survey, Balog crawls onto high, fragile ice shelves to shoot straight into a crevasse. He ropes himself to the shoreline while taking stills of glacier-fed waves smashing onto ice floes. He scales and belays down steep walls of ice, all the while in pain from a much-operated-on knee which doctors say he shouldn’t even be walking on. His eldest daughter says she’s never seen her father so passionate about any project.


The most visceral scenes, besides Balog’s own stunning imagery of glaciers and Arctic ice, are the outlines on a topographical diagram that carve out how much polar ice has disappeared in the last 10 years, compared to the previous century. After managing to film one ice peninsula, the length of five football fields, breaking off, Balog is inspired to capture the same activity at one of the world’s largest glaciers in the Arctic.


He assigns two young assistants, stranded amidst frozen oblivion for two weeks, to keep a camera trained on this glacier. Sadly for us and the planet, and yet fortuitously for the filmmakers, the monumental wall of ice, higher and far bigger than the entire Manhattan skyline, rises up 600 feet, turns on its side, and “calves” (breaks) off. The process takes an hour.


I think that this remarkable, 75-minute documentary should be required viewing in all schools and workplaces.

With multi-festival awards from Sundance and Telluride to Hot Docs, it offers beautiful cinematography by director/co-producer Jeff Orlowski. Editor Davis Coombe does an excellent job of weaving together Balog’s stills with his indoor public appearances and footage from helicopters, dogsled and canoe. Both writer Mark Monroe and co-producer Paula Du Pre Pesmen, repeat their respective roles from the Academy-award-winning documentary The Cove about the slaughter of dolphins.


Some critics charge that Chasing Ice is more emotion than science, but researchers interviewed in the film confirm Balog’s findings. The documentary doesn’t give a platform to the political naysayers who dismiss global warming, yet its website provides a list of top 10 questions that people ask about climate change. The site also provides the resource skepticalscience.com.


Meanwhile, veteran Arctic researcher David Barber, director of the Centre for Earth Observation Science at the University of Manitoba, warns that North Pole ice, which used to be considered impenetrable, is now more like Swiss cheese. When he first visited the Arctic in the 1980s, the ice there usually receded only about a few kilometres offshore by the end of the summer. Today, he must travel more than 1,000 kilometres north into the Beaufort Sea to even find the ice.


James Hansen, a climate scientist with NASA, says: “The scientific community realizes that we have a planetary emergency.” Peter Wadhams, one of the world’s top ice experts from Cambridge University, told The Guardian this month that Arctic sea ice will collapse within four years (in the summer months), calling this “a global disaster.”


Here in British Columbia, the Sierra Club recently announced that the province’s 2010 carbon emissions are four times higher than those reported by the provincial government last June. The B.C. Liberals stated then that 2010 emissions had dropped by 4.5 percent to 62 million tonnes. But the Sierra Club report “Emissions Impossible?” reveals that these emissions total more than 250 million tonnes, when emissions from fossil fuel exports and forests are included. Click here to read more at Sierra Club BC.

What can you do? Stay informed. Ask how your lifestyle and purchasing choices affect global warming. Join groups such as Bill McKibben’s 350.org and support the ones that are educators and advocates for the planet, including scientists and politicians.

Join with like-minded others. Calculate your ecological footprint. Drive less or not at all. Walk and bike.

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September 26, 2012 at 12:24 pm Comments (2)