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Watching climate change before your eyes

Rose Wai

June 7, 2013

Chasing Ice chronicles one man’s crusade to document the effects of a changing climate.
Despite his background in science, photographer James Balog was still somewhat sceptical of climate change and decided that capturing the changes in ice sheets would provide the most irrefutable evidence that the Earth’s climate is indeed changing. Consequently, Balog conceived of the Extreme Ice Survey Expedition, in which he deployed a series of time-lapse cameras in multiple locations across the Arctic, documenting on film the year-to-year changes in glaciers and ice sheets. The documentary captures the technological difficulties encountered in the earlier years, and then the human and physical difficulties as the expedition and the series of travels to one of the Earth’s most unforgiving landscapes take its toll on Balog’s health.
The result of his work, though, is a series of beautiful images and videos that show the uncompromising retreat of some of the world’s most formidable ice formations. Balog and his team even manage to capture an extraordinary iceberg calving event in Greenland, where approximately 7.4 cubic kilometres of ice broke off at the edge of the Ilulissat glacier. Balog and his team compared this calving event to watching “Manhattan breaking apart in front of your eyes.”
As breathtaking as the images and videos in the documentary are, there is a sense of “so what…?” at the end: “So what does it matter that ice sheets and glaciers are melting? So what if the climate is changing? So what is it to me?”
What seems to be missing is the sense of how the changes documented in the northern ice sheets are directly related to our day-to-day lives, which are centered on an economic system that includes aspects of environmental exploitation and degradation. In fact, the beautiful images are often a little distracting if the message of the documentary is to point out that climate change is bad, that it is occurring, and that it is occurring on an unprecedented scale. And the images certainly won’t convince the climate change sceptics, who will point out that ice cover comes and goes and that it’s part of the natural climate variation.
Chasing Ice is a beautiful tribute to our awe-inspiring planet, and it transports the viewers to environments where the majority of us will never set foot. Hopefully the film will make a more significant impact than its lack of politics suggest. After all, if we wish to preserve the beauty and wonder of this world—and humanity’s place within it—then we need to organize society in a completely different way: with an economic system based on need, not greed and driven by cooperation, not competition. In short, we need to bring to an end the capitalist system and nothing less than an ecological revolution will suffice.

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