I’m just gonna come right out and say it. ‘Chasing Ice’ should be regarded as the vital wake-up slap in the face of our generation, akin to how Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ or the Brundtland Report’s ‘Our Common Future’ brought about a seismic change in the way we perceive and treat our planet.
I say this because ‘Chasing Ice’ has within it a message so clear in its meaning and power that you would be hard-pressed not to come out of this film feeling all manner of things; depressed, angry, confused (perhaps even feeling a trip to the Arctic Circle), but one thing that all involved will share is the profound urgency and blatant apparentness of what the planet is going through. And yes, it is climate change, and yes, it is because of us. You only have to check out the unfortunately leaked IPCC 5th Report due next year to see that the reputable if not conservative climate body now judges, with 99% certainty, that humanity has caused the warming experienced since 1950, and we ain’t about to stop anytime soon.
But what the film, and it’s incredibly dedicated team lead by the indefatigable James Balog manage to accomplish, is something science, and to a wider extent politics has abysmally failed at doing until [hopefully] now - communicate a warming planet in a way which the lay person can absorb and understand, with as little data as possible, whilst still retaining the necessary evidenced nature without alienating those who have become so out of touch with climate this and climate that.
The images and photography employed throughout are, for lack of a better phrase, tragically sublime, and bring to life something we as humans simply cannot connect with emotionally or psychologically, as the global scale and intensely terrifying nature of climate change is too much for our caveman brains to comprehend. Glaciers are undoubtedly one of our most apt indicators of atmospheric warming, fluctuating back-and-forth in relation to the current global state, and it is this attribute that ‘Chasing Ice’ brings to the forefront, with intricately orchestrated time-lapse photography, condensing 3 years of glacial change into 20 seconds of bitesized, jaw-dropping footage.
One of the most emotionally-heavy scenes of the film comes when the team experience the largest ever recorded calving event in history; a 75-minute long peeling off of skyscraper-sized icebergs and quaking bass-booms, as the Ilulissat Glacier in Greenland crumbles into nothing before the filmmakers eyes. This video was instantly shared and shared again around the internet, but it’s only when you go and actually see the film and watch James Balog present this nigh-on unbelievable force of nature to a crowd during a lecture, do you see the entire footage; Think Manhattan Island, but several times taller and infinitely more important collapsing into nothing, and you’re some of the way to understanding the scale. If there’s any scene in this film which wraps up the entire issue in one immense swoop, it is this one.
The film goes on to show us progressive retreats in all of the glaciers filmed by the crew, in the same time-lapsed beauty that is so accessible and yet scientifically crucial to the entire theme of climate change, and even throws in some absolutely crazy shots of Balog and his team rappelling into deep moulins, cavernous channels (or entrances to Hell) carved into glacial surfaces, directing meltwater into the depths of the glacier and out to the oceans. These things have to be seen to be believed, and should hopefully scare the living s**t out of you as much as they did me, and we’re only seeing more of them as time passes. Think of them as the glacier’s wounds, with the water flowing underneath only aiding in speeding up it’s demise.
Throughout the documentary, the determination and sheer will the entire crew demonstrates as they scale valley walls and brave well-below zero temperatures and hurricane winds to mount recording equipment is inspiring, and at times, weathering to watch. Nowhere else is this near-insane passion for filming the project, named the Extreme Ice Survey, more apparent than in James Balog, the man who started it all. Trained in Earth sciences and an avid photographer, the once-climate skeptic pushes his body to the absolute limit to get what is needed done, even if it involves several knee operations and some stem-cell repair afterwards. He even goes out on duty with crutches at one point, a both funny and poignant moment in the film.
His message is a simple one, and it scares even himself. We are changing the very chemistry and physics of our atmosphere, and within it our planet, and it is at the poles where this is most horrifyingly obvious. Documenting it and showing it to the world is his way of doing all that he can to make up for our wrongs as a society, and this comes through in the emotion experienced when talking about his kids futures, or finds that for a whole season, one of the cameras has been failing to capture any footage of worth. These moments make for sobering watching, but do more to show us just how damn obsessed with this project he is than any words could.
There is of course science and data in this film, not much, but enough to allow conclusions to be made and bold claims stated without being at risk of ‘cherry-picking evidence’, or some other denial trash. His team surveyed glaciers across Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and parts of North America, with backing from bodies such as NASA, the RGS, National Geographic, NCAR and more, as well as the odd talking head in the form of glaciologists and climate scientists; it’s safe to say that his credentials are not in question here. What is in question is why, when we have such clarity on the climate change issue, never before seen with such innovative and explicit footage, are we not doing something?
Only this past month there have been reports from all manner of business, government and science, such as PWC, BP, Exxon, the IEA, NOAA, DECC and so many more I won’t go on. What is also common amongst these is that they are NOT all lefty, liberal-green bodies which could be seen as ‘eco-radical’ and twisting things in their favour. This long list consists of oil and gas companies, government departments, independent think-tanks, reputable scientific bodies and long-running experimental studies. What more could we possibly need?
Well, I would like to think that ‘Chasing Ice’ may be onto something. The breakdown in communication between science and the public is lamentable, and likely ranks as science’s greatest failure, but it is one that can be remedied. We’ve had game-changing paradigm shifts in policy and scientific debate before, almost on a decadal basis, with of course, Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ sitting pretty at the top of them all, and we did something globally significant because of them. We’re well overdue another one however, and I wholeheartedly believe this is it; and my God, do we need one right now. Climate change is the biggest risk we’ve ever faced, ever even conceived of, and it affects literally every facet of life in our civilisation as we know it, and yet we go on as though it’s all a lie, it will go away if we ignore it, that everything will be alright in the end.
It’s a fantastic skill of ours to be ignorant in the face of mountains of evidence so stoically and nobly, but we’ve run out of time. Some of you may not think some ice melting here or there matters to anybody, and that you can’t judge something as big as climate change off of some footage gathered by a crazy man, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Glaciers are our best medium through which to experience global warming, and James Balog recognises and captures this tragic reality in a way which is not only beautiful and public-centric, but which hammers home our disconnection with nature more powerfully than any other film, book, report or natural disaster ever has. I have only one question…
…Why the hell isn’t it playing in more cinemas?! This should outsell Avatar three times over, and then some, but alas, maybe I’m now being the ignorant one.