Chasing Ice

We all have passion. It is this passion, this innate hunger, that drives our actions and fuels our path in life. For some people, the passion is clearly realized in a job career or series of business practices. For others, the passion is less known, centered around travel or care for immediate family members. For James Balog the original passion, that of photography, grew into a cause much greater than himself. Through his work, Balog has inadvertently inspired others’ passions with renewed adrenaline and purpose. 

James Balog and the documentary Chasing Ice appeared at the Aspen Ideas Festival just as we arrived in Aspen from our 5 hour shuttle from Denver. The film, directed by Jeff Orlowski, followed Balog and his incredible team during the trials, tribulations, and revelations of the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS). The survey’s mission? To install time-lapse cameras in various Arctic locations to document the changes in glacial retreat. The film, which premieres nationally in November, received the award for Excellence in Cinematography of a U.S. Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2012. The footage will floor you.

James Balog, an original climate change skeptic, is leading the movement to educate people on the reality of a changing planet. His haunting photographs show dramatic changes of 15 different glaciers vanishing more rapidly than they ever have before. Through Orlowski’s cinematography, audiences bear witness to glaciers the size of skyscrapers tumbling into the choppy frigid waters, never to be seen again. My instinctual reaction-hand over mouth, eyes wide-revealed my shock when I first saw the beautiful yet devastating images on the screen. The audience reacted similarly and Balog’s presence onstage was greeted with a standing ovation and reverent applause.

“I think the bigger place where this change is going to play out is on the level of local governments and consumer choice,” Balog said when asked what audience members could do for the cause. Even my college roommate, who is neither an environmentalist nor avid glacier enthusiast, talked about what she could do to help decrease the impact of climate change in her daily life. The film fueled the desire for action, for instruction to slow the dramatic changes occurring in the Arctic; previously apathetic individuals standing up and asking how they could do more. The documentary makes up a small part of the larger fight, a fight of modern environmentalists across the globe to change minds and evoke action devoid of political debates, biased media coverage and radical activists.

Caring about the planet and about the environment is a universal responsibility. No individual wants to see their house destroyed by fires in Colorado, ocean level rises in Bangladesh or heat spells in Washington D.C. The movie Chasing Ice is just one look at the implications of human actions on the earth and as a collective, we must face the future with more than shuffling feet and eyes blindfolded by nervous denial. 

For more on James Balog visit:

TED talk Time-lapse proof of extreme ice loss

Extreme Ice Survey (with 40 sec video preview)

James Balog’s website

Columbia Glacier in Alaska has retreated 2.3 miles since EIS began and 11.3 miles since 1984.