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Chasing ice, for now

Jayni Foley Hein, former director, Center for Law, Energy & the Environment | November 29, 2012

Last night I watched glaciers more than 30,000 years old break open and crash into the ocean — disappearing in mere seconds.  In photographer James Balog’s new documentary, Chasing Ice, he and a small team embark upon a multi-year “Extreme Ice Survey” to document 18 glaciers in remote regions of the world, including Iceland, Greenland and Alaska. The film serves as a visual record of our rapidly changing world and its powerful, violent impact on our most ancient and enduring landscapes.

I was struck by many things in the film.  First, the scale of these glaciers is just enormous, yet they are increasingly fragile due to our warming atmosphere.  In one memorable scene, a sheet of ice larger than the entire island of Manhattan splits off – a process known as calving – and drifts away, melting into the sea.  It is more reminiscent of the sinking Titanic than anything I’ve ever seen before, yet the titanic would hardly be visible in this sheet of ice; it would be a mere gray speck on the gigantic ice sheet.

Second, this process in not “natural,” in the way that we would normally think of melting ice.  These enormous, ancient glaciers are vanishing at an extremely rapid pace.  Balog documents the retreat of several glaciers each year, and it is pronounced.  Literally, a retreating “front” in the climate war we have been waging, silently, for decades.  In addition, once the ice begins to thin, it melts at a quicker pace due to massive fractures and rivers of water that carve channels throughout the glacier.

Ice serves as the memory of the world.  Ice core data described in the film shows us with crystal clarity that the atmospheric temperature rise and CO2 levels are unprecedented and off the charts.  The images of retreating ice sheets and glaciers visualize global warming for us in a way that we cannot deny.

Chasing Ice, to me, is a great example of how to make climate change real and visible for people.  It’s also a terrific story about a man pursuing his passion.  Balog wants to be able to tell the next generation, “I was doing everything I knew how to do.”

Cross-posted from the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet.

Comments to “Chasing ice, for now


    What we really need most urgently is for people and scholars to think, discuss and exchange information about climate change consequences and solutions because, like our 7 Billion population, very few people are discussing these things, thus we are not getting anywhere close to solving these problems.

    But then, many consider me an alarmist, so maybe that’s the real reason not nearly enough really care to waste their time thinking, discussing and exchanging information between citizens and academics about global warming.

  2. This changed the mind of an O’Reilly fan, or a person perhaps unconvincingly posing as an O’Reilly fan?

    “Bizarre ‘Fox Lies’ video: Alleged “Climate-Denying O’Reilly Fan” Now Believes Global Warming is Real”


  3. P.S. Jayni, we need another Rachel Carson class leader, spokesperson, scientist and writer to represent and lead the international environmental movement to control global warming today, to make the right things happen with the overwhelming sense of urgency we are experiencing today.

    Do you know of any such person?

  4. Thank you very much for your dedication to inform and incite people and the powers that be that we must act immediately, probably with another Manhattan class project, with the urgency to save quality of life for future generations.

    You are following in the great footsteps of Charles Keeling who had to fight as hard as any academic in history to produce his famous CO2 Keeling Curve in spite of the powers that be who had “other priorities” and were always trying to shut him down and steal his funding. Keeling’s courage and integrity, and that of some of his colleagues were all that allowed him to produce some of the most important research in the history of our civilization. No other scientist comes close to Charles Keeling when it comes to fighting for quality of life for future generations.

    The climate change consequences we experienced in 2012 should have produced worldwide political and scientific dedication to protecting future generations but this has not happened yet.

    Hopefully science shall immediately produce another leader with the courage and integrity of Charles Keeling to make the right things happen, so I wish you the best of luck, our future depends on it.

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