On November 9th this wistful yet powerful documentary will open in theatres across the country. I had the good fortune to see it when it premiered at the Varsity Theatre in downtown Ashland last month. James Balog took great pains to record the progression of ice melt at 25+ locations using cameras that took thousands of frames of icebergs every year from 2007 until 2011. A scientist himself, who was initially skeptical about Climate Change and whom had doubts that the actions of humans could accelerate the phenomena so rapidly, he became curious enough to assemble a team and the financial backing to document and record what was really happening to glaciers in the Arctic, Greenland, and other locations.
The footage and photos are stunning and the film simply presents the evidence gathered. If you miss the screenings at local theatres, you’ll eventually be able to watch “Chasing Ice” on television. As an employer and substantial backer of Balog’s work, National Geographic has purchased the television rights and will be airing it soon.
Those of us who have studied and followed the Climate Change issue are encouraged that our Congressmen and Senators will be see Chasing Ice in the near future. In fact the film’s website at www.chasingice.com provides a feature where you can tweet info to important leaders including President Obama, Leonardo Di Caprio, Oprah Winfrey and naysayer Senator James Inhofe. Sadly the issue has been sorely missing from ads and debates leading up to the U.S. Presidential election. I personally have difficulty understanding why the questions around “energy independence and jobs” aren’t being harnessed to the answers of cleaning up the environment, reducing carbon and creating more alternative power, on a grand jobs program scale!
Chasing Ice should be a real wake-up call to non-believers. As a beautifully filmed visual illustration of what is happening in the life-supporting regions where polar and glacier ice reflect light back to outer space and maintain the most important cycles on the planet, the images are introduced without judgment or dialogue to convince. It is obvious to all when Balog shows the retreat of an iceberg over a short period of time equal to the height of the Empire State Building. Since our minds are not programmed to understand a human-caused geological change event of such massive proportions and devastating results, we are given insight into the melt zone, calving (when icebergs split off from the main mass), moulins (vertical shafts in the ice) and terrifying live action of icebergs the size of cities collapsing instantaneously into the ocean.
Balog has created a memory of these landscapes, which may never return. He shows us how conclusive and irrefutable evidence is gathered. Seeing is believing. Ice samples gathered through taking deep ice cores and analyzing the air bubbles for their carbon dioxide levels reveals the historic data, ancient records, of glacier building and melting. Findings give evidence of a 1.5 degree Farenheit increase since 1850s and a definite deterioration in air quality (as suitable for life on Earth.)
The accumulation of “cryoconite” which is carbon, grit and dirt blown from other areas of the world to the Arctic and other glaciers is a significant cause of more rapid ice melt, since the dark, striating colors attract more sunlight thereby speeding the melt off. It was startling to see the patches in the ground ice and snow being literally eaten away by the nasty black sludge that has etched pools and hollows filled with what looks like the leavings of a camp fire after it’s put out with a pail of water. As melting continues the moulins become raging torrents of water thundering out to the oceans in underground passages. Seeing this on film is like looking into the abyss where torrents of freed and violent water cascade towards our human population centers. One extreme and recent exploration to locate the outlet of a huge moulin is dramatically told in “Melt Zone”, June, 2010’s National Geographic.
In Balog’s poetic narrative he likens his photographs of glaciers to portraits of people where both their grandeur and fragility are exposed. He equates the vision of a collapsing glacier to an old man falling into the sea and has recaptured for us the tragic story that’s in the ice. The evocative shapes of the icebergs in confused blue puddles and the accompanying song “Before My Time” is poignant and inspiring. Balog’s lyrical closing echoes across the water and hopefully haunts us into more action – “Sometimes you get out over the horizon and you never come back.”
If you would like to get involved in a regional effort please visit http://kaconjour.com/ClimateChange/RVOrganization/Organization.html
For information on the State of Oregon’s efforts please visit the Climate Change Portal or contact Bill Drumheller at (503) 378-4035 or (800) 221-8035
If there’s one film to see this year, Beasts of the Southern Wild could be it. Playing at the Varsity Theatre in Ashland, it is a must see, particularly at this time while Hurricane/Tropical Storm Isaac, and the Republican National Convention pass over us like a harbinger of more destruction to come in the first case, and glossy delivery of deceit, stormy news coverage and question-raising extravagance in the second.
It is amazing to watch the child actor who stars in this film about life and death in a severely stressed outpost on the Louisiana delta. She holds our rapt attention and I marvel at her strength, resilience, fortitude and beauty, her inner spirit as well as her charming appearance. Narrated in her voice and words, a creative look at a disturbing world through the eyes of a six year old is both hopeful and heart-rendering. “Hushpuppy” has a father who is terminally ill and drinking to hide it. The neighbors on the bayou live a hard life of freedom at all costs. When an impending storm again threatens their existence, we witness an array of coping skills as Hushpuppy and other “Beasts of the Southern Wild” rise in bravery and pure survival instincts to outlive an ongoing catastrophe.
There is much to recommend this movie, beyond a wonderful story with intriguing characters. Hushpuppy’s teacher at the jerry-rigged floating school minces no words when educating her ragged pupils about the harsh realities of rising oceans and the impact on their way of life. How this rough information is taken to heart and used in the imagination of Hushpuppy and her friends is a cautionary tale for us all.
During the recent Republican Convention, not one of the well-groomed speakers mentioned climate change. The impotence of the political party in place and the disbelieve or callousness of the other is very disturbing in light of the reality that hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens in America and millions all over the world are barely coping with rising seas and unprecedented destructive weather events. Up on dry land aspiring politicians and those in power spew words like “believe, hope and jobs” but these ideals and conceptual jargon are not life rafts for the jobless, the homeless or displaced and they have floated the middle class into a puddle of confusion. Both parties, in my opinion, have failed and the spirit of people like Hushpuppy may be our best means to face the extremes barreling down on all of us in the form of flood, fully melted ice caps, drought and chemical poisoning of the air, food, land and water, sexism , prejudice and elitism.
The film is a riveting tribute to a terrible truth: we live in the time of the Sixth Extinction, which through profligate use of polluting resources, irresponsible actions and, the greed-motivated pushing of products, ideology, false promises and lies by corporations, the mainstream media and government, manmade environmental devastation in a short 200 years has accelerated the Sixth Extinction by millions of years. And let’s not let ourselves off the hook; we are daily consumers of the products, pacifications, entertainments, excuses, delusions and comforts we hold dear. We all are prisoners and contributors to what could be our own demise.
As messaged in the film, it is time to be brave, face our demons and survive. As humans we must stare down the “Aurochs” of our fate as symbolized by the four huge mutated ancient killer bovines that march across and terrorized Hushpuppy’s landscape. These, like the Four Horses of the Apocalypse in biblical times, give a face to many 21st century threats like abuse of power, rising oceans, genetic engineering, dependence on chemicals and pharmaceuticals and mixing our food sources with cross-species experiments. As politicians turn their backs in willful disregard for environmental tragedies man-made in this and the past century, and “save” us (as when rescue workers remove island disaster victims by force), I can only think in wonderment and resentment about how tax dollars are thrown away on us as an after- the-fact gesture – like an apology for not facing and addressing the real problems head on.
I’ve often expressed my belief that “every problem carries within itself its solutions.” If we want to address the problem of jobs then a full scale effort could be mobilized around reversing the environmental hazards we have been causing. Romney should be ashamed of his closing statement in his acceptance speech to the Republican Convention; to say Obama “promised to lower the rising oceans and heal the planet” (giving the mean-spirited implication that Obama saw himself as omnipotent or that real environmental problems don’t exist) and that he, Romney, only promises to help “you and your families”. Romney means exactly that: he will help HIS own, but you can bet the rest of us, living on or very close to a real, metaphorical or financial “bayou” about to be flooded by the actions or inactions of either major party make it way past time to get tough and get real and find our power and bravery, confront and change our monsters and champion the children and the planet.
Hushpuppy for President!