Chasing ice with photographer James Balog

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Now that Hurricane Sandy has gotten our attention and given the East Coast a blow to the gut, along comes photographer James Balog with his film "Chasing Ice." Whoever still doubts the seriousness of our changing climate, our melting polar ice caps and our own role in climate change, should sit down and watch this movie--starting with every member of Congress, every schoolchild and eventually every global citizen. When President Obama recently said at his press conference that he was going to "have a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers and elected officials..." I would suggest they invite Balog to join them. His film is as big a punch to the gut as the hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and floods we have recently witnessed and will probably live through again in the not too distant future.

Balog has published seven books, many documenting endangered species--from animals to trees--and spent a career focusing on the relationship between man and nature. In "Chasing Ice" he has created what he calls "the memory of a landscape." The images he has produced are stirring, gorgeous, and frightening at the same time. Balog says he wanted to show "the tension between the enduring power of these glaciers and their fragility." Along with director Jeff Orlowski, he does that hauntingly.

The photographer, who has a degree in geography and geomorphology, never wanted to be a scientist but was fascinated by nature and found photography to help him explore the world. He did not start out convinced that humans were capable of changing the physics and chemistry of the planet. He has since changed his mind.

In 2005 he founded the Extreme Ice Survey as he set out to document glacial changes in the world. He collaborated with National Geographic and concerned scientists and engineers in an attempt to create visual proof of how our polar ice caps are disappearing at an alarming rate. Along with Orlowski and a team of committed young people willing to brave extreme cold and hardship, Balog persevered through logistical, physical and Mother Nature's setbacks and eventually successfully set up 19 cameras in permanent positions across the Arctic--in Greenland, Iceland and Glacier National Park in Montana--and programmed them to take photos every six months. The time-lapse images were then put together to provide a jaw-dropping visual record of what exactly is happening to our glaciers as the earth's atmosphere warms and changes. Experts who have made a career out of studying ice point out that erosion that once took 100 years to happen is now taking only 10 years to occur. They predict that by 2050 Glacier National Park will have no ice and, like Prince, will have to be called "the park formerly known as Glacier National Park."

"The amount of co2 in the air is 30% higher than it ever was," Balog says in the film. "The physics and chemistry of the air is changing and that affects agriculture, biology, our water supply, the air we breathe. Plants and animals are going extinct 100 times faster than ever before. The fire season is increasing by two months. There are extraordinary changes in our environment. We are in the midst of enormous geologic scale changes in our environment and we humans are causing it. We don't have time to argue anymore."

Now that our election is over, and there are many pressing matters to draw our attention, all the conflicts that must be resolved today are meaningless if people will not be able to live safely on our planet. Attention must be paid, and solutions must be found. For help in getting involved, visit www.chasingice.com.

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More by Iris Schneider:
Station to Station at Union Station
Vaux's Swifts over downtown*
A look around inside the Broad
Some ideas to help Grand Park become the urban oasis we need
'Blackfish' another nail in the coffin of animal entertainment
Previous Native Intelligence story: LA Sketchbook: Digital signs

Next Native Intelligence story: Jane Fonda

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