Climate Change Real & Gorgeous

When “Chasing Ice” finished, my 10-year-old son, sitting next to me in the almost empty theater, said, “That was sobering.” He was right: Sobering, but also beautiful and inspiring.

“Chasing Ice” documents both the earth’s current warming and one man’s obsessive efforts to show that warming in terms everyone can understand: visual, immediate, dramatic. National Geographic photographer James Balog says he was a bit of a climate skeptic himself until he took an assignment in 2005 and 2006 photographing the retreat of a single glacier in Iceland for a National Geographic story. Seeing the glacier’s retreat with his own eyes (and in his photographs) convinced him. He figured that if he could show the same thing on many glaciers around the globe, he could convince other skeptics that climate change was real and serious. So he organized the Extreme Ice Survey to document global warming with time-lapse photographs of retreating glaciers. The film shows this effort — and some of the truly stunning images they captured, both in stills and in live video.The film’s most renowned segment left me truly drop-jawed.

Some see this as an antidote to a sort of cognitive resistance that discourages us from acknowledging changes or risks that can’t be directly perceived or that seem distant in time. The role of such thinking in climate-change skepticism was called into question in May 2012 by an interesting paper out of Yale. That paper found that neither scientific literacy nor supposedly rational modes of thought made people more likely to acknowledge climate change. Rather, in a manner that brings to mind the Kill Whitey studies of morality, people tend to take the view most harmonious with whatever peer groups or political cultures they identify with. We subscribe to a view that we’re comfortable with socially, culturally, and politically, then backfill the reasoning.

So it’s possible this film may leave your climate-change friends cool on the whole global-warming thing. Then again, it may “work,” for the film makes a particularly strong case with its combination of ingenious graphics, a story of a very nice guy pursuing an idealistic obsession with lots of sexy choppers, crampons, and cameras; and some of the most stunning and beautiful earth footage I’ve ever seen. This is one of the few movies where I was moved to the verge of tears by the imagery’s sheer beauty.

More info is at the film’s website, which also has some lovely photos. (So do Balog’s main site and the Extreme Ice Survey page.) Don’t despair if the site’s “See the Film” page doesn’t list nearby or current showings; that listing seems out of date or incomplete and did not, for instance, include the screening my son and I enjoyed here in Vermont. You might try Moviefone or similar sites instead.

In any case, I highly recommend this film. It may or may not change your mind if you’re a skeptic. (So, you know, it’s safe….) But the footage and film will likely blow your mind regardless.

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