What scares me the most about global warming is the thought that we have reached the point of no return. The Greenland ice sheet is going to melt and sea level will rise 2-3 feet over the next 50 or 100 years. I also worry that there are not enough viable alternatives to reduce our individual carbon footprint. The powerful film Chasing Ice, which documents the National Geographic photographer James Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), only magnified these thoughts.
For EIS to succeed, Balog needed to place dozens of cameras in strategic locations so that they could monitor ice levels at critical glacial landmarks throughout the world. Every six months or so he would return with his team and examine the photographs, taken at preset intervals, to study the changes. The film documents Balog’s return to these locations and, upon his first trip back after six months, the camera catches a heartbreaking moment when Balog discovers that the computer used to time the pictures was not working correctly with the cameras. That held true for every camera the team set up. Nat Geo and Balog went back to the drawing board and redesigned the chips used to time the shots. The updated cameras were put back in place and the wait started again.
Of course there would not be a Chasing Ice movie if the cameras did not record something remarkable and scary. The change in ice level in six months is extremely worrisome. But these cameras did not just record six months of change. They have now been in place for years and are still recording the retreat of some of the biggest and most important glaciers in the world.
The film is at its most powerful when these images are displayed across the screen, but there are appropriate interludes filled with staggering facts and brief clips from global warming skeptics, almost all of which were taken from Fox News because they are the prominent climate change deniers. Thankfully, the film does not spend too much time addressing the deniers. It uses Balog’s images to do the talking. Although one of the most poignant scenes in the movie is when Balog is talking about the danger climate change presents to the human race. “You go out over the horizon,” he says, “and sometimes you don’t come back.” At this he gets choked up, pauses, and looks off into the distance. At this point in the documentary, if you are not concerned about returning from the horizon, Chasing Ice has not done its job and no other movie will.