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New Film "Chasing Ice" Documents Visually Climate Change

A new documentary looks at how photographer James Balog captured climate change on film by placing two dozen time-lapse cameras throughout the Arctic and other areas to document melting glaciers. Dubbed by some a new "Inconvenient Truth," the film chronicles Balog's work with the Extreme Ice Survey, a long-term photography project that works to preserve a visual legacy of how climate change and other human activity impacts the planet. We're joined by Balog and the film's director, Jeff Orlowski. Balog is an award-winning photographer whose work revolves around the relationship between humans and nature. He is the author of seven books, including, most recently, "Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers."

AMY GOODMAN: We continue now on the topic of global warming with a film some are calling the new Inconvenient Truth. It's called Chasing Ice. It documents the effort of award-winning photographer James Balog and his team to gather undeniable evidence of global warming. This is an excerpt from the film's trailer.
JAMES BALOG: It's been shooting the entire time. Fantastic! Here's the memory of the camera, and this isactually, that's an interesting thought: this is the memory of the landscape. That landscape is gone. It may never be seen again in the history of civilization, and it's stored right here.
AMY GOODMAN: The trailer for the new film, Chasing Ice, opening in theaters nationwide this week, tomorrow in New York at Lincoln Center at the Francesca Beale Theater, as well as places all over the country.
Well, for more, we're joined by the film's director, Jeff Orlowski, and by its main subject, James Balog, who's an award-winning photographer whose work revolves around the relationship between humans and nature. The film chronicles his work with the Extreme Ice Survey, a long-term photography project that works to preserve a visual legacy of how climate change and other human activity impacts the planet. He's the author of seven books, including, most recently, Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers.
James Balog and Jeff Orlowski, thanks so much for being with us.
JAMES BALOG: Thank you. Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: This film, Chasing Ice, is astounding. It's chasing you chasing ice, James.
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about how you went about doing this project.
JAMES BALOG: Well, I've been fascinated by glaciers and big mountains for basically my entire adult life, since I started being a mountaineer. And that interest and life experience led me into realizing that ice was the place where you couldyou could get a three-dimensional manifestation of climate change. You know, climate change is kind of abstract; a lot of it's based on statistics and measurements and projections. But in ice, you really see climate change in action. It's rendered in three dimensions.
So, I had an assignment fromsorry, The New Yorker, and then that led to a National Geographic assignment, and that in turn led to realizing that if we put time-lapse cameras out, we could make a running record of how the landscape was changing. So, as we sit here this morning, we have 34 time-lapse cameras at 16 glaciers in Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, Montana, in the Northern Rockies, and in Nepal by Mount Everest. And these cameras are just sitting there clicking away. And in about another, you know, 10 minutes or so, we'll have 34 of our little robot eyes opening and closing and capturing the memory of what's happening in those places right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, you initially put them in Greenland, Alaska
JAMES BALOG: And Iceland, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And Iceland.
JAMES BALOG: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: In this clip from Chasing Ice, you describe what you've documented at one of the glaciers you monitor.
JAMES BALOG: 1984, the glacier was down there 11 miles away, and today it's back here, receded 11 miles. The glacier is retreating, but it's also thinning at the same time. It's like air being let out of the balloon. You can see what's called the trim line. It's the high watermark of the glacier in 1984. That vertical change is the height of the Empire State Building.
AMY GOODMAN: That's James Balog on film in Chasing Ice. Continue the story.
JAMES BALOG: Well, yeah, thesethis glacier is called Columbia Glacier. It's in south-central Alaska. And it's deflating due to a combination of climate change and local glacier dynamics. But that glacier is retreated nowsince that shot was taken, it's probably pulled back close to another half-mile or a mile.
JAMES BALOG: At least, yeah. And it continues sort of in a rapid retreat, and it will go crawling its way back up the valley. And all that ice that was once there is now part of the Pacific Ocean. It's melted away, and it's gone.
AMY GOODMAN: You have this amazing moment in the film, when you first come to bring the time-lapse cameras, where you're standing there, and you actually see a glacier calving. Explain what that is.
JAMES BALOG: Yeah, calving iswell, let me describe what a glacier does. These big rivers of ice come flowing down these valleys, and when they meet a body of water, like a lake or like the ocean, they form this big wall that's called a calving face. C-A-L-V-I-N-G. And that wall is anywhere from 200-, in a few cases maybe 400-, feet high. It's between 200- and 400-feet high. And when a calving event happens, these massive icebergs just come toppling off the front face of the glacier, and they become these big things that are bobbing in the water, floating out to sea. What also happens, though, is that if you see 200 feet above water, there's probably somewhere between eight and 10 times that vertical distance underneath the water. There's a lot ice that's under the sea surface. And all of that breaks off in these big chunks and goes floating out. It's quite dramatic.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what you saw right there in thatI mean, how rare this is. You and your team werewhere was it?
JEFF ORLOWSKI: At the Ilulissat Glacier.
JAMES BALOG: The one I think you're referring to was in Greenland, yeah, the Ilulissat Glacier. And Jeff and one of our other field team, Adam LeWinter, were actually there.
AMY GOODMAN: You were there.
JEFF ORLOWSKI: Yeah, I shot that with our other friend, Adam. We knew that these calving events happened every once in a while, but we didn't know when. And so, we scheduled a month-long trip where we would maintain a 24-hour vigil just to capture something like this. It was in May. We had 24 hours of daylight. The two of us had eight-hour shifts, and we keptsomebody was awake every single minute of every single day for that entire period. And we were just waiting for something big like that to happen. What we caught, it turns out it's the largest calving event that's ever been documented, that's ever been shot like that. And that's one of the featured scenes in the film.
AMY GOODMAN: So you have this, where you're going out, and then you have the politics of how people are dealing with climate change. For example, just yesterday, President Obama, in his first news conference since he has been re-elected
AMY GOODMAN: did actually address the issue of global warming, because he was asked about it. This is an excerpt when he refers to the Arctic.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What we do know is the temperature around the globe is increasing faster than was predicted even 10 years ago. We do know that the Arctic ice cap is melting faster than was predicted even five years ago.
AMY GOODMAN: And in his news conference, President Obama acknowledged his administration, quote, "[hasn't] done as much," he said, "as we need to."
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We haven't done as much as we need to. So, what I'm going to be doing over the next several weeks, next several months, is having a conversation, a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers and elected officials, to find out what canwhat more can we do to make short-term progress in reducing carbons, and then working through an education process that I think is necessary, a discussion, a conversation across the country about what realistically can we do long term to make sure that this is not something we're passing on to future generations that is going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Orlowski, in your film, Chasing Ice, you open with the climate change deniers, people like, oh, Sean Hannity of Fox, who says, "You know the left. If it gets hot out, they say it's global warming. If it gets cold out, they say it's global warming." How do you go from the Arctic back here and hear this?
JEFF ORLOWSKI: Yeah, it's very interesting having that real boots-on-the-ground experience and seeing how the planet is changing, and then seeing the political commentary around it. You know, the president is in a tough position, and a lot of the politicians are, because they hear two sides of the story. I mean, we're hearing the science and the scientists and kind ofyou know, it's very unanimous: 97 percent of the climate experts all agree that it's happening, it's man-made, we need to do something about it. But in Washington, they've got six lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry, at least, for every member of the Senate and the House. So they're hearing a very, very different skewed story on the reality of the situation. What we were trying to do was to capture evidence, to capture imagery, that takes it away from this bipartisan debate and tries to move the conversation forward.
AMY GOODMAN: And you come back here, Jeff Orlowski, to New York, where we were just hit with Superstorm Sandy.
AMY GOODMAN: And your grandmother's house in Staten Island
AMY GOODMAN: where you grew up
AMY GOODMAN: hard hit. That's where President Obama is going today, is Staten Island.
JEFF ORLOWSKI: Right, right, I heard. It's something wherepeople kept asking us, "What are the consequences of climate change? So what? Why does it matter if the ice melts? It's in Greenland, and it's thousands of miles away." And we were trying to relate that to people. The scientists have been telling us for decades that because of warming temperatures, because of melting ice, events like Sandy are going to happen with greater frequency, or they're going to get more violent. And that's really the end result. That's what climate change represents, is more events like Sandy.
AMY GOODMAN: James, you didn't particularly believe in climate change decades ago?
JAMES BALOG: Yeah, I thought it was based on computer models, and I really didn't have it in my psyche that it was possible for humans to change the basic physics and chemistry of this gigantic planet. It just didn't seem probable.
AMY GOODMAN: Your work is so massive, so epicand we just have a minute ago. Talk about how chasing ice, your actually chasing ice, has changed you.
JAMES BALOG: Yeah, I'veI've been profoundly reshaped in my own mind, in my own mentality and life experience, by this. I am really, really, really concerned for my daughters' future. I have a 24-year-old daughter, and I have an 11-year-old daughter. And I'm quite concerned that thethat by the time they get to be our age, they're going to be living in a world that's so radically different from what we're living in, and it might be not such a great world. I think they're certain to be living in much more violent extremes of weather, with unknowable geopolitical consequences from that, from perhaps agriculture stress, drought stress, whatever. I'm very concerned about the stability and security and safety of the world that my kids will be in.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us and for making Chasing Ice and for your life work, James.
JAMES BALOG: Thank you.
"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will" - Frederick Douglass
Stand Still for the Apocalypse
By Chris Hedges (about the author) Permalink (Page 1 of 1 pages)
OpEdNews Op Eds 11/26/2012 at 13:39:33

In much of the world, including China and the United States, dirty energy remains cheap and plentiful, with disastrous consequences. ( AP/Elizabeth Dalziel)

Humans must immediately implement a series of radical measures to halt carbon emissions or prepare for the collapse of entire ecosystems and the displacement, suffering and death of hundreds of millions of the globe's inhabitants, according to a report commissioned by the World Bank. The continued failure to respond aggressively to climate change, the report warns, will mean that the planet will inevitably warm by at least 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, ushering in an apocalypse.

The 84-page document,"Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4 Degrees C Warmer World Must Be Avoided," was written for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics and published last week. The picture it paints of a world convulsed by rising temperatures is a mixture of mass chaos, systems collapse and medical suffering like that of the worst of the Black Plague, which in the 14th century killed 30 to 60 percent of Europe's population. The report comes as the annual United Nations Conference on Climate Change begins this Monday [Nov. 26] in Doha, Qatar.

A planetwide temperature rise of 4 degrees C -- and the report notes that the tepidness of the emission pledges and commitments of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will make such an increase almost inevitable -- will cause a precipitous drop in crop yields, along with the loss of many fish species, resulting in widespread hunger and starvation. Hundreds of millions of people will be forced to abandon their homes in coastal areas and on islands that will be submerged as the sea rises. There will be an explosion in diseases such as malaria, cholera and dengue fever. Devastating heat waves and droughts, as well as floods, especially in the tropics, will render parts of the Earth uninhabitable. The rain forest covering the Amazon basin will disappear. Coral reefs will vanish. Numerous animal and plant species, many of which are vital to sustaining human populations, will become extinct. Monstrous storms will eradicate biodiversity, along with whole cities and communities. And as these extreme events begin to occur simultaneously in different regions of the world, the report finds, there will be "unprecedented stresses on human systems." Global agricultural production will eventually not be able to compensate. Health and emergency systems, as well as institutions designed to maintain social cohesion and law and order, will crumble. The world's poor, at first, will suffer the most. But we all will succumb in the end to the folly and hubris of the Industrial Age. And yet, we do nothing.

"It is useful to recall that a global mean temperature increase of 4 degrees C approaches the difference between temperatures today and those of the last ice age, when much of central Europe and the northern United States were covered with kilometers of ice and global mean temperatures were about 4.5 degrees C to 7 degrees C lower," the report reads. "And this magnitude of climate change -- human induced -- is occurring over a century, not millennia."

The political and corporate elites in the industrialized world continue, in spite of overwhelming scientific data, to place short-term corporate profit and expediency before the protection of human life and the ecosystem. The fossil fuel industry is permitted to determine our relationship to the natural world, dooming future generations. Carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, increased from its pre-industrial concentration of about 278 parts per million (ppm) to more than 391 ppm in September 2012, with the rate of rise now at 1.8 ppm per year. We have already passed the tipping point of 350 ppm; above that level, life as we have known it cannot be sustained. The CO2 concentration is higher now than at any time in the last 15 million years. The emissions of CO2, currently about 35 billion metric tons per year, are projected to climb to 41 billion metric tons per year by 2020.

Because about 90 percent of the excess heat trapped by the greenhouse effect since 1955 is momentarily in the oceans, we have begun a process that, even if we halted all carbon emissions today, will ensure rising sea levels and major climate disruptions, including the continued melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets as well as the acidification of the oceans.
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The report estimates that if warming accelerates toward 4 degrees Celsius, sea levels will rise 0.5 to 1 meter, possibly more, by 2100. Sea levels will increase several meters more in the coming centuries. If warming can be kept to 2 degrees or below, sea levels will still rise, by about 20 centimeters by 2100, and probably will continue to rise between 1.5 and 4 meters above present-day levels by the year 2300. Sea-level rise, the report concludes, is likely to be below 2 meters only if warming is kept to well below 1.5 degrees. The rise in sea levels will not be uniform. Coastal areas in tropical regions will be inundated by sea-level rises that are up to 20 percent higher than those in higher latitudes.

"In particular, the melting of the ice sheets will reduce the gravitational pull on the ocean toward the ice sheets and, as a consequence, ocean water will tend to gravitate toward the Equator," the report reads...

"Changes in wind and ocean currents due to global warming and other factors will also affect regional sea-level rise, as will patterns of ocean heat uptake and warming. Sea-level rise impacts are projected to be asymmetrical even within regions and countries. Of the impacts projected for 31 developing countries, only 10 cities account for two-thirds of the total exposure to extreme floods. Highly vulnerable cities are to be found in Mozambique, Madagascar, Mexico, Venezuela, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. For small island states and river delta regions, rising sea levels are likely to have far-ranging adverse consequences, especially when combined with the projected increased intensity of tropical cyclones in many tropical regions, other extreme weather events, and climate change-induced effects on oceanic ecosystems (for example, loss of protective reefs due to temperature increases and ocean acidification).

"By the time the concentration reaches around 550 ppm (corresponding to a warming of about 2.4 degrees C in the 2060s), it is likely that coral reefs in many areas would start to dissolve. The combination of thermally induced bleaching events, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise threatens large fractions of coral reefs even at 1.5 degrees C global warming. The regional extinction of entire coral reef eco-systems, which could occur well before 4 degrees C is reached, would have profound consequences for their dependent species and for the people who depend on them for food, income, tourism, and shoreline protection." The report projects that the rates of change in ocean acidity over the next century will be 'unparalleled in Earth's history.'"

The global production of maize and wheat has, because of rising temperatures, been in steady decline since the 1980s. But these crop declines will be vastly accelerated in the coming years, with rising temperatures resulting in widespread malnutrition and starvation. It will mean that the poor, and especially children, will endure chronic hunger and malnutrition. There will be an increase in a variety of deadly epidemic diseases. Persistent flooding will contaminate drinking water, spreading diarrheal and respiratory illnesses. The 2012 drought, which affected 80 percent of the agricultural land in the United States, will become the norm. Tropical South America, Central Africa and all tropical islands in the Pacific are, the report says, likely to regularly experience heat waves of unprecedented magnitude, making human life in these areas difficult if not impossible to sustain.

"In this new high-temperature climate regime, the coolest months are likely to be substantially warmer than the warmest months at the end of the 20th century," the report reads. "In regions such as the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Tibetan plateau, almost all summer months are likely to be warmer than the most extreme heat waves presently experienced. For example, the warmest July in the Mediterranean region could be 9 degrees C warmer than today's warmest July." It notes that these changes "potentially exceed the adaptive capacities of many societies and natural systems."

The stress and insecurity caused by the breakdown in the climate will, the report says, "have negative effects on psychological and mental health." It will lead to an increase in "levels of conflict and violence." These changes "will have ramifications for national identification and alter the dynamics of traditional cultures."

The report calls on the leaders of the industrial world to immediately institute radical steps -- including a halt to the dependence on fossil fuels -- to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees C, although the report concedes that even an increase of less than 2 degrees would result in serious damage to the environment and human populations. Without a massive investment in green infrastructure that can adapt to the heat and other new extreme weather, and in the building of efficient public transportation networks and renewable energy systems to minimize carbon emissions, we will succumb to our own stupidity.

A failure to respond will assure an ecological nightmare that will most probably be accompanied by an economic, social and political breakdown. The human species, the report says, will cross "critical social system thresholds," and "existing institutions that would have supported adaptation actions would likely become much less effective or even collapse." The "stresses on human health, such as heat waves, malnutrition, and decreasing quality of drinking water due to seawater intrusion, have the potential to overburden health-care systems to a point where adaptation is no longer possible, and dislocation is forced."

"There is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4 degrees C world is possible," it goes on...

"A 4 degrees C world is likely to be one in which communities, cities and countries would experience severe disruptions, damage, and dislocation, with many of these risks spread unequally. It is likely that the poor will suffer most and the global community could become more fractured, and unequal than today. The projected 4 degrees C warming simply must not be allowed to occur -- the heat must be turned down."

Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries
"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will" - Frederick Douglass

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