Chasing Ice

The ice is melting, the ice is melting — And the photographer documenting it is no Chicken Little

Dec 3, 2012 at 12:00 am

Chasing Ice | B+


Climate change skepticism stubbornly persists in certain quarters, despite mountains of rapidly growing scientific data, largely because holdouts refuse to see the world as it, only as they wish to understand it to fit their political agendas. This alarm bell polemic of a documentary presents visual proof compelling enough to thaw the flinty hearts of even the chilliest doubters, and offers a view of a quickly vanishing landscape that is both dazzling in its beauty, and sobering in its presentation of the consequences facing us.

The film centers on the work of James Balog, a longtime environmental photojournalist, who intensified his focus after observing the effects of global warming in Iceland while on assignment for National Geographic. Beginning in 2007, Balog and a handful of dedicated assistants launched the "Extreme Ice Survey," trekking to remote frozen hinterlands, such as Alaska and Greenland, to capture amazing time-lapse photography of glaciers gradually eroding. What they found was stark: several millennia-old ice sheets retreating at a staggering pace, leaving the newly thawed countryside irrevocably changed in ways that are still difficult to fathom. The film offers the incredible spectacle of massive walls of ancient ice, some as large as major cities, shearing off and tumbling into the sea. All that extra water has to go somewhere; as the film labors to point out with all the requite charts and graphs, the rising sea levels are affecting currents, which in turn are very likely to blame for the devastating "super storms" that have occurred with alarming frequency in recent years.

Pictures, of course, say more than a thousand flowcharts or Al Gore's PowerPoint presentations. The images here are as glorious as those in any nature documentary ever made. To see these towering canyons of white being divided by flowing streams as deeply, eerily blue as anti-freeze is stirring — and devastating when you consider that natural wonders like these may someday be gone for good. If only Balog himself were a more persuasive figure. He overflows with righteous indignation, but after a while all that scolding is no more thrilling than watching ice cubes melt in your drink.

Balog and director Jeff Orlowski are not terribly balanced in their approach to the issues, and they never really aim to be. This is a lecture more than a narrative. Their belief is that human activity is solely to blame for the rising CO2 count and the dangerously high sea levels. Anything short of radical action to reverse the damage would be criminal in their eyes.