James Balog and Chasing Ice

Text excerpted from the book: PROTECTING THE PLANET-Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change (ISBN 978-1-63388-225-6)

by

Budd Titlow & Mariah Tinger

http://www.buddtitlow.com

In the spring of 2005, acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog headed to the Arctic on a tricky assignment for National Geographic: to capture images to help tell the story of the Earth’s changing climate. Even with a scientific upbringing, Balog had been a skeptic about Climate Change. But that first trip north opened his eyes to one of the biggest stories in human history and sparked a challenge within him that would put his career and his very well-being at risk.

James Balog with icebergs at Ilulissat Isfjord, UNESCO World Heritage site.

Chasing Ice is the story of Balog’s mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet. Within months of that first trip to Iceland, the photographer conceived the boldest expedition of his life: “The Extreme Ice Survey”. With a band of young adventurers in tow, Mr. Balog began deploying revolutionary time-lapse cameras across the brutal Arctic to capture a multi-year record of the world’s changing glaciers.

As the Climate Change debate polarized America and the intensity of natural disasters ramped up globally, Balog found himself at the end of his tether. Battling untested technology in subzero conditions, he came face to face with his own mortality. In the end result, Balog’s hauntingly beautiful videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate. Chasing Ice depicts a photographer trying to deliver evidence and hope to our carbon-powered planet.

On a personal note, our first viewing of Chasing Ice left us mesmerized, exhausted, and enraged.  At the conclusion of Mr. Balog’s questions and answers, the entire audience of 500 people instinctively rose as one in a show of support for the film’s dramatic message and the man who had risked so much to put it together.  We believe that it’s impossible to watch Chasing Ice and come away still doubting that Climate Change is really happening.


James Balog—Explorer / Communicator

James Balog has given a visual, both beautiful and devastating, to Climate Change. He squeezed in an interview before his trip to touch the glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro—a trip he had been anticipating and planning for fifteen years. He was in a race against time to visit this glacier, a recurring theme for him: the frozen subject matter of his “Extreme Ice Survey” (EIS) keeps disappearing. He has devoted his recent work to capturing these glaciers before they melt away permanently.

Balog is the Founder and Director of Earth Vision Institute, National Geographic Photographer and Geomorphologist, and also Founder of the EIS which is the most wide-ranging, ground-based, photographic study of glaciers ever conducted.  He has been photographing the Anthropocene “since 20 years before it was given a name.” 

The immediate catalyst that squelched Balog’s skepticism about Climate Change was the realization that there were concrete measurements of ancient climates trapped in the ice cores of Greenland and Anarctica. These cores held an actual empirical record of how the atmosphere had changed. “The climate change story was not about computer models. When I understood it to be an empirical science, an actual tangible collection of evidence, that is what really got me fired up.” The final catalyst for him was an article he read fifteen years ago about the vanishing snows of Kilimanjaro. This sparked his enthusiasm and built his anticipation of finally seeing the glaciers that have receded significantly since he read that article. 

The EIS captured shots of 23 glaciers in Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, Canada, Austria, Alaska and the Rocky Mountains of the US.  Through the time-lapse photography, Balog captured images of ninety-five percent of the glaciers in the world retreating or shrinking, since the project began in 2007.  The documentary Chasing Ice features this phenomenon, and won the 2012 award for Excellence in Cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival. It was also shortlisted for the 2013 Academy Awards and featured on ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS television networks.

Balog’s cameras make the invisible visible, and if seeing is believing, the images Balog has collected prove that we are losing glaciers permanently and rapidly. The loss of this frozen ice is turning into sea level rise, directly attributing to precipitation and changing temperature patterns. Balog says there is no significant scientific dispute about this, “it’s been observed, it’s measured, it’s bomb-proof information”. He refers to these glacial retreats as “the canaries in the coalmine”, indicating that their rapid melting should be setting off warning bells for the world.

In Chasing Ice, Balog’s resiliency and determination for the importance of capturing glacial retreat is highlighted by his persistence in the research despite a serious knee injury and several surgeries.  When asked why he said, “We are fundamentally a species that works in favor of its survival—we self-propagate. The more emotional and intellectual understanding we have of how rapidly the world is shifting around us, the more likely we are to take the actions necessary to alter course.”

We need a paradigm shift—a demand for the technological and political will to help us incrementally peel away from fossil fuel use where we can. According to Balog, for change to begin happening, we need to take all of the different things that people know how to do and apply them to climate change. “If everybody does a piece of that activity -whether it is to engineer wind turbines, put photovoltaics on the roof of your house, caulk your windows, put a smart thermometer in your house, change to a different car, or go to Washington and try to influence that crazy policy machine- it all keeps rippling out. Eventually it makes a new story that society absorbs and understands,” he says. This story eventually becomes the new paradigm and creates a new future.

Author’s bioFor the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America — provides the answers we all seek and need. Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.

Author: Budd Titlow

BS, Biology-Chemistry, Florida State University, 1970 MS, Wildlife Ecology-Fisheries Science, Virginia Tech, 1973 btitlow@aol.com / www.agpix.com/titlow / www.buddtitlow.com For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place within nature’s beauty, before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. Protecting the Planet, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental champions among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — Coming Full Circle — provides the answers we all seek and need. Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.

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