April 19, 2024

While most people seek to avoid the ice and cold, National Geographic photographer James Balog raced towards it. Balog spent years taking time-lapse pictures of receding glaciers across the world, an effort captured in the documentary “Chasing Ice,” which was screened last Tuesday in honor of Wittenberg’s Earth Week.
The film is intended to raise awareness about climate change by following Balog’s travels through icy landscapes. As an established environmental photographer, Balog set out in 2005 to capture visual evidence of global warming by taking pictures of receding glaciers. He and his team set up time-lapse camera equipment in several locations: 12 in Greenland, five in Iceland, five in Alaska, and two in Montana. Under the name Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), the project spanned over the course of several years.
Balog’s photos revealed many glaciers retreated miles over the course of his project. “That landscape is gone,” said Balog in the film. “It may never be seen again in the history of civilization and it’s safe here [in the photographs].”
After the documentary, Dr. Sheryl Cunningham moderated a panel discussion on the effects of the film and the political implications of global warming. Panelists included Dr. Dave Finster of the chemistry department, Dr. Sarah Fortner of the geology department, photography professor Daniel McInnis, and Steve Schlather, Springfield group leader of Citizens Climate Lobby.
The panelists discussed the appeal of photographs such as the ones displayed in the film to the general public. Finster admitted that scientific data and statistics are appealing to scientists such as himself, and the average citizen is more likely to be moved by shocking images.
“There is a very distinct movement of photographers taking surveys…of what we are doing to the landscape,” said McInnis.
Finster also pointed out that many climate scientists believe that if humans do not make a significant change in carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2020, the population would commit the earth to a significant temperature increase. If that is the case, panelists explained there would be certain lifestyle adjustments humans would be forced to make. These include migration, especially for those living along the coasts, changing water sources, and movement of crop-growing locations.
“I think it was really gripping and shocking and kind of sad,” said Maria Symons, a freshman who attended the film screening. “It made me want to know more about it.”
Yet, the panelists did offer hope for the future of the planet’s atmosphere.
“The rate of change is fast, but the carbon dioxide has a short life in our atmosphere,” said Fortner, “so if we can make a change fast enough, it can go away.”
Schlather encouraged the audience to help by making small changes in their lives and informing others about the facts. He pointed out that in an article by Mark Jacobson, it was estimated that the world, if committed, could meet all its energy needs through renewable energy by 2030.
“Maybe it’s not going to be quite the lifestyle that we’ve been used to, but it can still be comfortable,” said Schlather.

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