Chasing Ice — “Insanely, Ridiculously Beautiful” Cavings, Cliffs, & Mountains Of Ice & Life

james balog“I am going out on this broken fin, and I assume it won’t collapse” — so says James Balog as he slides over to the edge of an endless cliff of ice that would make many feel faint simply to observe. Balog is nothing if not obsessive — however, brilliantly so. Needing his third knee surgery, he travels where the tough can scarcely be found in order to capture the cavings.

Jeff Orlowski, the film’s director and producer, fills the screen with Balog and the 300- to 400-feet tall, rivetingly, incredible movements of the cavings of snow and ice in Iceland, Greenland, and other places. Imagine a snow and ice world the size of the lower tip of Manhattan collapsing in front of you, except that the size of the cavings is 3 to 4 times as tall as the buildings in Manhattan… Incredible. Horrible. Beautiful. Powerful.

James Balog. Image Credit: Steve Rhodes (some rights reserved)
James Balog.
Image Credit: Steve Rhodes (some rights reserved)

“All of that obsession means nothing if it doesn’t work.” Balog is not only obsessive. He is compelled to get what he intends to get, and got it he has: Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) is time-lapse photography; currently, 28 cameras are deployed at 13 glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, the Nepalese Himalaya, Alaska, and the Rocky Mountains of the U.S. These cameras record changes in the glaciers every half hour, year-round, during daylight, yielding approximately 8,000 frames per camera per year. We edit the time-lapse images into stunning videos that reveal how fast climate change is transforming large regions of the planet. Finally, EIS supplements the time-lapse record with episodic repeat photography in the French and Swiss Alps, Canada, Iceland, and Bolivia.

Balog earned his master’s degree in geomorphology. However, it is his innovative photography exploring the relationship between humans and nature, redefining environmental photography since the early 1980s that explains his current work. He is capturing the memory of the landscape as it disappears, reporting what changed more dramatically in the last 10 years than in last 100. The voices of his helpers — young, strapping, and strong — punctuate his commitment. “He goes to that point where you cannot go anymore and then sometimes he is going forward more.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists screened Chasing Ice at the MOSI museum in Tampa, with James Balog introducing the film with a short discussion. They invited Zachary Shahan, director of CleanTechnica and Planetsave, to be part of the film screening and discussion (with local panel from on the city of St Petersburg, Tampa, and FL). As Zach was in Europe at the time, he asked me to go.

James Balog up close. Image Credit: Viewminder (some rights reserved)
James Balog up close.
Image Credit: Viewminder (some rights reserved)

James introduced the film and answered a few questions. I felt extremely fortunate for the experience and left the screening vitalized by his passion. He is so bright and articulate, and also apparently has abundant gifts as a mountain climber, naturalist, geomorphologist, and innovative environmental photographer. He is an extraordinary teacher as he educates all of us on his work and findings. He coveys along with his thoughts on the Extreme Ice Survey, Chasing Ice, a genuine caring for us to understand better what he knows. And he acknowledges that he wants to move us to go out and educate more people.

The film definitely achieved many well-deserved accolades. Some examples:

  • SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL – Excellence in Cinematography Award: US Documentary
  • The Environmental Media Association’s 22nd Annual BEST DOCUMENTARY AWARD
  • BEST DOCUMENTARY at the following film festivals: Berkshire Film Festival; Big Sky Film Festival; Crested Butte Film Festival

So, in the spirit of James Balog, educate we will. I am re-posting some of his pointers on living with a low-carbon footprint:

Easy Inexpensive Transportation Changes

  • Use public transportation wherever possible.
    • Driving a Toyota Camry 10,000 miles creates 2.67 metric tons of CO2.
    • Riding a bus or subway on its regular route doesn’t impact its COoutput.
  • Drive sensibly and maintain tire pressure.
    • You can save on fuel and greenhouse gases by sticking to the speed limit, accelerating with traffic, and ensuring your tires are inflated properly. The US Department of Energy says that for each 1-pound per square inch (PSI) drop in pressure, gas mileage drops .4%.
  • Combine trips, drive less.
    • Think ahead about where you need to go and plan one trip with multiple stops to lower your driving.

 Easy Home Updates

  • Lower your thermostat in winter, reduce air conditioning use in summer.
    • Heating represents about 41% of the energy used in a home. Lowering your thermostat in the winter not only saves you money but cuts the use of energy.
  • Lower the temperature in your hot water heater.
    • Dropping your hot water temperature to 120 degrees saves money, energy and enhances safety for both children and the elderly.
  • Replace your lights with Energy Star approved models.
    • Lighting typically uses 15% of the energy used in a home. While Energy Star lamps are more expensive than incandescent lamps, the Energy Star lamps often last significantly longer while also using 75% less energy and generating 75% less heat.
  • Plug electronics into power strips and turn off the power strips when not in use.
    • Most modern televisions, DVD players, game consoles and computers still draw a small amount of power when turned off. Removing power with a power strip switch really disconnects them from the power grid saving energy and money.
  • Keep the lint filter in your dryer clean.
  • Lower the flow.
  • Insulate your hot water heater.
  • Insulate hot water pipes.
  • Install low flow faucets, shower heads and toilets where possible. Some water departments provide low flow showerheads for free!
  • Insulating your hot water heater lowers the energy required to keep your water hot.

Insulating hot water pipes keeps water in the pipes warm. You get hot water faster when you turn on the tap and you don’t lose the energy used to heat.

  • Use less paper and use recycled paper.
    • Think before you print!
    • Use cloth towels instead of paper towels.
  • Use reusable bags for grocery shopping.
  • Don’t buy water in plastic bottles.
  • Bring your own mug for your coffee.
    • Paper cups are usually not 100% recycled.
  • Recycle.
    • Recycling saves energy and natural resources. Take advantage of every opportunity to recycle you can.
  • Cut back on plastics.
    • Plastics are made from petroleum

Switch to Solar !!

2 thoughts on “Chasing Ice — “Insanely, Ridiculously Beautiful” Cavings, Cliffs, & Mountains Of Ice & Life”

  1. Using renewable energy (buying from a community solar program or installing your own system) and switching to electric transportation (car, motorcycle, or bike) is not mentioned and are actually the two most dramatic changes one can make to reduce personal carbon footprint.

    1. Thanks for adding them…so much. Yes, I wrote the article a couple of years back and was just taken in by his passion and the stunning visuals..For sure. You are right.

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