The Earth is dying. Not in a metaphorical way and not dying over a geologic timescale of billions of years. But dying in a very real and observable way. Chasing Ice from director Jeff Orlowski offers striking evidence of a dying Earth in footage of events that have rarely ever been seen, much less recorded. Orlowski’s documentary profiles famed environmental photographer James Balog who, together with a small and dedicated team, has sought to capture on film the retreat of Earth’s glaciers using an army of time-lapse cameras positioned across the globe—from Alaska and Glacier National Park in Montana to Iceland and Greenland.
Following Balog on his quest to document glacial retreat, Orlowski interviews several scientists who speak pressingly of the need for immediate policies addressing global warming. And the data that they’ve compiled—mirroring much of the evidence presented in An Inconvenient Truth (2006)—is startling. Data that points to the escalation of carbon dioxide in our air over the past 200 years, mapped out across animated graphics, is particularly lucid and fascinating. The scientists’ forecast of draughts, wildfires and floods occurring with increasing frequency and intensity is already being borne out for those paying attention.
Perhaps most eloquent of all—the most frightening and heartbreaking proof that something is wrong—lies in the documentary’s incredible imagery. As the climate warms, meltwater creates torrential channels beneath the glaciers, causing them to decompose and retreat. Chasing Ice needs to be seen on as large a screen as possible (IMAX if possible), if only to allow viewers to witness the collapse of our environment in all its perverse glory. By luck and pluck, Balog and his field coordinators, Adam Levinter and Svavar Jónatansson, capture footage of titanic glaciers—varying from several football fields in length to the size of Manhattan—being ripped apart. One marvels at the sight of skyscraper- and cruise ship-sized blocks of ice upturned, toppling and capsizing as they deteriorate in a grand and catastrophic display. Orlowski plays out this footage for an extended time, and it’s like being witness to giant animals dying in sacrificial agony.
Balog comes through as a brilliant, fearless, compassionate environmental artist and activist. The results of his project are epic in scale and startlingly eloquent, complementing the overwhelming evidence from leading climate scientists of fast-rising greenhouse gas levels worldwide. Yet, as much as Chasing Ice wants to be the straw that breaks the deniers’ backs, the final exhibit in the science community’s urgent prosecution, the documentary won’t sway fence sitters or counter the noise of denial and skepticism perpetrated by right-wing media outlets determined to suppress the debate. Their presence is felt keenly in a couple of montage sequences featuring Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and other climate change deniers. Overcoming this resistance is the real challenge, as Balog himself points out. We’ve got the policy and technology worked out. What remains is to win the hearts and minds of the unconverted.
Director: Jeff Orlowski
Writer: Mark Monroe
Starring: James Balog, Svavar Jónatansson, Louie Psihoyos, Kitty Boone, Sylvia Earle, Dennis Dimick, Adam Lewinter, Jason Box, Tad Pfeffer, Suzanne Balog
Release Date: Nov. 9, 2012