Saturday, January 05, 2013

seeing is believing

"I watch Bill O'Reilly every day. I love Bill O'Reilly. I'm proud to be an American. But I saw this movie, Chasing Ice, today. And it hasn't just changed me about global warming. It has changed me as a person."

And that's where I'll begin my review of the marvelous new Chasing Ice, a feature-length documentary from director Jeff Orlowski about a scientist-cum-environmental photographer who's out to change the world, one snapshot at a time. The quote is from an anonymous woman caught in the iPhone crosshairs of one Justin Kanew, a reality-TV star who recently walked out of a screening alongside this visibly moved mystery lady...

"I did not believe in global warming," she explains. "Every time someone mentioned global warming to me, I told them if they wanted to remain in my home they needed to step out. I said it was bullshit. I didn't believe it. And that is because I listened and I—this is the truth—I believed Bill O'Reilly. And I saw this movie, and I apologize to anyone I ever talked into believing there was no global warming. I have talked every friend, every person I know into believing there was no global warming. And now I have to undo my damage. And I will."

I recommend you take a moment to watch the rest of her soliloquy below.

To be sure, many global warming deniers are so deeply brainwashed entrenched on this issue that nothing save an abrupt about-face by the Faux News pundits would allow them consider otherwise. And of course, there are plenty of climate change skeptics who don't deny the existence of global warming or its effects, but who refuse to believe that the current warming trend is human-caused or that there's anything we can or should do about it. For a more comprehensive look at this cohort, you'd be better served watching Climate of Doubt, a recent Frontline documentary that deals head-on with the modern politics of climate change. In that film, viewers come to understand the anatomy of one of the biggest scientific smear campaigns of our time. It's at once eye-opening and maddening, but not surprising in the least; as with many things in life, just follow the money...

Chasing Ice takes an entirely different—and, in many ways, more powerful—appeal-to-your-gut approach. It does little to communicate the nuts-and-bolts science of our planet's rapid warming, other than to borrow a key graph from 2006's An Inconvenient Truth—the one with a carbon spike at the present day that leaves previous "natural cyclical rhythms" of atmospheric CO2 in the dust. Perhaps this is because the film's lead subject, James Balog, admits that he, too, was once skeptical about climate change's human origins...until he began to see things for himself.

At its heart, Changing Ice is a love story. It projects the passion and dedication of a small army of scientists and engineers with Balog's Extreme Ice Survey, an "arts meets science" project aimed at conveying the reality of global climate change with cold, hard, breathtaking visual evidence. The painstaking lengths this team goes to to mount and check their time-lapse cameras, to fight the often blistering elements, and to overcome severe technical and personal challenges hints at the urgency of the tale Balog and his colleagues are trying to tell.

And then there's the imagery. Jaw-dropping deep blue crevasses that seem to lead straight into the center of the Earth. A bright green aurora dancing wildly in the starry night sky above a stunningly beautiful icy scene below. A gigantic ice slab, miles long and hundreds of feet high, eviscerated in an instant as it calves off and crashes thunderously into the choppy Arctic sea.

All of which led me to ponder a familiar phrase: If a tree falls in the forest and no one's around to hear it, does it make a sound? The old adage kept popping into my mind as these incredible scenes filled the screen before me. It is clearly Balog's mission to make sure someone is present to witness and record for humanity what is happening in these glacial forests. And now, thanks to his work, a once doubting woman is starting to hear the reverberating din that these disappearing ice sheets have begun to make.

"There must be something I can do to help this, to help our children, to help my grandkids," she says, almost pleadingly, to Kanew and the phone camera in his hand. "I don't know what I can do ... But I'm gonna change it, because this movie was fantastic. Every human being in this world should watch this movie. Every one."

I could not agree more.