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John Steelman’s Blog

See this movie. Then act on it.

John Steelman

Posted December 13, 2012

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Last night I saw a truly amazing cinematic event, the new documentary film, Chasing Ice, which chronicles acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog’s heroic multi-year effort to capture the retreat of the world’s glaciers in the era of climate change. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this film is worth the Library of Congress.  I won’t even try to describe it since Peter Lehner, NRDC’s executive director, already provided a great summary and background on the film in his blog. The only thing I’ll say is, find out where it is playing near you, see it, and spread the word.

The venue that several of us at NRDC saw the film was none other than the United Nations, which hosted a free viewing.  James Balog and glacier scientist Dr. Tad Pfeffer spoke with the audience after the film. I was struck by the level of optimism the film provoked in the audience (and me). For anyone who has been following or working on climate change, the undeniable evidence that global warming is driving these magnificent glaciers to extinction confirms what we’ve known for years: the planet is in trouble. 

So where’s the optimism, you ask?  It’s in the fact that this evidence is indeed undeniable, and denial—funded by the fossil fuel industry and espoused by its allies in Congress and the right-wing media—has been the biggest obstacle to reaching the public and building political consensus to get serious about solutions. Balog and his team captured this evidence on film on a human level that no amount of data can match. You can see with high-def clarity how fast these ancient glaciers are falling apart and disappearing.

In the Q&A after the film, our UN hosts discussed the climate treaty negotiations, the commitment made in Copenhagen to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius and the goal of reaching a new agreement in 2015. A six-year-old took the microphone and said she was going to tell all her friends and classmates to see the movie, which prompted Dr. Pfeffer to talk about the many things we all can do to make a difference. And Balog highlighted the Obama administration’s move to more than double fuel economy standards as a “huge” step that sends the right message to the world.

After the discussion, I had the opportunity to meet both Pfeffer and Balog and told them a story of when NRDC put together an image to illustrate climate change for the first floor debate in the U.S. Senate on climate change legislation in 2003. NASA had been taking satellite pictures of the polar ice cap since 1979 and by 2002 it had shrunk by 27%.  We simply drew a red line representing where the ice had been in 1979 so you could see the change.  This year, only 9 years later, the polar ice cap is less than half the size of what it was in 1979. 


The view from space is one thing.  But the view from ground level, I hope, can be a game changer.

I thanked Mr. Balog for mentioning the vehicle standards, which NRDC worked hard to make happen, and told him about the next big opportunity we are working on to persuade the Obama administration to develop standards to cut global warming pollution from power plants, by far the largest source in the U.S.  These standards could result in twice the emission reductions as the vehicle standards, bring two-thirds of our nation’s emissions under control, and, perhaps most importantly, put the U.S. and President Obama in a position to truly lead the world to a far-reaching agreement in 2015.

So, round up your friends and family and go see Chasing Ice, and tell President Obama we need bold action and leadership on global warming solutions.  Then spread the word and tell everyone you know to do the same.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

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