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Samantha Beckerman’s Blog

Chasing Ice: Putting a Face to Climate Change

Samantha Beckerman

Posted May 8, 2013

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Earth Day occurs annually on April 22nd and aims to promote public awareness and protection of the environment.  The theme of this year’s Earth Day was “The Face of Climate Change” and over one billion people from around the world celebrated its 43rd anniversary. I spent Earth Day at the White House for a screening of the award-winning documentary Chasing Ice which was released in the U.S. on November 16, 2012 to rave reviews. I had wanted to see Chasing Ice for many months but unfortunately never got around to it. When I learned about the chance to see the film both at the White House and on Earth Day I jumped at the opportunity. To make matters even more exciting, the film was followed by a panel discussion with senior administration officials, the filmmakers, and subject of the film, James Balog.

Chasing Ice follows acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog’s mission to gather undeniable evidence of our changing Earth by looking specifically at glaciers. Using time-lapse cameras, Balog creates videos that compress years into seconds and allows us to see the unbelievable rate at which our planet’s glaciers are melting and disappearing. Balog and his team’s commitment to recording, sharing and analyzing the melting of these ancient mountains of ice were clear throughout the film. The team faced broken cameras, below-zero weather, extreme winds and treacherous ice cliffs yet they continued onward with determination, focus and great optimism.

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Glacier in Alaska, photo by David Amsler under Creative Commons Licensing

James Balog started out as a climate change skeptic as Peter Lehner, the Executive Director of NRDC explains in his blog on Chasing Ice. It was not until Balog was sent on a National Geographic assignment in 2006 to document changing glaciers in various parts of the world did he begin to see with his own eyes the visually dramatic effects of climate change. As a result, in 2007 he created the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), an innovative long-term photography project that merges art and science to give a face to the planet’s changing ecosystems. Currently, EIS has 28 cameras 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. The EIS team then edits these photographs into videos that show the rate at which climate change is altering and transforming landscapes, ecosystems and entire regions.  

The post-screening panel I was lucky enough to sit in on was moderated by Dr. John Holdren, President Obama’s top science advisor and the panelists included photographer James Balog, director Jeff Orlowski, producer Paula DuPré Pesmen and glaciologist and professor Dr. Tad Pfeffer. We also heard remarks from the White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough who stressed the importance of addressing global warming and commented on President Obama’s concern that climate change will adversely impact his daughter’s futures. Heather Zichal, Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change commended the film on its ability to visually show the alarming changes climate change is creating around the world.

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Glacier in Greenland, photo by Christine Zenino under Creative Commons Licensing

What impressed me most about Chasing Ice was the way the film expressed and analyzed scientific facts in a way that was visually stunning, straightforward and easily accessible. In December of 2011 ThinkProgress interviewed James Balog on art, science, rationality and climate denial. Balog and members of the Chasing Ice team explained in the panel (as James did in the interview) the ways in which they remained politically neutral so the film could focus on spreading awareness, education and reaching audiences with climate change skeptics and deniers. As Balog said in his ThinkProgress interview, “I have found repeatedly that no matter what somebody’s preconception was about climate change, if I could get them in the room and show them in a gentle and impartial way what our team has observed in the world, they realize through their intellect and their hearts that this is real.” This past Earth Day, Chasing Ice and those that worked on the film gave a face to climate change by showing in a stunning way what can happen when art meets science and people commit to risk their lives and careers for a cause that’s too important to ignore.

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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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