Glaciers of Ice

In the future, this song title will make sense, because most glaciers will be made of garbage.

Last weekend, I saw a movie called “Chasing Ice” about photographer Jim Balog who is documenting the rapid disappearance of glaciers. This was a very beautiful movie, because ice can make for some gorgeous photography. If you enjoy gorgeous photography, I would recommend this movie to you. The movie is not just photos of ice, though, it’s also both political and personal. And here, it works less well. The personal side is concerned with Jim Balog’s life, his family, and the toll this project is taking on his body. The filmmakers obviously like and care about Jim Balog, so it makes sense that they wanted to include this stuff and it’s a credit to them as people that they do. But I don’t really care about Jim Balog at all, except inasmuch as he takes photos of glaciers. His family members comment how much they miss him and how they worry about him when he goes to survey glaciers for months at a time. His team members talk with a combination of admiration and worry about how he doesn’t slow down at all after a knee operation. His doctor tells him to stop doing the glacier travel stuff. He keeps doing it. All of this stuff is real and true. But I was bored by it. About the only thing I remotely cared about there was that one member of Balog’s team is an icelandic dude named Svavar Jonatansson, and that is a fucking cool name. I realize this sounds callous, and if it does, your take on these parts of the movie might be different.

As for the political aspect, there is obviously a direct connection between what is happening to glaciers and climate change. I came into the movie convinced that climate change exists, and so I don’t know how persuasive it would be to a sceptic, but we all agreed that we don’t think it would be. K. summed up a part of the problem: “If glaciers had feelings, then maybe that would work” – icelandic glaciers disappearing isn’t really gonna scare people into action. Maybe this is an unfair criticism – after all this movie is a movie, not a political campaign. But since it does spend a lot of time on climate change activism, I think it would be better if it was better at it. Of course, as someone who is already scared about the impact of climate change, this movie scared me. What was surprising, though, was that Balog seemed to sound a hopeful note – that we’re in the crucible of history, but there is still time for us to do something. I don’t think that’s true.

After the movie, I came home to read a quote by glaciologist Lonnie Thompson in the National Geographic where he compares visiting glaciers to visiting a terminal cancer patient: “you know they are going to die, and there is nothing you can do”. I think, sadly, this is much more like the situation we are facing.

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