Opening in Minneapolis: ‘Chasing Ice,’ a film that moves skeptics to tears

I watch Bill O’Reilly every day. I love Bill O’Reilly. I am proud to be an American. But I saw this movie, “Chasing Ice,” today. It hasn’t just changed me about global warming. It has changed me as a person.

I did not believe in global warming. Every time someone mentioned global warming to me I told them, if they wanted to remain in my home, they needed to step out, because I said it was bullshit, excuse my language. And I saw this movie and I am going to apologize to anyone I talked into believing there was no global warming. I have to undo my damage and I will.

Just when you think nothing can possibly change the minds of folks who have surrendered their judgment to a cadre of professional propagandists, along comes a quote like that.

Lightly compressed here, the words were spoken spontaneously, on video, by a 60-year-old woman who was leaving a movie theatre and struggling to hold back tears. (The whole interview, running not quite two minutes, can be viewed here.)

As for “Chasing Ice,” the film that had moved her to those emotions, to a new perspective on our imperiled planet – and, quite possibly, to real activism – it opens in Minneapolis on Friday night, at the Uptown.

The photographer who inspired the film, James Balog, is scheduled to do a short Q&A session between the 7:30 showing (which looks to be sold out) and the 9:35.

Balog was climate skeptic

Interestingly, Balog has described himself as a skeptic about climate change when he began the work that grew into “Chasing Ice.” An accomplished nature photographer for National Geographic and other publications, he went to Iceland in 2005 and, in the words of one reviewer, came away

obsessed with documenting the staggering speed with which the icebergs of GreenlandIceland and Alaska are crumbling into the sea. [Director Jeff] Orlowski films as Balog and a small team of young scientists go on a mad mission to embed dozens of time-lapse cameras into the rock walls above various ice fields.

Those cameras take one image every hour, and when Balog and his team, known as the “Extreme Ice Survey,” assemble the footage, they discover that glacier fields the size of Lower Manhattan are receding at an astonishing rate. Still and live-action footage captures the ice sliding into the sea with exquisite grace, which makes it all the more wrenching.        

“Chasing Ice” has impressed enough people to win prizes at a string of film festivals and also to make the shortlist for an Oscar, according to Variety

the chasing ice team
CC/Flickr/Steve Rhodes
‘Chasing Ice’ team members Jason Box, Tad Pfeffer and James Balog discussing the film in San Francisco

Some reviews are mixed; here’s one that faults the film for devoting too many of its 76 minutes to documenting how Balog did his work, too little to the images that work produced.

You can’t please everybody, I guess.

But the more important work is not to please people but to provoke and move and change them, a challenge that seems to get harder all the time. That’s the higher purpose of Balog and Orlowski, and with “Chasing Ice” they seem to be succeeding.

The official two-minute trailer is here

‘Climate of Doubt’

For a good look at the methods and motivations of the professional climate-denial propagandists, another excellent documentary is Frontline’s “Climate of Doubt.” It’s been out for more than a month now, but because it aired at the end of October, it was drowned out in the runup to the elections and didn’t get nearly the attention and discussion it deserves.

Elections are at the heart of “Climate of Doubt,” which examines how moderate and sensible positions on climate change have been driven out of the American political center and for the most part out of political campaigns, including those just ended.

In the show’s first half-hour, the architects of this shift explain with remarkable on-camera candor (and frequent glee) that their objectives were only indirectly about climate policy, and that their assaults on scientific consensus were only a preliminary step in an agenda whose real purpose is shrinking government, Tea Party-style, fending off new business regulation and defeating congressmen who aren’t in perfect, lockstep agreement with them.

In the second half, “Climate of Doubt” reviews the flow of corporate money from the energy sector  into the climate-denial campaigns, and the personal harrassment of scientists, lawmakers and others who stand in the deniers’ way.

Little of this will qualify as a news flash for folks who follow these subjects, but I found the depth and detail of Frontline’s reporting to be impressive, as are the supplemental materials prepared in conjunction with the documentary and made available here.

S.S. Badger update

Lake Michigan Carferry won’t be getting its polluter-in-perpetuity license after all.

On Wednesday morning the U.S. House of Representatives passed and sent to President Barack Obama a Coast Guard authorization bill that had undergone some editing in the Senate.

Among the deleted items: provisions written by Republican congressmen from Wisconsin and Michigan to permanently exempt LMC’s coal-burning S.S. Badger from federal rules on the dumping of coal ash into Lake Michigan.

The move leaves jurisdiction over the Badger’s operating permit with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where it belongs.

The Badger‘s website continues to advise passengers that service will resume in May, with the reservations office re-opening in February.

But its current operating permit expires Dec. 19, and unless EPA decides to extend the special status it has given the Badger over the last five years, LMC will have to retrofit the boat with diesel engines or start storing the coal ash onshore – options it has steadfastly claimed are impractical and/or unaffordable.

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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 12/06/2012 - 10:56 am.


    Take this story and juxtapose the story about WBL and the DNR and you have the environmental catastrophe in waiting that we have. The wealthy want to not be inconvenienced, taxed nor bothered and they want the commons to provide them the solution at no cost to their own ignorance. The arrogance of the person who starts this article,”I am proud to be an American”, says it all. My opinion is all that matters- science and the majority be damned. WBL is being drained by climate changed drought and poor utilization of water and the citizens want their lake filled with St. Paul drinking water, a totally different water source, because their property values are declining. It is likely too late to reverse these changes, but it is not too late to destroy the ignorance and arrogance that led to this debacle.

    • Submitted by Lance Groth on 12/06/2012 - 12:50 pm.

      There are much bigger disasters in waiting

      The WBL situation just underscores all the more that Minnesota needs to be very skeptical about the plans to mine metals in huge mines near the Boundary Waters. If a metro area lake can be ruined through simple ignorance on DNR’s part regarding the aquifer that feeds WBL, how are we to believe that the precious, and fragile, waters up north can be protected from mining related contamination – when it has never been successfully done anywhere. The news that the concentration of metals is higher than first thought is only going to fuel a rush to cash in. But the ecological result can easily be, will probably be, catastrophic, and once the damage is done, it cannot be undone. No amount of money can make up for that. Minnesota needs to think long and hard about this.

      The WBL problem also illustrates in microcosm the general problem of drawing down aquifers. The Oglala aquifer is more than 50% depleted. When it’s gone, there will be no more irrigation in the plains states farmland. Think that will affect food production? Not to mention the cities in the desert southwest that should never have been built in the first place, and must eventually run out of water.

      We’re just not very good at long term thinking. We exploit over the short term, and only change our ways when crisis is upon us and there are no other alternatives. We must learn to tread more lightly upon the earth, or we will pay a very heavy price for our short-sightedness.

  2. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/06/2012 - 08:36 pm.

    I don’t think I’ll be able to watch “Chasing Ice”

    Maybe I’ll see it but I certainly don’t need any more convincing about the reality of “anthropomorphic global warming” or about the imperative to make dramatic changes to our policies and way of life. Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” did that for me as did his presentation on the same subject a few years before. I need to know what else we can do besides chaining ourselves to construction equipment to stop projects like the Keystone Pipeline Project. Nothing seems to get the attention of our leaders and policymakers.

  3. Submitted by rolf westgard on 12/07/2012 - 02:42 pm.

    A little missing science in “Chasing Ice”

    To get the actual effect on sea level from calving glaciers you need to subtract the withdrawn moisture for all the snow that falls on the glacier. Two current studies in the journal Science agree that the net effect of polar ice melt is raising sea levels about one inch every forty years.
    And approving Keystone XL could actually reduce GHG emissions by lessening the need for all those diesel driven trains and trucks to transport the oil.

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/07/2012 - 07:32 pm.

      I might see the film. . .

      if you do and have something to say about how the film deals with the science. I gather that the rise in ocean levels notwithstanding that you’re “cool” with the fact that the glaciers are melting at the rate we are now observing?

      In light of your comment that Keystone XL reducing GHG emissions by avoiding emissions from trains and trucks, what is your response to James Hansen’s statement that the mining of the Alberta tar sands means “game over” .

      • Submitted by rolf westgard on 12/08/2012 - 04:21 am.

        Hansen’s comment assumed that the entire Alberta trillion barrel oil sands deposit would be mined and burned. That won’t happen. Even if it did global warming would cook us long before from other GHGs.

        • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/08/2012 - 01:56 pm.

          So than what?

          I’ll agree for purposes of discussion that Hansen’s comment impliedly made the assumption you state. His point I think that, “cetibus paribus” (as the economists like to say),i.e. “all other things being the same or excluded”, this one step of the Keystone XL PIpeline is the first on a slippery slope of no logical stopping point of no return.” I happen to believe that the first step was probably with earlier pipelines. But the point is the same and really goes to how policymakers, like President Obama or Hillary Clinton should be evaluating these incremental decisions like individual pipelines that have huge environmental consequences. Their decisions are akin to Roosevelt’s incremental decision to approve various steps in the development of the atom bomb, all of which, when it came to the final result, led to the development of a capability in 1946 of creating a bomb that could destroy the world. Or maybe it’s akin to Eisenhauer’s policy in the 1950’s to make nuclear weapons another “conventional weapon” that could be utilized by any low level commander in a battleground scenario. I think most people today would agree that allowing anyone other than the President, if even him (or her), to launch a nuclear attack that could quickly lead to annihilation of the human species would be completely unacceptable; a “fail” of epic proportions. Yet we seem to operating at that level with respect to other public policy choices, leaving decisions in the hands of technical “environmental experts” who do not seem to consider the need to allow for consideration of the moral consequences of decisions. Our National Environmental Policy Act and the EIS’s it produces are woefully inadequate in this respect since they exclude the known and potential catastrophic outcomes of these incremental decisions.

          So you might be right as far as other GHG “cooking us” before the tar sands got all mined and used, but should the country’s leaders be making decisions as if altogether, none of it will ever happen? Because that’s what’s happening now.

      • Submitted by rolf westgard on 12/08/2012 - 04:24 am.

        Sea level rise and glacier melting

        I’ve just submitted a detailed technical response to MinnPost which you may see.

        • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/08/2012 - 01:37 pm.

          That’s what we need

          is critical evaluation of this problem, not denial, despair or panic. At least not yet. I’ll look forward to your technical response which I hope is something of a review of the film.

  4. Submitted by rolf westgard on 12/09/2012 - 01:40 am.

    Pipelines, glaciers, etc

     There are more than 200,000 miles of oil pipelines in the U.S. which operate with minimal safety problems.  The KeystoneXL pipe lines will incorporate 57 new safety requirements, and continuously monitor thousands of sensors indicating pressure and leak issues. Valves are closed remotely to limit loss from leaks.
    One of the pipeline concerns is the health of the Ogallala aquifer over which the pipeline will run. But perhaps the biggest threat to the Ogallala is from corn/ethanol production. Millions of tons of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation water are continuously dumped on the soils that drain directly above the aquifer. A study by Professor Sangwon Suh of the University of Minnesota reported that in Kansas and Nebraska, 500 gallons of water are required to grow and process the corn for each gallon of ethanol produced. Much of that irrigation water is drawn from the Ogallala which is in steady decline.
    Like the fracking film “Gasland”, “Chasing Ice” appeals to the heart, not the head. Gasland features those flaming faucets which have nothing to do with fracking. “Chasing Ice” features calving glaciers which have minimal net effect on sea level rise. In September, Arctic ice broke the 2007 low record continuing a 30 year decline trend up there. But the new freeze up is rapid, and the ice is currently bigger than 2007 for this date. The earth is on a very slow warming trend which began in the mid 1970s. The amount is about the same as geologically recent warming trends which occurred before we started burning all those fossil fuels. Coal burning is the major villain with nuclear the only effective option.

  5. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 12/10/2012 - 12:50 pm.


    A key consideration (pardon the pun) for the Keystone pipeline is do we need it in the first place? What purpose does this pipeline serve? The primary push seems to be to get the oil down to Texas, which means export to international markets as that’s where the oil terminals are.

    What benefit does this pipeline have to Minnesota (or even the U.S.) other than a couple of jobs to build and monitor the line?

  6. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/10/2012 - 02:01 pm.

    May be true but. . .

    I don’t dispute your comment about the threat to the Oglala aquifer from corn/ethanol production. I’m prepared to listen to reasons why construction of additional pipeline capacity should not be a major concern for those concerned about climate change. Or even why “flaming faucets” have nothing really to do with the chemicals used in fracking. But in dismissing concerns about fracking and the construction of additional oil pipelines as being mere “appeals to the heart” or “minimal safety concerns”, you sound like an industry apologist. Our environment today has been so degraded by the petrochemical industries that it is a miracle everyone does not die of cancer. People are no longer convinced that industry holds the key to “better living through chemistry” or for that matter “nuclear power.”

  7. Submitted by rolf westgard on 12/10/2012 - 06:05 pm.

    Nuclear doesn’t have any emissions except water vapor. The big fossil fuel environment issue is with coal burning. Nuclear and natural gas are the main way we limit coal burning.
    If you don’t like oil, stop driving. the average car emits 5 tons of CO2 annually plus other pollutants.

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