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

Nature photographer was a doubter, too, until he watched arctic glaciers collapsing.

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.

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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.