30 June 2009 Greenland Ice Sheet: Climbers at the rim of a meltwater channel. James Balog Photography
30 June 2009 Greenland Ice Sheet: Climbers at the rim of a meltwater channel. James Balog Photography

By Ali

“Climate Change Real & Gorgeous” – this title stopped me in my web surfing tracks. Climate change is indeed real, but to think of it as gorgeous seemed a tad disturbing to me.  Of all my readings and involvement in understanding climate change, ‘gorgeous’ certainly did not surface as an adjective. The suspicious article was actually a film review of the documentary, “Chasing Ice”. I had not heard of the film, released in December 2012. However, I now intend to watch it as soon as possible. As should you! Some reviewers describe it as,  “One of the most beautiful films of the year” Huffington Post and, “The smoking gun on climate change”, Robert F Kennedy Jr.

James Balog, a photographer for National Geographic, was shaken out of his climate change skepticism after taking an assignment to photograph the retreat of a glacier in Iceland. Check out some of James’s photography here. After his experience in Iceland, he set out to provide undeniable evidence that might convince other skeptics of the realities of climate change. His evidence took form as the “Extreme Ice Survey

“Founded in 2007 by James Balog, the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) is an innovative, long-term photography project that merges art and science to give a “visual voice” to the planet’s changing ecosystems. One aspect of EIS is an extensive portfolio of single-frame photos celebrating the beauty–the art and architecture–of ice. The other aspect of EIS is time-lapse photography; currently, 28 cameras are 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. We edit the time-lapse images into stunning videos that reveal how fast climate change is transforming large regions of the planet.”

ChasingIceThe brutal expedition and breathtaking images from this project are documented in “Chasing Ice”.

This film got me thinking more about how we communicate science and large-scale issues such as climate change. Claire and I attended the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society  (AMOS) conference back in February and of all of the very informative and novel scientific research being presented, one particular talk has really stuck with me. I am fairly confident that this talk has lingered in the minds of many who were there to hear Anne Henderson-Sellers telling climate scientists that, “They need to get out and go to the movies!”

Yoda it is
Yoda it is

I think this notion of visual edutainment is potent and unparalleled. People love images – still, moving, make-believe, it doesn’t matter. Images fill our minds. They stick with us; how many times have you forgotten a name, but remember the face? Images inspire us, “may the force be with you!” who doesn’t want to be a Jedi… even just a little bit. They tug at our heartstrings and make breaking news stories a reality. Thus, it is not surprising that photography, movies, or really any visual social media are extremely powerful education tools. The scientific community is seeing this more and more.

Hollywood movies are excellent ways to bring about awareness, see Claire’s post on “Using Hollywood to communicate science”. Blockbuster science, taken with a grain of salt, is a wonderfully sneaky way to ‘edutain’ the unsuspecting audience. Indeed, documentaries like “An Inconvenient Truth” are informative and inspiring; however, I think films like this end up ‘preaching to the choir’ most of the time. Meanwhile, who would have suspected that the average-Joe would obtain a fairly accurate understanding of Thermohaline Circulation and meet a paleoclimatologist in one fell swoop of Hollywood action and dramatization.

National Geographic photo of the day: Best of January 2013
National Geographic photo of the day: Best of January 2013

On the other end of the spectrum, we find the soothing voice of David Attenborough as he shows us what our world is really worth and the creatures that we share it with. National Geographic is the Earth’s family photo album and continually inspires people to care about the planet.

I have come to the terrible realization that I am guilty of not going to the movies. There are treasure troves of films that have slipped under my radar, and possibly yours. Perhaps a local ‘Edutainment Film Festival’ is in order.

Chasing Ice”, now at the top of my must-see-list (and airing on the National Geographic Chanel Australia Wednesday, 24 April at 1:30pm), may prove to show a terrible reality in a visually stunning and unforgettable way – Real & Gorgeous – and maybe that is what we need. For all those skeptics out there who need to see it to believe it, here it is.

1 September 2008 British Columbia: Bishop Glacier calves ice into proglacial lake. Glacier filled lake basin until recently.  James Balog Photography
1 September 2008 British Columbia: Bishop Glacier calves ice into proglacial lake. Glacier filled lake basin until recently. James Balog Photography