Melting Ice and Silence

I was just talking with a friend (Kelsey Sather – about supposedly alarmist rhetoric, or if “ranting” is ever appropriate. Maybe reading or hearing bold, declarative facts and opinions is off-putting to some people and drives them away from a learning opportunity. But when is it most fitting to express anger, frustration, or even just passion? I am angry, frustrated, and passionate about climate change and the accelerated rate at which it’s happening. I don’t want to keep quiet and polite about it.

James Balog feels all of this and more about the way we’re altering our home. He’s regularly in the field, having started the Extreme Ice Survey project.  EIS combines art and science to show us the story of a rapidly changing Arctic and planet. Balog and his team have been photographing certain glaciers in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, and Montana every half hour for several years. Viewing all the photographs together, even just those from a few successive months, reveals a sad portrait of a dying landscape. Beauty and tragedy are intertwined, and one cannot help but feel awe at the magnificence of the scenes alongside with guilt and trepidation. And a team of photographers and scientists are putting their lives on the line to share these experiences and feelings with the rest of us. You can view several of the photographs online, but Balog has also recently released a book containing many more.


The Athabascan Glacier in the Columbia Icefield. The Canadian Rockies got me the closest to glaciers I have ever been, and I have no doubt that the activities of tourists such as myself are not healthy for this receding ice giant.

The EIS team has been in the news recently because a documentary covering their work and Balog’s journey was just released in theatres. Chasing Ice played at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Excellence in Cinematography award. Now it’s playing in several cities across the country, including Salt Lake City. I had the pleasure of seeing it tonight.

The film presents several interesting juxtapositions: the visual, harsh reality of climate change versus TV pundits denying it, the vitality of the human spirit versus mortality shown through dying ice, the desire to make a difference versus the limitations of the human body, beauty versus devastation, night versus day.

We are treated to a view into Balog’s personal journey, giving us something more tangible to latch onto while we struggle with the many factors that go into climate change. We are treated to true determination and care – even in the face of three knee surgeries and apparently severe pain, the photographer and mountaineer still insisted on going out and checking and repositioning cameras in incredibly treacherous, fragile areas. We see loyalty in team members that are willing to camp in very harsh conditions for 17 days and stare at ice doing nothing – until they witnessed the biggest glacial calving event ever caught on film. We see loss – at the grandiose scale of Greenland melting away and the small scale of bubbles filled with ancient air escaping after millennia of being safely ensconced in the frozen ground. And we see people who are not afraid to show strong emotions – to be angry about unwillingness to act and willful ignorance of clear scientific evidence – at a time when it is very necessary.

Last year, Jim Balog gave a talk on the Extreme Ice Survey at the University of Utah.  He showed many of his amazing photographs, explained the increase in carbon dioxide since the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the greenhouse gas effect, and showed his eye-opening time-lapse photography sequences. The next day, he attended Terry Tempest William’s writing seminar, Art, Advocacy, and Landscape (a required and very much worthwhile class for Environmental Humanities students). We met for eight hours on Saturdays in an intense month-long class and he joined us for one of those sessions. What followed was what some may term a heated, passionate discussion – perhaps a rant from each of us.

We discussed feeling despair, feeling that no one will listen to us, the little steps we can all take, and the fact that it is now the governments of the world who need to act the most strongly and immediately. We spoke about the idea of manifest destiny remaining amongst us and simply transforming into material destiny – we feel we’re entitled to things and entitled to not think about background and consequences. Perhaps most importantly, we discussed the imperative need for love. We can’t fix anything without it, we can’t create a community without it, we can’t alter ourselves without it. Is love not also a strong emotion that comes through whenever somebody rants passionately about something?

So yes, it is time to come on strongly about this issue. With all the latest research that has come out on the rate at which the climate is being altered, should we not speak out angrily? World Bank just published a report on the danger of a 4 degree Celsius rise in global temperature. PricewaterhouseCoopers, a professional services firm, recently published a similar report on surpassing the planned capped rise of 2 degrees. We are likely on a trajectory to warm more than this in the not-too-distant future. And researchers from the University of Alaska want us to know what’s going on with permafrost and methane in the Arctic.

This is not something from which we are separate, no matter how small we feel on the surface of this magnificent planet. This is something we are very much a part of, and if we have the power to destroy nature, we must somehow find the power to try to fix (or at this point, stave off the worst of) what we’ve done. To paraphrase one of my favorite quotes from Jim Balog in Chasing Ice, in the nighttime we remember that we are animals, we are part of this planet and part of this galaxy. In the daytime, we walk around ignorant. Let’s not be afraid of the night, of facing our problems and our anger.

Annie Gilliland is a student in the Environmental Humanities Master’s program at the University of Utah. She is researching light pollution, darkness, and the effects of an overdeveloped world.

6 responses to “Melting Ice and Silence

  1. Wonderful post. I really believe that ranting is necessary. It always brings out the best writing in my eyes. : )

    I wish I had time to see the movie. I’m sure it was incredibly packed. I did see a Ted Talk however with James Balog, and I’ll tell you it was the most heart-wrenching one I have ever seen. The extent to which the ice is melting is completely mind-boggling.

    I did see some glaciers when I was a kid in Alaska, but I really wonder if they are still there.

    Nice post. Let’s keep up the talk about climate change and quit driving our gas guzzlers.

  2. Thank you for writing, and introducing me to movement enthusiasts I have yet to discover! I enjoyed this article, as I enjoy this discussion. I’m often driven to ask myself (daily… smile) where to draw my line. There is such value in optimism, and yet we must process the consequences of our actions. Both are conducive to healthy progress, and prevention of further damage. So, should we tailor our approach, incorporating both, in order to maximize energy and speed our development? I explored this balancing act in an article I called “Embracing the Fulcrum”. My conclusion (for the day) was this:

    My thoughts and motives must be focused on positivity. And, I cannot ignore the global consequences of over-consumption. These forces are potent enough, independent of the other, to command all of my mind-space and energy. Choosing to hold the two together requires discipline and vigilance. With one hand, palm up, I elevate the glowing hope of possibility. With the other, I direct focus, simplification, strategy, and active solution-making. In one body, the two seemingly opposing principals reside together, their polarity only serving to strengthen the core. When I achieve balance, it feels effortless. When I try to grasp the harmony, own it, put it in my pocket for safe-keeping, it escapes me.

    I will be back to read more! I like to share in this curriculum… Especially with those who are courageous and devoted.. It is a fueling experience. Squeeze hug from Biocadence!

  3. Pingback: Ranting Reconsidered « sustainableUTAH·

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