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Truthdigger of the Week: James Balog

Alexander Reed Kelly
Associate Editor
In December 2010, Alex was arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House alongside Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, healthcare activist Margaret Flowers and…
Alexander Reed Kelly

In his new film on the disappearance of Arctic glaciers, “Chasing Ice,” author, award-winning photographer and reformed climate-change denier James Balog used time-lapse photography to capture global warming in progress.

Balog’s film, which he made with director Jeff Orlowski and his colleagues in the Extreme Ice Survey, opened in theaters nationwide last week.

With the understanding that global warming is an abstract process typically associated with measurements and statistics, Balog sought to capitalize on his experience as a mountaineer to bring images of its most obvious effects — the melting of Arctic ice — to the public. Assignments with The New Yorker and National Geographic led Balog and his colleagues to the realization that they could use time-lapse photography to achieve the effect. So the team placed cameras set to snap pictures every 10 minutes at key locations thoughout the Arctic.

Thirty-four such cameras now sit at 16 glaciers in Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, Montana and Nepal.

In the film, Balog and his crew capture the positions “then and now” of a glacier in south central Alaska that since 1984 has retreated 11 miles and lost altitude equal to the height of the Empire State Building. The ice that has disappeared is now part of the Pacific Ocean, he says.

In a conversation with “Democracy Now!” Balog spoke about how his experience “chasing” vanishing glaciers affected him personally:

I’ve been profoundly reshaped in my own mind, in my own mentality and life experience, by this. I am really, really, really concerned for my daughters’ future. I have a 24-year-old daughter, and I have an 11-year-old daughter. And I’m quite concerned that the — that by the time they get to be our age, they’re going to be living in a world that’s so radically different from what we’re living in, and it might be not such a great world. I think they’re certain to be living in much more violent extremes of weather, with unknowable geopolitical consequences from that, from perhaps agriculture stress, drought stress, whatever. I’m very concerned about the stability and security and safety of the world that my kids will be in.

For sharing that discomforting sincerity, and for capturing and beautifully rendering undeniable evidence of our destabilizing planet, we honor James Balog as our Truthdigger of the Week. See the trailer for “Chasing Ice” and Balog’s appearance on “Democracy Now!” below.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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