On the Rocks 

James Balog launched the Extreme Ice Survey to photograph melting glaciers from Glacier National Park to Greenland. He got the images, but now comes the hard part.

Page 3 of 5

This is a bipartisan issue, it's a nondenominational issue. It's of profound consequence to everybody on the planet today. It has profound consequences for national security, economic security, health, and last but not least, environmental quality. But before that, it's national security.

That's what you guys should be telling your audience...This is a national security issue of a very high order, because we are spending boatloads of money to defend the oil supplies in the Middle East so we can keep burning them. Would we rather be more secure having energy supplies in the United States that are renewable, or would we rather sacrifice the lives of our young men and women in the desert sands?

click to enlarge Icebergs 200 feet tall, formerly part of the Greenland Ice Sheet, float the North Atlantic Ocean, raising sea levels as they melt. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE EXTREME ICE SURVEY

CS Indy: I've heard evangelical Christians, for instance, say it's essentially hubris to think humans could have this impact on the climate. Can you talk about how you might reach people who come at climate change from that angle?

Balog: I'm very interested in that audience. I actually welcome the opportunity to speak at some of those churches, if the day ever came that I could. I would first note that there are some churches there that are very much involved with...there's a term for it and it's escaping me right now. But they are preaching the message of environmental stewardship. They are taking the stance that the Earth is a creation that was given to us by God, and we have a responsibility to maintain it in a positive, sustaining way...

CS Indy: Creation care, I think.

Balog: Creation care, thank you. There's been a schism in the evangelical community between those guys and everybody else. Those guys are saying we have a biblical responsibility to take care of the planet. I see what we are doing as part of speaking to that message and that sensibility.

The other argument that it's hubris...I don't think it's true. I think it's in part derived from the older fundamentalist view that the Earth is a resource, a passive stage that was put here for our unbridled use and pleasure. That is clearly a flaw in the theology. Any thoughtful person who looks at the challenge of resource use on this planet today has to be a little bit humbled around the idea that maybe this is not an infinite planet.

CS Indy: Can you talk about a certain image, or place that you've gone, where you feel it's been particularly powerful to viewers? Has there been one image where there have been a few people who may have completely changed their minds?

Balog: One of the most gratifying moments was, I gave the slide show at a museum in Florida, and a guy came up to me afterwards. Retired gentleman, white hair—you know, it's a golf community, so he had on one of those bright canary-yellow sport coats, with a lime-green polo shirt. And he said, "Mr. Balog, pleased to meet you. I thought this climate change business, this global warming business, was a bunch of crap. I used to be [an executive] for Texaco. You have shown me that I was wrong."

But is there any one picture? The time lapses are incredibly powerful for people. They kind of harvest what's visible, and make it real. I've never seen glacier flow. The cameras see it. So, when you suddenly reveal this new aspect of the world, and you make it real like that, you can hear the "oohs" and the "aahs" in the room as this unimaginable series of events is made manifest through these pictures. Cumulatively, they kind of grab people by the shoulders and shake them.

click to enlarge Glacier National Park’s Grinnell Glacier has retreated steadily for more than a century. The glacier’s surface area was 2.33 sq. km in 1850 and 0.88 sq. km in 1993, the date of the last precise survey. It has already lost about 90 percent of its volume since 1910, and experts expect considerable destruction of the glacier in the next 10 years. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE EXTREME ICE SURVEY
  • photos courtesy of the Extreme Ice Survey
  • Glacier National Park’s Grinnell Glacier has retreated steadily for more than a century. The glacier’s surface area was 2.33 sq. km in 1850 and 0.88 sq. km in 1993, the date of the last precise survey. It has already lost about 90 percent of its volume since 1910, and experts expect considerable destruction of the glacier in the next 10 years.

CS Indy: This work obviously takes you to a lot of cold and inhospitable places. Can you talk about your experiences in the field? Have there been near misses with icebergs calving or anything like that?

Balog: It can be a very tiring, very dangerous, very stressful project, in a lot of ways. I'm going to go off on a tangent...In my darker nights of despair, I ask myself, "Why are you putting yourself through this?" My answer is, that there's a voice in my head, and the voice is of my daughters—I've got an 8-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old daughter—and I fast-forward through time, and I imagine myself as an old man in a rocking chair, and I imagine them saying to me, "Dad, what were you doing 25 years ago when the climate was changing, when the world was coming apart? Were you paying attention? Was your society paying attention?"

  • Email
  • Favorite
  • Print

Speaking of Features

Tags: , ,

Readers also liked…

© 2016 Missoula News/Independent Publishing | Powered by Foundation