Tuesday, June 18, 2013

James Balog: "We need to understand nature is off its rocker right now"

By Jessica Shankleman

When photographer James Balog set out to the Arctic eight years ago, time-lapse cameras in tow, he was deeply sceptical about climate change. He had been asked to capture the melting ice caps by National Geographic, but was interested in little more than the final photos.
But as the project took shape, he began to grasp the true scale of the climate change risks the world faces and started to the use the results in lectures as he toured the world attempting to highlight the reality of global warming.
The results of his Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) sent shockwaves through the science world and his film about the project, Chasing Ice, was met with critical acclaim grossing nearly £75,000 in box offices here in the UK - a strong performance for a documentary.
Chasing Ice will be released on DVD today, allowing an even wider audience to gain an insight into the Arctic's rapidly melting glaciers. BusinessGreen sat down with Balog to discuss the challenges of the EIS, his evolving views on climate scepticism, and his next film.
This kind of project is not about journalism. It goes on for years and years and becomes more about taking artistic approach. I simply have a burning passion and desire to express what I see in the world around me.
As an earth sciences graduate and mountaineer, my own life experience has tied me to the ice and made me understand it, and [given me] an ability to function there.
We read stories about melting ice caps on the news and hear warnings about reaching 400ppm CO2 in the atmosphere. People are shocked but the next day something else happens that makes them forget. How do you think the EIS and Chasing Ice can bring the issues closer to home and leave a lasting impression?
The human mind has a built in filter that tries not to be troubled - we need to start with that. So you can have a tornado 100 kilometres away and the mind says: "Oh that was 100km away, I don't need to worry about that". Or there's a flood in Yorkshire, and people in London go: "Oh, well that's Yorkshire, that's their problem".
There's always that kind of buffer trying to protect your own psyche from the horrors of the bigger world and at EIS we're always fighting against it. I'm on the road all the time giving presentations to help people understand with a tangible photographic explanation of what's going on in their back yards, and I think it's effective.
The other thing that has made the climate change story real, immediate, and effective is that we have been seeing so many extreme weather events all round us in recent years on many continents. Australia, Europe, the US, the droughts the fires, the floods, the bug infestations, they happen and all of these things make climate change so much more of an intense part of the story.
Ultimately, the deniers are losing. They were gaining ground with a misinformation campaign for a couple of years, but nature laughs last and shows us what's going on.
Do you think that through EIS and Chasing Ice you've really managed to convince skeptics that global warming is a serious threat?
We will always have climate skeptics and we shouldn't expect there will be 100 per cent accord on this.
I was watching a film last night about how this misinformation campaign on the climate deniers' side works, and what really struck me with great force is that the kind of people who are fueling this debate are often the kinds of far out fanatics that would not have had a voice to do anything other than distribute pamphlets on a street corner 30 or 40 years ago.
They would have been considered crackpot nutcases. But because the money from wealthy crackpots gives them a voice in the media today, they're looked at as serious participants in the conversation. They ought to be living out of coverts talking to themselves. Read More