Ideas that add up #4

Ideas that add up #4

Fourteen hundred glaciers in the Yukon Territory were studied from 1958. [Satellite observations show that] of those fourteen hundred, four got bigger, nearly three hundred glaciers disappeared altogether, and the rest got smaller.

Dr Martin Sharp in the documentary movie Chasing Ice

This as an antidote to the occasionally heard assertion that the glacier record proves little since some glaciers are getting bigger.

The film tracks a dogged photographer, James Balog, whose personal mission is to demonstrate, by time-lapse photography, the retreat and all-round shrinkage of major glaciers in Iceland, Greenland and Alaska. This he does.

For me the most stunning, chilling footage was filmed atop the Greenland ice sheet. Tiny black pits in the surface form around specks of desert dust and fossil-fuel soot. Absorbing more heat from the sun than the surrounding whiteness they melt little pools of dark water, which in turn absorb more heat, so getting wider and deeper. Runoff collects in rivers of dazzling blue transparency that meander through canyons as bright as bathroom porcelain then plunge down gaping sinkholes. That water ultimately permeates to the base of the ice sheet, miles below, where it lubricates movement of the ice towards the sea.

The cinematography and still photography in Chasing Ice are inspired. The point is beautifully made, through images, that ice matters. A mildly optimistic gloss is added towards the end of the film, along the lines of “it’s not too late to make a difference” etc. But for those of us already gloomy about climate change, Chasing Ice is another wearying reminder of what we wish weren’t so: “We are fucked. We are so fucked.”

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