Ice: The Smoking Gun of Climate Change

Like everyone, I feel heartsick at the Connecticut shootings this week that left twenty-six people dead, including twenty young children. Whose heart would not be broken by such a human tragedy? May it lead to some long-overdue gun control legislation. And may the culture of rage that would stir such an atrocity be faced and healed. There are times when grief is the only sane response, when the absence of grief makes us less than human. We can all recognize the truth of this with the Connecticut shootings. Yet at the same time I am stirred by the irony of grief's absence in the face of another unfolding tragedy. An assault weapon can kill people, but it cannot kill the very climate upon which all our lives depend.

For that we have other weapons, also of human invention, that are far more destructive than any mere gun. Each day we get out of bed, re-load these other weapons, and over the course of the day, fire several more rounds of carbon at an already-disintegrating climate - usually without a shred of grief, or any real awareness of our complicity in the tragedy. We cannot see the bullets we are firing. We cannot feel the damage they make on impact. And so we fail to notice, fail to grieve, fail to change, fail to demand the climate "gun control" legislation that might stop the senseless killing of our biosphere.

Where is the broken heart that would constitute a sane response to this tragedy? How do we span the chasm between our ability to feel deeply on a human level, while remaining unmoved when the scale (and the stakes) become larger-than-human?

When we were in New York a couple weeks ago, my wife Sally and I saw James Balog's extraordinary documentary Chasing Ice. Balog takes on precisely this absence of grief, this absence of human feeling, in the face of our escalating climate crisis. How to make it real? How to pierce the human heart with its truth? "We don't have a problem of economics, technology and public policy. We have a problem of perception . . . Ice is the canary in the global coal mine. It is the place where we can see and hear and feel and touch climate change in action," Balog says. He brings the viewer with him on a mission to capture on film both the beauty and the tragedy of our disintegrating icecaps. At great personal risk, he and his team install twenty-five time-lapse cameras at remote glaciers around the globe where their retreat can be experienced vicerally, where the pace of change is made heart-stoppingly real, and can be felt in the bones. It is a moving, magnificent, and courageous film.

Chasing Ice is showing in select theaters around the country, and deserves a mass audience. It manages to uplift with beauty and human courage, even as it brings home the tragic dimensions of our unfolding climate catastrophe. By taking the crisis on as a personal adventure, and by showing what one person's audacious vision can accomplish, it roots out the prevailing sense of paralysis that has kept far too many of us on the sidelines of this defining challenge of our time.