The exhibition “Extreme Ice” opened Thursday at the Museum of Science and Industry.
We spoke with photographer James Balog, who has traveled the world to illustrate the immediacy of the situation. And though he now captures visual evidence of climate change, he was once a skeptic.
Phil Ponce: James Balog has put himself at great risk to capture evidence that documents the Earth’s changing landscape.
He calls his project the Extreme Ice Survey.
Patricia Ward: We were really inspired once we became aware of James’ work, he began Extreme Ice Survey, which is a project that spanned over 10 years, which he deploys high-resolution cameras at different locations around world, at different glacier sites and these cameras capture images every hour of daylight, so he can really observe and document the rapid changes that are happening with our glaciers; the rapid the melting.
James Balog: The astounding thing for me is how much these landscapes have changed, and sometimes in very, very short periods of time. I’ve been a mountaineer for going on 40 years, I’ve traveled the world climbing mountains, I’ve seen a lot of glaciers, I’ve climbed on a lot of glaciers, skied on glaciers, and you tend to think of them as these big, static, dead, lumpy objects. You know, there’s this term “glacial pace” which signifies nothing happens on a glacier. Well guess what? These glaciers are animate, alive, changing characters, responding to the touch of the air and water around them.
Ponce: Balog leads an international team in the most wide-ranging, ground-based photographic study of glaciers in the world.
His personal opinions have evolved over the years.
Balog: I used to be a skeptic about the climate change story – I thought it was all a matter of computer modeling, and I wasn’t sure that the computer models were correct. I eventually learned that the core of the science wasn’t the computer modeling, it was actually real live evidence that scientists had been collecting for a long time, and that the changes in the glaciers as well as the causative events of the changing air supply were well understood.
The understanding of how the air changes because of having fossil fuels injecting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – that science has been understood since the middle of the 1800s. This is not some new thing that a bunch of hippies in Boulder and Berkeley came up with. This is really well understood, quantitative science. You can’t argue, you can’t negotiate, you can’t lobby away the basic physics and chemistry of the atmosphere.
This should be looked at as a universal issue, non-partisan issue because it touches all of us, regardless of whether we’re left or right, this is a broad issue. We should be standing on a higher plane than petty politics, and we should be reacting to the evidence that the world around us is giving.
Ward: We felt that this was the most powerful way, kind of a marrying of art and science to bring the story to our guests, to bring people closer, because climate change feels like a very long-term, very faraway kind of phenomenon, but it’s happening today, it’s urgent, it’s real, it’s immediate and we wanted to connect people with that story, help them feel that sense of urgency.
Ponce: Balog says it won’t be easy or fast, but he offers a call to action.
Balog: What we can do is alter the way that we use energy. Alter where we get energy, alter how we transmit energy, how we use energy. We have choices, but reacting to the problem of climate change is something that we owe to the integrity of ourselves as well as the future of our children.
The exhibition “Extreme Ice” is on display at the Museum of Science and Industry through early 2019.
March 20: Cuts to the EPA’s budget would affect a disproportionate number of minority and low-income residents in Chicago, experts say.
Feb. 3: With an expected audience of officials appointed by President Donald Trump, the Heartland Institute hopes to reset U.S. climate policy, which is also the theme for its upcoming International Conference on Climate Change.
Dec. 20: Why did the Trump transition team target Department of Energy staffers who worked on climate change? What does the future hold for climate research and nuclear weapons? A one-on-one interview with the current U.S. Secretary of Energy.