‘Chasing Ice’ Film Maker’s Take on Climate Story-Telling

Environmental photographer and filmmaker James Balog brings to AGU session a unique skill and message on communicating on climate change.

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 5, 2012 — “Chasing Ice” lead character James Balog, whose prize-winning film, now in theaters, is among those on the short list for an Academy Award, brought to AGU lessons for communicating science to broad lay audiences.

He remarked about one session he attended on risks to the Himalayas … with lots of complex graphs but few great visuals. “Make your point, make your points simple, get all the science blather down,” he cautioned, warning against “graph after graph after graph.”

“You can’t do a slight doctoring of an AGU show and go out to speak to lay people,” he advised.

Climate Not Abstract … ‘It’s the Air We Breathe’

Balog warned against the image of climate as some abstract. “This is air” that we breathe in and out all day long, he advised. “Air is around us all the time, and it’s real and it’s present right now.”

He pointed to a growing assemblage of time-lapse cameras — “miniature R2D2s,” he called them, placed strategically around the world.

His movie, “Chasing Ice,” wasn’t supposed to happen and wasn’t envisioned when he launched his extreme ice survey, Balog said.

“It bugs me as a paper guy and a stills-on-paper guy’ that the video presentation is proving so successful, Balog said. He encouraged still photographers to make more effective, and more frequent, use of videos and professional videographers.

“The secret sauce in this film just occurred to me three days ago,” he said. In addition to being a climate story, “it’s a love story” reflecting his love of the planet. “If you’re serious about telling the story well,” he cautioned, it takes money, resources, and expertise.

“The media are not necessarily your enemy,” Balog said, pointing to a range of major media interviews he has done since Superstorm Sandy increased media and public interest in ice, hurricanes, and climate.

The weather patterns long projected by scientists “are being manifested,” he said. He encouraged using “passionate emotional responses” by those directly affected to help make key points.

Balog advised that scientists and artists are “interested in clarity,” but pundits are interested in controversy and “noise,” and fossil fuel lobbyists are interested in “confusion.”

He encouraged climate scientists doing field research to better recognize the story-telling potential of what they might otherwise be dismissing as mundane and routine work.

“I never use the word ‘anthropogenic’ or ‘anthropocene’ in public, Balog said. I use the term ‘human-caused.’” He encouraged scientists to use skilled graphics designers — and strategically chosen colors — and to recognize their own, and substantial, inadequacies in this area.

“A lot of ad agencies can be your friends,” Balog said, doing pro bono and creative work they might seldom get to do.

“Use your voice,” he advised … “we are communicative animals.”

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is editor of Yale Climate Connections. (E-mail: bud@yaleclimateconnections.org).
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One Response to ‘Chasing Ice’ Film Maker’s Take on Climate Story-Telling

  1. Bruce Rockwood says:

    We saw Chasing Ice at the Lincoln Theater this week. It is a great film and very effective. It deserves wide release. And I hope his knees are OK.