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Chasing Ice: climate change portrayed in devastatingly beautiful fashion

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Photographer James Balog used to be sceptical about climate change. This was until 2005, when he was sent to the Arctic for an assignment. Capturing the region’s rapid disappearance on film became his life, and Chasing Ice, a 2012 documentary film by Jeff Orlowski, follows his ground-breaking journey.

If I hadn’t seen it in the pictures, I wouldn’t have believed it at all”, says James Balog, sitting on the side of an Icelandic ridge, peering out over what remains of the Sólheimajökull glacier.

I call it a glacier, but it’s more of an icy rock when Balog returns in 2009 – just a year after installing a time-lapse camera at the scene to visualise its demise. Glaciers naturally advance and retreat depending on the season, but there’s no denying that this disturbing decline is not natural.

But Sólheimajökull is just one of a number of glaciers captured on film by Balog and his team in Chasing Ice – a documentary made by Jeff Orlowski which is set for UK release in December this year – and each one of them display equally worrying trends.

The film’s release is timely. Disturbing statistics released by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in the US in August showed how sea ice cover in the Arctic had reached its lowest amount since satellite observation began in 1979. The data concluded that just 1.58m square miles was now covered by ice – 27,000 square miles less than the previous record, set in September 2007. This figure decreased even further as summer melting continued in the region throughout September.

Chasing Ice doesn’t only map out the decline of some of the world’s biggest glaciers; it also marks wholesale changes in Balog’s views. It’s hard to believe that the man on screen, who appears so passionate about documenting these pristine landscapes, was once sceptical about mankind’s impact on climate change.

A former photographer for National Geographic, he was sent to the Arctic on an assignment and was drawn in by the region’s dramatic disappearance. “I never imagined that you could see glaciers this big disappearing in such a short time”, he says in the film. It was at this point that he saw a powerful piece of history unfolding in his photographs. And he had to go back.

Bringing together a dedicated team of engineers, ecologists, filmmakers, researchers and glaciologists, Balog set up the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) – a project that would help visualise the effects of climate change on some of the most vulnerable places on Earth.

EIS placed an initial 25 cameras in various locations around the world, and using solar-powered batteries, engineered them to take photographs every hour during daylight. The aim was to create a time-lapse video of each glacier’s retreat.

It’s difficult to comprehend through the medium of words just how powerful some of the footage is; glaciers retreating the length of nearly 300 double decker buses and areas the size of lower Manhattan being churned up in almighty calving event. All in a matter of years.

The most distressing scene appears towards the end. After Balog had unexpectedly witnessed a massive chunk of ice fall off a glacier while setting up one of the time-lapse cameras, he decided to send two of his team to Greenland to capture a calving session on video. They set up camp, set the cameras rolling and waited. And seventeen days later, it happened.

It was the biggest calving event ever to be caught on film. Footage shows blocks of ice 400 foot high being tossed around in a scene reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster. Tidal waves of icebergs come crashing through a sea of mayhem, as the 3 mile wide glacier retreats a whole mile in just 75 minutes.

From this scene alone, it’d be easy to describe Chasing Ice as ‘just another doom-and-gloom, we’re all going to die, climate change film’. It’s not. The images captured by EIS are peculiarly beautiful and Balog’s approach to climate change is rational and inspiring, but above all, the impact of the film stretches way beyond film reviewers and cinemagoers.

Many of the world’s biggest and most profitable companies are oil and gas firms. And after providing much of the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, which have caused places like the Arctic to diminish so extraordinarily rapidly because of climate change, these companies are now seeing the once unreachable regions as places to drill for more fossil fuels. Sadly, it’s irony of highest nature.

But with that, it seems only fitting to allow Balog to offer an encouraging thought at the end of this review, taken from a TED lecture of his in July 2009.

I’ve come to the conclusion after spending a lot of time in this climate change world, that we don’t have a problem of economics, technology and public policy. We have a problem of perception. The policy and the economics and the technology are serious enough issues, but we actually can deal with them. I’m certain that we can. But what we have is a perception problem, because not enough people really get it yet.

Fortunately, a lot of the political leaders in the major countries of the world are in an elite audience that for the most part gets it now, but we still need to bring a lot of people along with us.

I believe we have an opportunity right now. We are nearly on the edge of a crisis, but we still have an opportunity to face the greatest challenge of our generation, in fact, of our century. And this is a terrific, terrific call to arms to do the right thing for ourselves and for the future and I hope that we have the wisdom to let the angels of our better nature rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done.”

Climate scientists are not arguing about global warming. There is no argument. The evidence is so compellingly clear that they are genuinely scared about the future of our planet. What our greenhouse gases are doing to vulnerable regions like the Arctic is an abomination, and the fact that the scientific consensus isn’t accepted by all is both highly mystifying and deeply worrying.

Chasing Ice is one of the clearest and most devastatingly beautiful pieces of visual evidence for climate change you’ll see. It deserves to be watched, absorbed and acted upon. I, like Balog, am optimistic of our chances.

Chasing Ice is out in UK cinemas on December 14.

Further reading:

To tackle the melting Arctic is to tackle climate change itself

MPs publish report urging Arctic oil drilling halt

Arctic sea ice continues its worrying decline

Arctic ice reaches record low with more melting expected

Government attacked on proposed cuts to British Antarctic Survey

Editors Choice

2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage

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Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/droidworker

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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Environment

How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018

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eco-responsible
Shutterstock / By KENG MERRY Paper Art | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/kengmerrymikeymelody

Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.

Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:

1. Energy – produce it, save it

If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.

It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.

While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.

energy efficient

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By My Life Graphic

Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!

2. Don’t be just another tourist

Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.

3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly

eco-friendly

Shutterstock / By Khakimullin Aleksandr

We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t  mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.

To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.

It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.

4. Know thy recycling

People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.

People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.

5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool

Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.

All in all

The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.

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