With the upcoming Commencement address by U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, BC ’66, climate change and sustainability are on the minds of the student ambassadors of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) on campus. On Monday evening in Stokes 195S, the group screened the documentary Chasing Ice, directed by Jeff Orlowski.
The Boston College CRS student ambassadors work to spread awareness of issues related to social justice, human rights, and global solidarity. They spread awareness mainly through educational efforts on campus. Screening Chasing Ice was a part of its effort to make students more conscious of the threat climate change poses.
The documentary follows nature photographer James Balog’s, BC ’74, work to publicize the effect of climate change on the world’s glaciers. He called his project the “Extreme Ice Survey.”
Glaciers are the most visible manifestation of climate change, according to Balog. His mission was to capture the melting of the glaciers on film.
“What [people] need is a piece of visual evidence—something that grabs them in the gut,” Balog said in the film.
Balog was initially skeptical about the existence of climate change and did not believe humans could cause such dramatic changes in the planet. Natural cycles of Earth served as a satisfying explanation to him for many years. Once he witnessed the drastic melting of the glaciers firsthand, however, Balog’s mind changed. He decided it was his duty to spread this knowledge to the public.
“When you see huge change—that’s outside normal behavior,” he said.
Balog and a team of experts fought through some of the harshest weather conditions in the world to install cameras that would capture time-lapse images of the changes in the glaciers. These cameras were installed in Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, and Montana. The team was able to install over two dozen cameras, strategically located in places that would capture the most dramatic visuals of climate change.
During his voyage, Balog came across evidence that climate change was not only real, but also caused by humans.
“Glaciers tell a story,” Balog said.
Glaciers are able to preserve climate records, as bubbles of ancient air exist in different layers. Scientists are able to drill into the glacier and remove a core, each layer containing air bubbles thousands of years old. Scientists then extract this air and measure its temperature and carbon-dioxide content. From these tests, scientists were able to conclude that since the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, carbon emissions have increased at an unprecedented rate. This evidence proves that the increase in carbon that has directly led to an increase in Earth’s overall temperature is not a natural cycle of Earth, but rather caused by humans.
“We are living in a moment of apoco-geologic change, and we humans are causing it,” Balog said.
Climate change will have more adverse effects than the melting of glaciers, according to Balog and climate scientists. They argue the melting of glaciers will cause sea levels to rise several feet by the end of the century. Although this may not seem like much to someone who lives in the mountains, this sea level rise will displace millions living on the coast, Balog said. Scientists estimate a minimum of 150 million people will be displaced by the end of the century.
Scientists believe more warm water will cause more extreme weather events like hurricanes, floods, droughts, and wildfires. These events will take a huge economic toll on the world, Balog said.
Balog and his team were able to capture dozens of time-lapse photographs of glaciers melting and showed them at different events, including a TED Talk. They were pleased with the reaction the photographs received. People seemed to be convinced that climate change was an extremely pressing problem, Balog said.
“We still have an opportunity to face the greatest challenge of our generation,” he said.
The event ended with CRS member Alex Green, MCAS ’19, leading a short discussion about the film.
“Every day we have a choice,” Green said. “We can all do something—whether it is eating less meat or taking the T.”
Green then passed around letters addressed to U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, urging her to support the Paris climate change accord reached in December 2015. Each member of the audience signed a letter, which was then sent to Warren.
“Be conscious about little things you can do in your life to help out,” Green said.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor