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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Films for the Trump Years: Chasing Ice/Chasing Coral

            It is a hard and, at the moment, acutely painful task to try and picture the future of our race and our planet. It would be bad enough if the harms inflicted by the current wave of reactionary conservatism sweeping the West were just limited to the domestic affairs of individual countries.  Sadly, that will almost certainly not be the case.  At this crucial point in human history, a true internal breaking in either the United States or Europe would not only spell tragedy for people living in those respective countries, it could all too easily spell catastrophe for the entire human race and, by extension, most life on the planet Earth. 

            The crux around which the development (or destruction) of our species and life in general is, of course, global climate change, and all its strange, unpredictable, and increasingly violent effects. Everyone- EVERYONE- alive now will be judged by future generations according to one, overriding question; when all the evidence lay on the table, the immense scope of the challenge made clear, and the time came to decisively act, what did humanity do?  Who had ears and heard, had eyes and saw, and who fought with every fiber of their being to prevent disaster?  And who turned away, and stuck their heads in the ground?  Who, at the critical juncture, willingly accepted the suffering of their children and grandchildren as the price to keep their comfortable ignorance? 

              The announcement by Trump that the US will formally leave the Paris Climate Agreement (as well as his abandonment of the TPP), while most likely the death knell of American’s status as a relevant global player, also carries the potential of unraveling much of the positive environmental momentum that been building over the past few years.  A true collapse has not happened yet- internationally the agreement is still holding (thanks in no small part to China’s continued support), and several of the largest and richest states within the US have committed to sticking with and expanding the goals and targets laid out in the agreement, which in the long run could make formal involvement by the federal government a moot point. 

            Despite that bit of good news, we can’t afford to let up, not for a second.  For all the good that has happened over the past decade, we are still far behind where we need to be, and much of that hinges on continued ignorance of either the very existence of global warming or of just how far-reaching, intricate, and advanced its effects already are.

            While most of us are not in positions of political or economic power, and thus can only indirectly influence overarching government policy (like refusing to support candidates and parties that ignore the existence of the problem), what we all CAN do is continue to educate ourselves and each other, using every opportunity to spread good, reliable information and raise awareness, and film is a crucial part of that effort. 

            There are a LOT of great documentaries out there stretching back over a decade that explore climate change and possible solutions, but for this post, there are two in particular I want to recommend- the Netflix-produced documentaries Chasing Ice (2012) and Chasing Coral (2017), both directed by Jeff Orlowski.    

            The first of these films to come out was Chasing Ice, where the director follows and documents the remarkable efforts of James Balog and his crew, dubbed the Extreme Ice Survey (or EIS), to regularly photograph the retreat of glaciers across the Northern Hemisphere over a three-year-period.  Despite a number of technical and weather-related hiccups, they were able to succeed in this staggeringly large and complicated task, and the end result is a series of videos that allow you to literally watch massive, ancient ice structures wilt and melt away before your very eyes.  It is some of the starkest and most viscerally powerful visual proofs of climate change yet produced, and although many of their videos are being widely shared online, there are still far too many people who haven’t seen this film. 

            One person who did watch and paid attention was a former business marketing manager turned coral activist, who immediately saw how the same technique of long-running photography could be used to document another depressingly visible from of climate change- the slow bleaching and dying of vast stretches of the world’s coral reefs, some of the most biodiverse places on the planet and the foundation for entire ecosystems, economies, and cultures on the lands surrounding them.  He contacted Jeff, and mapped out a similar project to photograph several reef stretches expected to be hit hard by a new wave of bleaching.  The result was this year’s Chasing Coral, which packs every bit as much of a visual gut punch in its presentation as its predecessor.    

            While these are both excellent films on their own, they work best as a double-feature, allowing one to get a sense of scope of the problems we face by going from the coldest reaches of the North to the depths of the seas, and seeing how a common thread of slow-burning degradation connects both.  They are hard movies to watch- how can they not be- but that makes them all the more necessary if we are to ignite a large enough fire within ourselves to spur proper action. 

            Knowledge and facts are our greatest weapons in this fight, and ignorance our greatest enemy.  Watch these movies, share them, spread the word, and never stop thinking about what steps you can take next, because the work doesn’t end.  We will not abandon this planet to Trump and his ilk.  We can’t. 

-Noah Franc

Previously on Films for the Trump Years:

Part 1- Selma

Part 3- 13th

Part 4- Get Out

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