Mixing Art with Science


Just a bit ago, James Balog came to Dickinson to receive his Rose-Walters Prize for Global Environmental Activism. He came to check out all sectors of environmentalism at our college. I was able to spend lots of quality time with Balog– he ate breakfast at my home, the Center for Sustainable Living, came to my work at the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring, and he stopped by our mosaic class.

During our interactions, I was struck by how eloquent Balog was when talking about nature. When asked about how he felt connected with nature, he talked about how the night connected him with the universe. The sky is deceiving, he said, when the light stops hitting the particles in the atmosphere, you see where we really are. You see that we are actually on a rock, speeding though outer space. You see that we have a small home in a vast universe and we have to protect it. We can’t allow our little space ship to be uninhabitable.


He said several times that there is no one thing that each person should do to combat climate change, we each have our own talents and should use those talents for the cause. Balog is using his artistic skills to raise awareness about increased glacial melting due to climate change. Sometimes, visual evidence can persuade people of the danger in ways charts and figures cannot.

You don’t need to be an economist or environmental expert to make a difference- if everyone used their own talents in slowing climate change, the force would be unstoppable.


Artistic Expressions of Climate Change

james balog web

When photographer and climate scientist James Balog visited Dickinson College a few weeks ago, our community was introduced to a new way of looking at climate issues in a means expressed through art. Balog expresses his concerns of climate change in the best way he knows possible, through his photography. His work was so stunning and moving that the movie Chasing Ice was made to motivate society and create a sense of urgency in calling for action.

Furthermore, on Monday October 20th and Tuesday October 21st, the mosaic group spent time in Washington DC listening to many guest speakers with several different backgrounds. Our last speaker, Keya Chatterjee, of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) had a very optimistic and positive aspect on the direction that the climate change movement is headed. She mentioned the power of art and music in modern society and suggested that maybe if climate concerns were expressed though different forms of art that this might have a monumental affect on modern society.

The New York Times article, “Extreme Weather” Explores the Climate Fight As a Family Feud, by Andrew C. Revkin, talks about the play “Extreme Weather”. Play writer Karen Maldpede, uses  “theater to explore the clashing passions around human-driven global warming and our fossil fuel fixation” (Revkin). Included in this article is a video of author Andrew Revkin singing his song “Liberated Carbon”, listening to this song for the first time made me chuckle; the idea of climate change expressed though song is such a foreign concept to me.

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Star Gazing Glacier

Star gazing glacier
Star Gazing Glacier

James Balog, recipient of the 2014 Sam Rose ’58 and Julie Walters Prize at Dickinson College for Global Environmental Activism is an American nature photographer and scientist who has been following rapid glacier melt due to climate change.  Founded in 2007, his project, the Extreme Ice Survey, was as a method of educating those on the immediate impact of climate change and showing them how humans play a role in climate change.  He enjoys nature and he had a hard time figuring out what is an effective way to make the public understand that climate change is occurring on a day-to day basis.  He wanted to make skeptics of climate change question their views and that is just what he did.

He was sent to take a picture of ice for the National Geographic magazine that he thought he couldn’t complete.  That mission soon led him to think about how ice is melting at a rapid pace due to climate change, which in turn made him pursue his project, the Extreme Ice Survey.  By traveling to multiple locations where there are glaciers, he monitored the rate at which they were melting.  The footage he captured was just amazing.

His pictures speak more than a thousand words.  There was a free showing of his documentary, “Chasing Ice” at the Carlisle Theater and hundreds of people showed up to the screening.  As the documentary was playing, you can hear the sounds of concern the audience was making.  Having had the privilege of being able to speak to him multiple times one-to-one (and getting a picture with him!), I can say that he is truly invested in his work and his passion burns inside in out.  Despite injuring his knee quite too many times, he still perseveres and completes his ongoing, never-ending mission.  Balog’s next project deals with forrest fires…let’s hope he makes another documentary leaving people awe-struck and that too without melting his equipment!

James Balog’s Chasing Ice: Multidisciplinary Work Sparks Action

balogs lecture Carl Sander Socolow

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Photo by Carl Sander Socolow
Photo by Carl Sander Socolow

James Balog’s documentation of melting and changing ice due to climate change are breathtaking. Through his art, he is able to capture a phenomena that feels like it should take decades, to occur in as little as thirty seconds, but so what? The “what” is that besides making new observations evidencing Climate Change, Balog’s work becomes relevant to the “everyday” person, bringing the issue of climate change to the hearts of more than just concerned scientists, a few national governments, and environmental grassroots groups. Additionally, Balog’s Extreme Ice Project has become a tool for legislation as providing solid evidence of the climate changing rapid; these pictures prove that the climate is changing now. Balog’s Chasing Ice exemplifies a multi-sector approach, combining private art through photography, public concern, grassroots action, and influence on governmental legislation, into a big ball of momentum ready to act. Just looking at Dickinson, more than your average Environmental Studies and Science majors were encouraged to watch the film and attend his lecture/performance. Even my friend, an art history major, came to the lecture/performance for her contemporary art class.

More importantly, not only does Balog’s work reach everyone, it resonates with them. Talking about Balog’s work at dinner the night before the lecture, my friend began relaying facts to me from Chasing Ice about the urgency of global climate change. As an International Studies major focusing on sustainability, I thought I would’ve been the one telling her facts regarding Climate Change but Balog’s work makes the issue resonate with everyone, no matter one’s walk of life. Balog’s multi-disciplinary work has had great success in sparking more concern in the world’s citizens and reminds me of the growing call for a multi-level multi-sector approach to climate governance. The bottom line: if anything is to be done about climate change, everyone, no matter their interests, must be on board and Balog’s work brings us one step closer. 

Seeing Greenland after having been there

After going to Greenland this past August, I had even more questions after seeing Chasing Ice the second time around than I did the first time I saw it. This past week Jim Balog visted Dickinson College to receive the Rose-Walters Prize for Global Environmental Activism and many of us had multiple opportunities to interact with him. What I find most interesting about his work is the questions of scale, which he raises for us. Even after having seen the Greenland ice sheet, I have a hard time visualizing the scale of the ice Balog is photographing.

Photograph taken from Jim Balog
Photograph taken from Jim Balog

The photo (right) of black dots in ice exemplifies this idea for me. Take a look at it and think to your self: how big are those dots? Once you think you have an idea, click here to explore the Dark Snow project and see some pictures that have those same style of features in them with scales. (Hint: those a very small features, on the order of centimeters).

Even after going to Greenland it is still hard to imagine how massive these glacial features really are. Balog does a nice job of helping his audience visualize this with comparisons to lower Manhattan, the empire state building and the capitol building, yet I still don’t think most people can gain an appreciation for the enormity of the ice. I have included several pictures from my trip to Greenland below with relatively small icebergs with boats in the pictures for scale. Can you see the boats?

If you are interesting in viewing Chasing Ice, see Extreme Ice first, it is free!

Can you see the boats amongst the small glaciers?
Small glacial tongue
Small glacial tongue

The Tip of the Iceberg



James Balog is an American nature photographer whose most recent work has been focused around climate change and glacial melt. His project, the Extreme Ice Survey, was founded in 2007 as a mode of educating those on the immediate impact of climate change, as well as proving that the human-induced warming of the planet is having obvious effects on the natural world. It is safe to say that he was successful in his endeavors. I can say this based entirely off of the experience of having him come to Dickinson for a residency he did as a result of winning the Rose-Walters Prize for Global Environmental Activism; previous winners include 350.org founder and author Bill McKibben and former EPA Admistrator and current VP for Sustainability with Apple Lisa Jackson. Balog’s visit began before he even arrived on campus with a free public viewing of the film Chasing Ice. This attracted over 500 people and was well received by members of the Dickinson community, as well as the local Carlisle community. Balog arrived the next day after the People’s Climate March in NYC. It was then a whirlwind two days for the photographer that was filled with class visits, informal Q&A sessions, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. This all culminated in a half lecture and half performance. The performance was a spoken word reading set to a slideshow of images captured through EIS, as well as some of his past work with endangered species. It was captivating.

Alaska, Dry Ice, Water
An activist from Alaska drags dry ice as it sublimates, through the streets of NYC to represent rapidly melting ice.

My experiences with Balog, as I was lucky enough to sit down with him in several smaller settings, were inspirational. He touched on many subjects, from the difficulty of copyright in the media world to how rock climbing has influenced his path through life. The whole time he was here though I kept wondering what the best way to illustrate climate change to large groups actually is. How do we effectively take the knowledge and concern of climate change and help others understand it? Balog seems to have figured out a very effective way to do this. He has made something very difficult to comprehend as a human and he did it with stunning photography. I am still asking myself what might be the best way to represent climate change. Balog’s next piece of work will incorporate the California wildfires and will hopefully draw even deeper connections of human influence on the natural order to disturbances in the climate system.

So, Balog came to Dickinson. It was an incredible experience and we all learned a lot from him. Inspiration flowed and conversations started. I don’t mean to sound cold about his residency, it was truly incredible and I am going to be working on doing something very similar after a I graduate because of my time with him, but what happens now? Where do we take this conversation on our campus? Where do communities take the public showings of Chasing Ice once they are done? How do we enact change? These are the questions. One answer I have seen is continuing the conversation. I plan on attending several follow up events to Balog’s visit over the next few weeks. These events will be conversations about climate change and different sectors of society. Many people asked Balog what they need to do on a personal level to help mitigate and adapt. He flat out told them that he has no idea what they need to do. How could he? He has never met them. He did remind them though that something needs to be done, something more than what is being done now. And I think that is a huge takeaway from the experience. There will not be one thing that a single person or even an entire community can do to mitigate further climate change. Each person, each community, each nation-state will all need to find the solution that works for their political regime, their societal needs, their culture. That patchwork of solutions will be what the negotiators will be discussing in Lima. Finding the common ground and ways to work to meet all needs are what they need to figure out. For the sake of these glaciers, these seemingly lifelike objects, I hope they can figure it out.

James Balog Presents Ice: COOLER than expected

One of my initial reactions to watching James Balog’s Chasing Ice was that I didn’t know ice could be photographed in such a magical way. My second reaction was holy $#!% this is really happening at such an astonishing rate. This documentary is different than other climate change related films I have seen. Many climate change documentaries are very scientific and factual which doesn’t address the “average” moviegoer. Balog’s documentary is very relatable to the average student, citizen, grandmother, whoever. His film is attractive in the way that it captures incredible visuals in a time lapse of what is happening at this very moment. People tend to only believe what they can see and James Balog is able to express climate change occurring in real time through photographs of melting glaciers.

When Balog met with our class on Tuesday September 23 I felt star struck after such an intimate classroom conversation covering topics about his personal interests, family references, and what he thinks we can contribute to climate change. Later that day, I was in the library and I found myself distracted looking at his photographs on display in our library. Still in awe about how magnificent and lifelike these glaciers were portrayed by James Balog. I definitely have a different perspective about natural landscapes, like glaciers, that are disappearing from out planet, faster than we think.

James Balog successfully used his interest in photography and his passion for a cause, climate change, to spread awareness and activism. I think this is a really important message that shows no matter your background, scientist, politician, activist, or student, we can all contribute in some way to the global issue of climate change. james-balog-web

Balog’s Pictures: Worth Far More Than 1000 Words


By Maeve Hogel


How can we see climate change? How can we take something that is often discussed in the abstract and show it in the here and now? As a visual learner, these are questions I have wondered for a while now and they were finally answered after watching James Balog’s Chasing Ice. Through Chasing Ice, Balog creates an amazing visual of climate change by capturing photos of glaciers over many years and using time lapse photography to showcase the change.


At Dickinson, we had the pleasure of spending time with James Balog last week. During his presentation, he said that by taking pictures of these glaciers, he is giving a voice to something that otherwise would not be able to speak. When you watch Chasing Ice, you can see how the glaciers move in this very life-like quality, but it is obviously true that they can’t speak. They can’t tell us that they are getting smaller. They can’t warn us of the dangers that might cause. But James Balog can, and does.


In this ABC News clip below, the newscaster starts off by saying, “only in America is it controversial for me to begin tonight’s program by declaring that global warming is really happening.” While I think naysayers exist in far more places than just the United States, the newscaster has a point. Despite the facts, despite the evidence, climate change still is extremely controversial. However, as this news clip shows, James Balog is helping to convince the naysayers, by showing the problem in a completely different light.


James Balog at Dickinson College

ChasingIce filmstill by James Balog Extreme Ice SurveySM

By Elizabeth Plascencia

A still from Chasing Ice
A still from Chasing Ice

I was a senior in high school when I first watched Chasing Ice. Nearly three and a half years later I had the honor of introducing Mr. James Balog for his public lecture at Dickinson College. Combining visual arts and science, Balog has presented the retreating ice of the world as a force to be reckoned with. Combating climate change skeptics with multi-year record proof, Balog is somewhat of a hero to me. Mindfully capturing these beautifully dynamic and fragile masses, he told a story.

In lieu of the Lorax – Mr. Balog speaks for the ice.

James Balog with the 2014 Global Climate Change Mosaic cohort at Dickinson College
James Balog with the 2014 Global Climate Change Mosaic cohort at Dickinson College
James Balog's lecture at Dickinson College on September 23, 2014
James Balog’s lecture at Dickinson College on September 23, 2014

Balog’s residency granted me the opportunity to interact through open class discussions and an afternoon student luncheon. Overall this experience has propelled me into the pursuit of finding my voice.

What will my cause be to champion? I speak for change.

Mosaic student Elizabeth Plascencia '16 introducing James Balog
Mosaic student Elizabeth Plascencia ’16 introducing James Balog

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