Voces por el clima


I was a member of the second group (lead by the fearless Jeff Niemitz) that attended Voces por el clima the first week and the real-deal COP20 the second week. I like to think as Voces as an excellent learning experience, and a great trial run before we got to the UNFCCC conference. The event was almost entirely dedicated to teaching climate change, because we spent the entire semester learning about climate change, personally, the biggest learning aspect of Voces came from learning to approach people, and improving my Spanish ability. That being said, Voces was filled with knowledgeable people and amazing art expressing the issue of climate change from a personal, abstract and human perspective. There were excellent photographs capturing sea level rise across the globe (they seemed to me to parallel James Balog’s work with glaciers), sculptures made from recycled material, and art lining the road to the main area.

Liz Plascencia and I teamed up, at first going around to the different booths (skipping the shameless Coca-Cola booth dedicated to green-washing and advertising) interviewing people from organizations that were relevant to our topics. However, once that tactic was exhausted we had to figure out a new method to find people that would be relevant to interview out of a seemingly random crowd. In the end we developed a scorched earth like tactic at Voces, we honed in on anyone we thought was a delegate and asked for an interview. The key was in the badges they wore: if it was pink (signifying delegate) we attacked. Initially we attempted small talk, trying to figure out what they did and specialized in specifically, before we asked for an interview. This proved less effective than just going straight for the gold and we transitioned to a more direct approach. In the end this method acquired us some lucrative interviews, with minimal complete busts. When we eventually arrived at COP, I felt very confident and comfortable talking to delegates.IMG_3596IMG_3623

Voces was certainly an informational place to be… especially if you spoke Spanish. Due to the fact Voces was largely centered on what Peru, and other Latin American countries are doing to combat climate change the majority of people there were exclusively Spanish speakers. While I have taken Spanish for many years and am proficient in the language, it certainly helped to team up with Liz (a native Spanish speaker) for interviews. After Voces por el clima my Spanish has never been better.


Paradigm Shift


In my Religion and Modern Culture class, we have talked about paradigm shifts this semester which is directly related to the climate change conversation. The movie, “An Inconvenient Truth” is a, excellent example of a paradigm shift emerging. The movie, and the work of Al Gore, is an attempt at shifting the worldview of the climate change problem. The movie acts to summarize a brief synopsis of the problem and it does so in a way that can be easily understood to the general public and is easily relatable. Towards the end of the movie, Gore brings up the topic of the Kyoto Protocol. The United States originally signed the Kyoto Protocol but never ratified it; this caused a huge global controversy that continued along with the US not ratifying the second commitment period to Kyoto. Where the visible shift can be seen is through initiatives in the United States being taken in California and the nine north eastern states banding together to take action. In Gore’s presentation, he shows a list of a multitude of major cities that are in support of the Kyoto. This is where the paradigm shift is starting to be seen, at the bottom-up level.

He also mentions, towards the end of the movie that he is doing his part by doing what he can. This entails giving presentations in major cities all around the world, addressing people at a more local level. His approach of conveying the message and the approach of the movie is extremely similar to that of James Balog and the film Chasing Ice. Sitting and chatting with Balog on a more personal basis and seeing his presentation while he visited Dickinson really put a lot of things into perspective. Balog, in the same way that Gore does, conveys his message in the best way he possibly can, through his photography. Both men express a sense of urgency and the need for further communication. Gore mentions that the issue of the ozone hole has been depleted; the climate change problem is not completely out of our grasp. What is needed, is a complete shift in cooperation globally, a paradigm shift. Not everyone is currently sitting at the table, but everyone is invited.

Eight years has passed since this movie came out and the shift is still continuing; there is power growing. I think the Peoples Climate March, the largest climate march in history, that took place recently is an extremely powerful example of the movement. Well over 400,000 people took the streets of Manhattan to express their voices and to take a stand. However, the shift needs to continue. Even here at Dickinson College, ranked in the nation among the most environmentally friendly schools, still needs change. There are people that don’t think anything of their actions throughout their day, perhaps they should. Everything we do in our everyday lives, literally everything, has an impact. The amount of times I hear students and friends say that their minute actions make no difference, that one or two things makes no difference, is literally sickening. The fact that people can leave their phone charger plugged into a wall while it is not in use and it is still emitting .5 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere per hour is again, a sickening thought. People NEED to be more conscious. The shift must continue.

The title of the movie is what it is; the issue of climate change that needs to be addressed is inconvenient in many ways. It has been ignored for so many for way too long because people would rather pretend the problem is not there than actually address it head on. The novel, Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes is a perfect example of doubt being used in many controversies over time. It is inconvenient both in that we have to deal with it and it’s impacts on today’s world, with some nations being more vulnerable than others. The definition of sustainability, to uphold the needs of today’s people without compromising the needs of future generations, relates to this inconvenience in that the paradigm shift must occur in order to comply with the needs of future generations.

Art and the Environment- Strip Mining

Lang Cover
Credit: Bernhard Lang  A 30 story bucket excavator  cuts out more coal.
Credit: Bernhard Lang
A 30 story bucket excavator cuts out more coal.

I came across a recent collection of photos by aerial photographer Bernhard Lang. This collection is that of an aerial shoot above the Hambach Mine in Germany. This lignite open pit mine is the deepest (in relation to sea-level) on the planet, being 931 feet below sea-level. Currently the mine is about 35 square kilometers large with a planned ending size of 85 square kilometers, roughly the size of Manhattan. All of this in a country that plans to be 80% renewable by 2050 and currently is the solar energy capital of the world. Some argue this is a result of the shutting down of nuclear facilities after Fukushima, as well as a result of the way emissions trading schemes are set up in the EU. The mine is still open and churning out coal everyday. Lang has done an excellent job of showcasing it, much in the way Balog has represented glacial melt and the impacts of anthropogenic global warming. This is not the first time Lang has been up in the air, attempting to capture the scale at which our society operates, much of his aerial work has taken on an environmental twist. As I find more artists looking to use their talents and passion to raise awareness and enact change, I wonder what else we might see in the coming decades.


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.

[youtube_sc url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOXgM3Fbr_4″]

What Can You Do About Climate Change?

On September 23, our SUST 500 class at Dickinson College had the pleasure of meeting James Balog, a world-renowned photographer best known for taking pictures of climate change’s effects on glaciers and ice sheets around the world. Students got to sit down and have a discussion with him about his work and his perspectives on climate change.

He said many interesting things, but the thing that stood out for me was his response when asked what individuals could do about climate change, “I don’t know,” he said. Balog went on to explain he responded in that way because he didn’t know anything about the person asking the question. Different people have different lives, and while some people are in a position act on climate change at a national or international level, some people can do important things at a more community or personal level.

I thought this was a really important point to make, and one that I had not heard before. Generally, when people talk about action on climate change, they discuss doing the little things such as riding a bike to work or recycling or purchasing fuel-efficient cars. While these things are all very important, I feel these kinds of actions sort of lump us all into one generic response. In fact, there are extreme differences among people across the United States and in the world in terms of age, wealth, access to resources, and other things. All of these factors play a part in what actions it is possible to take regarding climate change. More important than doing the generic “ride a bike, recycle, drive fuel-efficient cars” is to take a look at your circumstances and situation in life and make progress where you are able to make the most change.

In the civil rights era, Malcolm X, after taking a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, changed his views almost completely on white allies. Whereas before, he was staunchly against joining with white people, he now had this to say: “Where the really sincere white people have got to do their ‘proving’ of themselves is not among the black victims, but out on the battle lines of where America’s racism really is—and that’s in their own home communities…That’s where sincere whites who really mean to accomplish something have got to work” (Autobiography of Malcolm X). Malcolm X was still against having white people join the Black Panthers, but now it was because he believed it was not their place to make change. White people had influence in places where most black people at the time did not, and X believed it was in these places that white people could really do the most work.

This relates to climate change in that people should work to mitigate climate change in the realms they have the most influence. Some can influence high government functions, while others can do more work at a community level. Others might only be able to do small things at the community level. People should work to make changes in line with the circumstances surrounding their lives.

James Balog
James Balog
Malcolm X
Malcolm X
Our class with James Balog
Our class with James Balog

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

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzhT_7g0qpA”]

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. 

On James Balog’s Rose-Walters Lecture

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On the night of September 23rd, famed nature photographer and documentarian James Balog gave the lecture for this year’s Rose-Walters Prize for Global Environmental Activism to a packed auditorium in ATS. However, only the first segment of his presentation was truly a lecture by definition; the second segment was spoken word over a slideshow of his stunning photography stills, an interesting twist and medium for presenting his message of empowerment and determination in the face of a changing climate and a changing world. But, before that, he ran through a presentation (truncated from his normal spiel) that explained what his project, the Extreme Ice Survey, did and is still doing, and showing the fruits of their labor: time-lapse videos of extreme glacial retreat over less than a decade in time, a severe rate of deflation and diminishment in the extremely long geologic time series. It was stunning to see something that had been born, created, crafted and polished over millions of years disappear so quickly during my lifetime and due to human activity. Such a stark visualization of climate change is rare in normal day-to-day life, and yet is extremely important for everyone on this earth to experience and embody.

James Balog

Balog’s photography shows the death of a living, breathing thing. The second part of his presentation encapsulated and revolved around this fact; the free verse poem, written by Balog himself, captured the beauty and life of the glaciers he studied and personified them to an extent that I thought was unique and extremely powerful and moving. It made the run-of-the-mill statistics like “the glaciers in Greenland have receded X miles in X years” that get thrown around in the news and in classes that focus on climate change seem much more personal and powerful; I could visualize the damage, and it made it seem like humanity, as a whole, was the big bully on the playground and was causing deeply-seeded distress and suffering in another living thing. There was no other option for me than to leave the lecture that night, and James’s residency as a whole, asking myself, “what more can I do?”

The Despair of Death


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