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 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

A Week of James Balog


Sunday: I spent the evening snuggled up in bed watching James Balog’s documentary Chasing Ice  on Netflix. Before watching, my expectation for the documentary was that it was going to be one of those “facts-down-your-throat” documentaries, but I was pleasantly surprised. First of all, the film was highly artistic due to the stunning way the film captured ice.  Equally as gripping was the storyline behind the Extreme Ice Project in which Balog deals with camera issues, family pressures, knee surgeries and life-risking ice photos. The photos powerfully depict the story of the individual glaciers demise and the diagrams interjected into the film highlight why these melted glaciers indicate climate change. These photos that Balog (at times) risked his life to photograph are effective mechanisms of documenting climate change.

James Balog

Monday: James Balog came to my Introduction to Soil’s class where my five classmates and I were able to openly ask him questions.  The class began with my professor, Ben Edwards, a volcanologist, presenting his current research to Baloag. He is researching the interactions between lava and ice which he demonstrated in his youtube video of lava being poured on ice. This captivated Balog due to his love of ice and wanted to learn more.[youtube_sc url=”” title=”Ben%20Edward%27s%20Lava+%20Ice%20Research”]


We then continued to bombard Balog with questions, ranging from: What school did you go to? – Why did you decide to be a photographer? – What job advice can you give us? I wanted to ask him a question of my own so I asked him if he ever took photos of indigenous groups and the changes to their society. He said he focused on glaciers and the people affected by glaciers were outside his realm of expertise. Although, lava and ice don’t exactly fall under the soil class’s syllabus, it was really interesting to spend the class talking with Balog.

James Balog in Introduction to Soil's Course


Tuesday: This time Balog came to a more appropriate class, our sustainability mosaic course. Interestingly enough the questions and conversation were very different from the previous day. Although there were questions about his personal life, the conversation was directed towards climate change and his film.  One overall message that I will remember was when Balog said something along the lines of: he cannot tell us what to do about climate change, but he can encourage each of us to find a voice and way of expressing our concerns. After a group photo and a selfie, we waved Balog good-bye with a lingering awe.

At 7pm, we attended his two- hour lecture that was focused on science and art components. I found the science part highly interesting for he presented interesting figures and evidence concerning climate change. In the art section of the lecture, he used poetry, music and photos he created a voice regarding climate change’s effect on glaciers that had never been done before.


Wednesday – Friday : After his presence at Dickinson College, there was a mull of student discussion about his unique talk and breath-taking documentary.  Whenever I was in the Library, I would get captivated by his glacier photo display and I would convince anyone who would listen to watch Chasing Ice. I was impacted by the multiple meetings with James Balog throughout the week and I was really glad that Dickinson was able to create this opportunity.


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.


From A Different Angle: The Photography of Sebastião Salgado

sebastiao salgado genesis

Earlier this week, famed nature photographer and documentarian James Balog was on Dickinson’s campus for a two-day residency as part of the Rose-Walters Prize he received at Commencement this past May.  His vivid pictures and time-lapse videos of glacial retreat are a stark representation of the scope and rate of global warming and climate change in our own lifetime.  While Balog approached his photography as an avenue for showing the beautiful destruction of the climate, Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado’s most recent work, Genesis, shows the inherent beauty of the world that is at peril of being disturbed or lost forever to the effects of climate change.  Deserts, ice, endangered species, beautiful designs naturally cut along a valley are a few of the subjects of Salgado’s photographs.  His work approaches the same vein as Balog’s, just from a different angle, and both angles have a story that is important for everyone to experience and internalize as we approach the climate question.  The Earth around us is a beautiful, one-of-a-kind environment that is imperative for us to cherish and protect from ourselves so that future generations may have the privilege and honor to cherish and protect it as well.  As we move forward in our work this semester at COP20 and in all future climate negotiations, it is crucial that this message not be lost upon us.

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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