The Need to Take Risks

I saw the trailer for a new film today. The movie is called Chasing Ice. A team of scientists, photographers, and adventurists set out to create the most complete catalog of photographic documentation of retreating ice -- no, let me rephrase that -- of ice-sheet collapse that has yet existed. According to the project, James Balog created the Extreme Ice Survey in 2005 (with cooperation from National Geographic), and Chasing Ice is a documentary of his team's efforts to place revolutionary time-lapse photography cameras across the Arctic, in some of the most taxing conditions found on Earth, to image the vanishing of the northern glaciers.

I found the trailer riveting, in the same way that people in the first two decades of the 20th century found Sir Walter Scott's and Sir Ernest Shackleton's polar expeditions unforgettable. But there is more to it than that. Scott and Shackleton found the poles to be dangerous, of course -- but they were natural dangers. The trailer for Chasing Ice emphasizes that Balog and his team endure extremely risky conditions for a different reason: the whole environment is in an uproar, a massive shift brought on by our destabilizing of the climate. They put themselves on the very brink, the treacherous leading edge of the climate catastrophe, in order to capture photographic evidence that will indisputably point to our involvement with its causation, that will illustrate the scale and the severity of the change.

I am mindful of this, as we who are doing Pacing the Planet formulate our next steps. Our biggest risks faced so far are big trucks on narrow country lanes, the scorn of some passers-by, and the threat of running out of money while trying to do "the right thing." There is a palpable force trying to get us back in line, do the expected, perform our function, get small again.

That force is the collective disdain, the opprobrium, and -- ultimately -- the indifference of people at large to our situation, as we refuse to divert our attention from the emergency. We're not doing what we're supposed to do (according to our society), so we're starting to fall through the cracks. We're not earning money, we're not talking about the same things everyone else is talking about (like the economy), so we're fringe. It feels like we're being forgotten. In public forums, some people have questioned our sanity. Heck, some family members have questioned our sanity.

I admit that a small, angry part of me wants to believe that the obvious importance of what is at stake with climate change will rally the support of anyone who has ever known us, who even remotely cares about us, to lead our own bit part of the charge. "Don't worry!" the unseen chorus says in my hopeful ear. "We'll take care of the bills. (They are small). We'll provide the operating budget for Pacing the Planet, be the breath beneath the wings of the project and help it take flight!" Understand that I am so appreciative of the people who are supporting our first fundraising campaign, but I have to tell you that what the chorus whispers in my ear remains a fantasy for now. Not only do we need to succeed in our fundraising effort, but we need to generate a lot of support, to push the emergency front-and-center in the collective attention of humanity within the next four years. This is our job now. Not just money, you see, but people, too. A movement. (That is why we are going to Chicago on November 28, to participate in the "Do the Math Tour" sponsored by and Bill McKibben, so we can start working in parallel with others. has also invited us to provide a guest blog entry on their website...look for it soon!)

Then comes Chasing Ice. And I realize, we are not risking enough, yet. We must go bolder, be as wildly daring and creative as the Earth which is fomenting this change upon us. The surprising lack of concern among even those we've known directly in the past isn't personal to us. Somehow, global warming and climate change are not registering viscerally as a threat to our very existence. There is an apocalypse of zombie-like denial out there. What we need are a few, startling images that stir the reflex of disgust and shock, that provoke people to exclaim: "This cannot be!" Balog and his crew are risking their lives to bring those sorts of images. They will not be thanked properly until the great host of people on Earth stop in wonder at the vision they have brought before us, and then take action of commensurate sacrifice and willingness to change.

As for our own action, Pacing the Planet, we've only just begun.