'Chasing Ice' is photographer's quest to prove climate change ★★★

"It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness" was a favorite Chinese proverb of the late "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles Schulz. Photographer James Balog must have taken that to heart as he noticed changes to the wild world he documents, and heard all the cursing dominating the discussion of global climate change.

So Balog took a candle — cameras, 25 of them — set up time-lapse gear and mounted them in front of a number of the world's glaciers for three years. And in starkly beautiful, simple and damning images, he showed us climate change, glaciers disappearing so fast he had to re-aim his cameras just to follow their rapid decline.

"Chasing Ice" is a beautiful documentary that follows Balog, who often works for National Geographic, in his dogged quest to silence the blizzard of denial that the film sums up in montages of TV footage.

Ideologues such as Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh use "Al Gore" as a curse word to dismiss the overwhelming evidence that burning fossil fuels has warmed the planet and is melting the world's ice, from pole to pole. Balog answers them with simple, blunt images.

"Chasing Ice" follows the photographer as he works out how he's going to photograph this process in Iceland, Greenland, Montana and Alaska.

Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski rides along as Balog visits scientists who have the ice core samples that testify to the rising levels of carbon in the atmosphere. Film cameras sit in as Balog meets other scientists who link longer droughts and harsher fire and tropical storm seasons to the warming planet.

And for folks who only believe what business people tell them, here's the head of the world's largest reinsurance company, the insurer to the world's insurers, to reassure them that yes, this is happening, and yes, it's costing his company, and us, a fortune.

Balog, a photographer who trained in the field of geomorphology, realized "a powerful piece of history is unfolding," and focused on "the most visible evidence of climate change" — glaciers, which are both retreating and "deflating," thinning out as they melt. That's where he and a small crew scrambled to set their cameras.

Orlowski takes awe-inspiring photos of pristine frozen wilderness, and "the miracle and the horror" of glaciers collapsing. And Balog, carrying on despite the danger of working on ice that is hollowing out beneath his feet, despite a knee injury that should have ended his globe-trekking, comes off as a man with a mission — sharing his footage with TV newscasts, giving talks to climate change conferences and other interested groups, lighting that single candle rather than cursing, as he sometimes does, a nation that continues to debate "evolution and whether man actually walked on the moon." His response to the fringe dwellers, the paid skeptics and dogmatic deniers could not be more succinct:

"We don't have time."

'Chasing Ice' -- 3 stars
No MPAA rating
; moments of mild peril and a couple of instances of profanity
Running time: 1:16
Opens: Friday

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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