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James Balog's melting glaciers a wake up call

While ice melt and icebergs can make for beautiful images, James Balog urges us to see it as a wake up call. (Photo: © David C. Shultz, West Light Images)

Everyone's got climate change on the mind with global temperatures rising, glaciers melting, and sea levels rising. Climate change is an important discussion to have, even if there were no climate deniers. The American Geophysical Union hosted a free plenary webcast called, "Preparing for Our Future: Climate Change" with geographer and geomorphologist James Balog. Balog is known for his time lapse photography on glaciers and founding the Extreme Ice Survey. His work has been featured in National Geographic, won awards at the Sundance Festival and others, and featured in NOVA/PBS.

Balog's presentation consisted of images that he's collected during his work with the Extreme Ice Survey that demonstrate quite poignantly the extent of glacier retreats in various areas. These time-lapse videos of vast ice sheets retreating were the background to Balog's notes and observations about climate change.

The key theme of this presentation is best said with Balog's own words: "Nature isn't natural any more. Forget about geologic time. Nature isn't natural any more due to human impact." He then used this to demonstrate the change of weather intensity — especially in the form or hurricanes, discuss changes in biological diversity — particular species going extinct, change in environmental habitats, and adverse effect on human health as presented by the Chinese study linking environmental pollution to increased breathing problems and even death.

It's not all about the negative impacts of climate change and beautiful, even if slightly depressing, cinematography on ice sheets retreating though. Balog also notes that we are in the midst of an intellectual revolution, and likens today's scientific thinking about climate change to the shift in paradigm from the Renaissance. "It isn't about scientific discipline, but like Newton's time, it's a shift in thinking and understanding."

In a way, this is true. Many of us are seeing the changes around us, and asking what we can do. Balog answers that question directly, actually. He doesn't place the responsibility on government policy. Rather, Balog encourages us to look into our hearts, use our individual skill set, languages, and disciplines to change our own lives, and encourage change around us. Balog leaves the impression that waking up intellectually and taking a more active roll in our surroundings isn't such a difficult thing after all. He reminds us that we can make a difference by making decisions for ourselves without government demands.

For a taste of the beautiful photography and Balog's presentation, watch the TED Talk he gave which has similar content.



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While ice melt and icebergs can make for beautiful images, James Balog urges us to see it as a wake up call. (Photo: © David C. Shultz, West Light Images)
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