Chasing Our Future
Inspired by Chasing Ice and Chasing Coral, dir. Jeff Orlowski
It is encouraging when you type something like ‘plastic’ into the Netflix search bar and you see a plethora of documentaries just a click away. I don’t know whether it is too broad of me to say but I’m going to say it anyway. I think documentaries are coming into their own at the moment in a way that I haven’t seen before, and I think that’s because of sites like Netflix seizing them and making them accessible to a lot of people.
My encouragement is slightly dampened, however, by the passivity with which I know people sometimes watch Netflix content. The number of times I’ve talked to people about some awful film they watched ‘just for something to put on’. It’s the downside of things being a click away – something is lost in the ease of it all. So, the chances are you’ve already watched Chasing Ice or Chasing Coral, or both even. I’d watched Chasing Ice before and I’m ashamed to say I remembered very little about it when I watched it for the second time last week. We need to put an end to this passivity in both viewing and consuming this kind of content, and we need to start doing something about it.
The crews involved in both documentaries are headed up by Jeff Orlowski, founder of Exposure Labs, which ‘creates films and campaigns to change the world’. Both films use similar groundbreaking time-lapse technology to take footage of a changing ecosystem over a period of time: in the case of Chasing Ice, we see changes being wrought on ice sheets in Alaska, Greenland and Iceland over a period of around three years; in Chasing Coral, the time period is much shorter, filmed as the world witnessed its 3rd global-scale coral bleaching event in just over 10 years. These are not documentaries overwhelmed with facts and figures but simply portals for undeniable physical evidence. The results of these photography experiments are obviously heartbreaking but they are also guilt-inducing. What you see at the ends of each of these films are physical manifestations of the actions we take every day, the earth literally showing us that we’re doing something wrong – but we’re being either too selfish or too stupid to do anything about it.
In Chasing Ice, main man photographer James Balog likens our situation to a dental crisis: If you had an abscess in your tooth, would you keep going to dentist after dentist until you found a dentist who said, “Ah, don’t worry about it. Leave that rotten tooth in”? Or would you pull it out because more of the other dentists told you you had a problem?
One of the most shocking facts that will stick in my memory from Chasing Coral is that, if it weren’t for the sea absorbing the temperature rise, our average air temperature on earth would be up at 50°C, where it is currently only 16°C. Multiple graphs are used in both films to show that, although the earth’s atmosphere and temperature goes through fluctuations in CO2 and temperature, we are seeing an unprecedented rise in both, and this is not due to natural circumstances. With these kinds of statistics in mind, it is baffling to me that people are still fighting about this. We are on the cusp of something unknown here and we need to start acting now.
I myself find it difficult not to be overwhelmed by the global problem but I remind myself as I’m reminding you that we shouldn’t think about this in the context of the entire world. If we think about it on a personal and local level, it not only becomes more manageable but it also becomes more influential. If we all do our part, our individual contributions can be built together into a very important whole. So do turn your switches and your lights off when you’re not using them, and do think about eating less meat, and do think about walking instead of taking a taxi, you lazy thing, and maybe think about how cold you really are when you turn your heating on. How hard is all that really, when you really think about it?
At the end of Chasing Ice, James Balog tells us:
When my daughters look at me 25 or 30 years from now and ask ‘what were you doing when global warming was happening? You guys knew what was coming down the road…’, I want to be able to say ‘guys, I was doing everything I knew how to do.’
I can’t think of a more apt way to sum up our situation. We’ve let it come so far, it would be unforgivable, stupid and selfish to do nothing. I admittedly have been almost completely and blissfully oblivious to the climate change situation until this point. The only way to become knowledgeable is to seek information about the problem, and then to think what you can do about it. Watch these kinds of documentaries, but watch them actively, and then make active, informed decisions to change your way of life before it’s out of our hands.