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Icebreakers - Visionary men and the visualization of climate change

Master of Science from University of East Anglia, torr.cumming@gmail.com

Torr Cumming is Master of Science from University of East Anglia, UK where he did a masters degree in climate science with the dissertation The Indian and West African Monsoon: Projections for the 21st century using CMIP5 coupled climate models. He has also worked as a research assistent.

Professor in Film Studies, Department of Art and Media Studies, NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology), anne.gjelsvik@ntnu.no

Anne Gjelsvik is professor of film studies at Department of Art and Media studies at NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology).

When summing up the current state of affairs when it comes climate change awareness, author Eugene Linden stated that climate warnings are ‘heard, but not listened to’ (Linden 2015). In this article we discuss how, and to what extent, cinematic depictions of climate change can help remedy this issue. We base our discussion on the two documentaries, La glace et le ciel (2015) and Chasing Ice (2012). These films focus the lives of their respective protagonists, a glaciologist and a photographer, and the efforts they have gone to in researching and documenting climate change in the worlds polar regions.

Our aim is to discuss how the scientific discourse can be «translated» into film, and the consequences of such transmediations. In particular, our discussions are centred upon the role visualization plays as scientific proof in these films, and the phenomenological influence such documentation can have on viewers.

Keywords: Climate Change, Cinema, Transmediation

«I am Ice», Liam Neeson says in his deep, dark voice, almost whispering, and with a strong emphasis on the s-sound in ‘ice’. «I move… slowly, I keep the world cool... (pause) …Well, I used to. But humans keep warming this planet. I tried to warn you. I send pieces of me thundering into the ocean! You do nothing. I raise sea levels. You do nothing. It has taken you decades to notice. Perhaps… I am not so slow after all»1

The Hollywood actor’s voice is accompanying a video in different shades of blue depicting the cool beauty of ice caves and the drama of ice calving and waves hitting icebergs. The words are taken from Conservation International’s video Nature Is Speaking: Ice; just one part of a project that describes itself as «an invitation to the human race to listen to nature». Conservation International is a foundation for science and field work whose aim is to ‘find global solutions to global problems’.2 The most important part of their campaign (which includes a website, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and more) is a series of videos where famous Hollywood stars give voice to nature itself: Liam Neeson is Ice, Harrison Ford is Ocean, Julia Roberts is Mother Nature, Robert Redford is The Redwood, Edward Norton is Soil, et cetera. This particular minute-long film combines dramatic images of polar ice with a message, delivered by the ice itself, which briefly warns the audience of its important role in Earth’s climate, how human inaction is challenging its function, and what the consequences of this will be.

Summing up the current state of affairs when it comes to awareness about climate change, author Eugene Linden states that climate warnings are «heard, but not listened to».3 In this article we will discuss if or how watching depictions of climate change can make a difference. We thus follow climate change scholar Mike Hulme’s urge that scholars need to investigate «how climate change is grasped and represented culturally».4 To be more precise, our aim in this article is to discuss whether the cinematic medium is able to transmediate scientific discourse about climate change into a cinematic language that is accessible for a general audience.5 We take climate change as a fact that is well established within climatology,6 however we also follow the notion from Bruno Latour that scientific discourse is a construction worthy of scientific scrutiny in itself.7 The limitations and possibilities for the visual communication of climate change within the scientific regime is, for instance, the topic of Adam Brenthel’s doctoral thesis from which we will draw on in our discussion.8 However, our primary interest is to look at scientific discourse when it is transmediated into an aesthetic discourse, more specifically contemporary documentary films made for a general audience. Our aim is to combine perspectives from climate science and visual media studies to analyse how knowledge about climate change can be presented and understood within an audio-visual discourse. Accordingly, we will discuss visualisation of climate change and climate science based on perspectives from visual culture studies, primarily by W.J.T. Mitchell and Nicholas Mirzoeff,9 but also including Jens Kjeldsen’s studies of visual rhetoric.10

We base our discussion on two main examples: Jeff Orlowski’s Chasing Ice (2012), and Luc Jacquet’s Ice and the Sky (2015). The first follows the work of the photographer James Balog and the second the work of the scientist Claude Lorius. The two films take distinctively different views on the relationship between (hu)man and ice, but they also share some striking similarities. Before we move on to discuss the two films in question we will address two basic questions: Why look at cinema, and why depictions of ice?

Why cinema?

There are several reasons why we want to focus on the role cinematic depictions can play to raise public awareness on climate change. The public gets a lot of their general information about science, as well as their specific knowledge about climate change, through the media, and such information is generally considered to be trustworthy.11 However, in the research on media and climate communication, there are considerable gaps, and one important point is that written media is better covered than visual media, such as film and television.12 In addition, much of the focus has been on facts and news, with less emphasis on artefacts, where form and artistic creativity comes into play. We argue that documentary film, with its middle position between art and news through its creative treatment of reality, makes for a relevant and special case study.

As Benthel has shown, in his dissertation that also combines visual studies and climate science, not only has the impact of visual discourse received little scientific attention, but visual aesthetics might also be able to offer solutions to some of the problems climate communication is facing.13 Although we position our discussion within visual studies and, for the sake of clarity, foreground cinema’s visual aspect, as our analysis will make clear, cinema (as an intermedial art form) also has a clear advantage in addressing these issues since the medium is also based on sound, text, animation and more.

Although climate, weather, and natural disasters play a prominent role in contemporary fiction films – in particular in so-called ‘cli-fi’ movies, from The Day After Tomorrow (Roland Emmerich 2004) to Interstellar (Christopher Nolan 2015) – documentary holds a special position. Studies in ‘eco-media’ is now, after a late start, an emerging cross-disciplinary field combining perspectives from media studies, films studies, activism and science.14 As media scholar Toby Miller phrases it, «Eco-media studies is an idea whose time has come».15 Eco-cinema, or environmental films, enjoys a unique standing within these studies. A landmark here is Al Gore and David Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006), the Oscar winning documentary that stirred a lot of attention and discussion about environmental issues. According to film scholar Charles Musser, documentary film has the ability to create a sense of the revealing of truth to the viewer, or creating «truth value».16 Historically such eco-films have looked at the harm humans have inflicted upon nature, but the tendency is now that filmmakers have moved from pollution and nuclear dangers, to climate change. A challenge for many of these films has been their focus on the injuries humans have caused, or what Anil Narine has termed «trauma», which works against these films’ ability to have positive influence.17

Because of the influence of media on the public’s knowledge, if and how climate change is represented matters, and within this framework being or not being visible is a core question. Addressing the question «Can climate change be seen?» anthropologist Peter Rodiak-Gould has categorized the different responses as follows: ‹the invisibilists», ‹the visibilists›, and «constructive visibilists».18 Whereas «the visibilists» want to see flooding, storms or ice melting «with their own eyes» in order to believe, and tend to use what they have seen as argument and evidence, the invisibilists rather put their trust in scientists. The people at the frontline of climate changes, indigenous people and activists in areas currently battling flooding, tend to belong to the first group, because they have first hand experience with dramatic changes. The invisibilists, among them many scientists, hold that because climate change is complex, abstract and ongoing processes, it can’t be seen – or to quote Rodiak-Gould, climate changes are «too big, too slow, too uneven» for people to see it themselves.19

However, as media scholar Nicholas Mirzoeff has famously claimed, although the anthropocene can’t be seen, it can be visualized.20 Rodiak-Gould’s distinctions on how we use the polysemic word visible is, here, valuable; it is the difference between being seeable, and being made seeable.21 Rodiak-Gould describes constructive visibility as an attractive middle level position «at least on the surface for its compromise between an anti-intellectual visibilism and an elitist, undemocratic invisibilism».22 The third position accordingly can be summed up as: «Climate change is neither inherently invisible nor inherently visible; it is, like all other objects, made visible›.23 When we, in the following, pursue the possibility for making climate change «visible», we will, as previously mentioned, see this as a process involving more than imagery in a strict sense. In other words, to make something visual in a film, the filmmaker can use all cinematic elements at his or her disposal.

Discussing the use of visualization within scientific discourse Brenthel addresses this challenge: «The mantra in this visual regime is that ‘seeing is believing’, the audience must be able to see the ‘truth’ to believe it. But what if there is nothing to see, nothing to show, because the multiplicity of information blows away every dimension we are habitually used to dealing with?»24 Brenthel’s answer seems to be that aesthetical discourse may offer possibilities that the visual regime within scientific practices, with its graphs and diagrams, doesn't open for.25

We want to pursue the ideas put forward by Brenthel, Rodiak-Gould, Hulme, and Mirzoeff, and our hypothesis is that cinema is well suited for the task. We will use specific films as case studies in order to discuss the two-sided claim. According to Mirzoeff, no locations are outside the anthropocene, but some are more affected than others. We consider the glaciers as a particular suitable place to start.

Why ice?

From cinema, to art, to literature, and throughout mainstream media, the use of ice, and in particular glaciers, has become popular as a narrative tool regarding anthropogenic climate change.26 Pictures of polar bears on melting icebergs have become icons of climate change. Either clinging to, or swimming between the melting ice, such imagery is used to illustrate scientific reports, as well as for raising awareness on social media. Countless other examples exist: In 2014, to coincide with the release of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, Danish artists Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing transported 12 blocks of ice, totalling 100 tonnes, from a glacier in Greenland and placed them to melt in Copenhagen city centre (The pair repeated the installation in Paris, one year later).27 As one study put it, glaciers have achieved «celebrity status», and are even discussed in, and featured on the front cover of fashion magazine Vanity Fair’s ‘Green Issues’ of 2006 and 2007 respectively.28

Figure 1. Ice, Polar bear and Leonardo DiCaprio on the cover of the Green Issue of Vanity Fair 2006

So then, why ice? What are the features unique to ice that make it a popular narrative tool? From a scientific perspective, glaciers could be considered good candidates as they are seen as high-confidence indicators of climate change; fluctuations in glacial mass, area, volume and length represent changes in the planet’s energy balance.29 Observations show that the rate of global glacier decline began to rapidly accelerate from the mid 1980s onwards, reaching unprecedented levels during the 21st century.30 Furthermore, ice core measurements taken from Greenland, Antarctica, and high-altitude glaciers,31 also in the 1980s, provided arguably some of the most definitive early evidence for anthropogenic climate change, and proved vital in shaping the early scientific consensus.

Similarly to other environmental issues, many indicators of climate change cannot be easily observed by the human eye.32 We cannot see carbon dioxide accumulating in our atmosphere, and sea levels rise on such protracted time scales that changes progress easily unnoticed. Resultantly, these parameters are often presented in graphs and tables. Shrinking glaciers, however, are one of the most tangible representations of climate change, and as James Balog argues in Chasing Ice, «the public doesn’t want to hear more about statistical studies, more computer models, more projections. What they need is a believable, understandable piece of visual evidence. Something that grabs them in the gut.»33

Mark Carey, in a paper discussing the history of glacier narratives in climate change discourse, argues that «more than simply an icon for global warming, glaciers have become an endangered species».34 When framed as something living that requires protection, the melting glaciers act as a rallying point for action. Carey believes that central to the reason glaciers and climate changes have become synonymous to each other was the timing of ice core evidence in favour of climate change, the acceleration of glacial loss and the fact that these events coincided with the influx of knowledge and awareness about climate change entering the public sphere. However, he also argues that these factors alone were not enough to «generate compassion for the ice or to stimulate efforts to save melting glaciers». The threat of flooding and sea level rise as a result of melting glaciers was also a contributor, as well as what Carey describes as «Westerners’ longstanding view of glaciers as active and alive, constantly moving, with character and behaviours, as monsters, snakes, and ailing friends.»35 Above all else however, Carey believes the way history has painted glaciers to be a valuable, consumable resource for a wide range of people – «from mountaineers and scientists to artists and environmentalists» – means that people worry that they stand to lose something if the glaciers disappear, and that it is this feeling of potential loss that is why glaciers have become inescapably bonded with climate change discourse.36 As we shall see, this feeling of loss is something that is pursued in the two films that we now will move on to discuss.

Ice and the Sky: Through Claude Lorius’ looking glass

Ice and the Sky (La glace et le ciel) is a 2015 documentary by French director Luc Jacquet, who became internationally famous with his Oscar winning success March of the Penguins (2005). That earlier film, narrated by Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman, depicted the harsh nature of the Empire penguins breeding rituals in the Antarctic. March of the Penguins became the most successful eco-film to date.37 In Ice and the Sky Jacquet returns to the Antarctic to portrait the life of Claude Lorius, a pioneer in glaciology and climatology. In our analysis we will look at how both the scientist and science are presented, and what rhetorical means Jacquet uses to address climate change in the film.

Lorius (born 1932) has spent decades researching ice, or as the review in The Guardian put it, he «has spent his life drilling out ice cores at enormous depth».38 Lorius forged the idea that air bubbles trapped in the ice may disclose the composition of gasses in past atmospheres, and developed a method for determining historical climate through isotopic analysis.39 Research conducted under his leadership demonstrated that the climate during the Holocene had been relatively stable up until recent decades, when sudden and drastic changes have taken place. Lorius’ research also helped demonstrate the important relationship between atmospheric greenhouse gases and the climate, making him an early harbinger of the consequences of how we live today. The film follows Lorius career chronologically, beginning in the 1950s, and is as much a portrait of a scientist as it is a documentary about ice and the sky.

The film was shown at Cannes film festival to good, although not raving reviews. The magazine Little White Lies’ review, which describes the film as «Unhysterical», serves as a typical example:

But the film accrues its power from not bombarding the viewer with statistic-backed doomsaying. This is not a film which uses statistics to back up a hysterical climate change polemic, but a document of the painstaking task that was undertaken to actually discover these chilling statistics in the first place.40

The film opens with an image of blue ice with a shadow of an unclear shape moving across its surface. Soon it is revealed that that shadow is a man walking over the ice. After the title, La glace et le ciel, we follow him as he strokes the shimmering ice with his naked hand, whilst walking into a large blue tunnel in the ice.

Figure 2: Following Claude Lorius into the wonders of ice

Figure 3: Ice and Sky: Claude Lorius as our witness

Figure 4. The hardship, and the beauty, of scientific research

Accordingly, the first impressions of the film are a mixture of poetry and curiosity. As the man moves deeper into the ice he is introduced as Claude Lorius, through a mix of authentic audio presentations taken from different events that he has participated in; the polyphony is replaced with his own voiceover in French, in which he contemplates his role in science: «Why me?» Through images where the scientist is shown walking in different landscapes, his perspective and aims are presented, with an escalating intensity: «I have seen that man, in the space of a lifetime, by burning oil, wood and coal is changing the Earth’s climate… Polar ice caps and glaciers melting… Islands submerged by water, burning forests, redirected sea currents, storms, more of them, more violent». After this the camera closes in on the old man’s face, and he continues: «Science allows me to see the future. I’m going to tell you what I have seen. I’m going to tell you my story». During the first ten minutes the film has established the rhetoric that Ice and the Sky will show us what we ourselves are not able to see. The case, which has to be proven to the audience, is that climate change is a scientific fact, and Lorius serves as both eyewitness and expert witness in the case.

The film goes to great lengths in order to transmediate scientific discourse, and it dwells in particular on the methods used in glaciology. The narrative about science is told as a transition back in time, introduced with Lorius looking at the same images as we do: archive footage from his first scientific endeavours in Antarctic in 1956, when the anthropocene period began, according to Lorius’ voiceover. A major part of this narrative focuses on three men (Lorius and his colleagues) battling against nature, for example during his first expedition, the hardship of being trapped in a snow cage under extreme weather conditions, a month’s travel from the next human being. Lorius has travelled to Antarctica 22 times, cumulatively spending more than 10 years on the continent of ice. The quest our hero set out for, according to his own storytelling, was to «discover and understand». Another important part of the film is the depiction of scientific work. After developing a method that allowed him to deduce past temperatures and carbon dioxide levels from the ice («making the invisible world of the atom visible»), the goal became to «find the oldest ice possible». The film goes into detail depicting the process of accessing ice buried thousands of meters below the surface (by way of drilling that goes on for months, in temperatures of minus 53ºC), followed by the transport of tons of ice all the way back to the laboratory in Grenoble. Overcoming this challenge enabled Lorius to study ice that was formed 400,000 years ago.

The efforts of the research process and the importance of the results are told through the eyes, the glasses, and the microscope of Lorius. The importance of scientific research and the gaze of the researcher are stressed; we can know this because Lorius has seen the story of the ice crystals in his microscope. This pedagogical depiction of research is combined with the display of the sublime beauty of nature, in particular the beauty to be found in ice and snow. The new footage added by director Jacquet is a mixture of microscopic imagery of snow crystals and drone shots of wastelands of cold landscapes, where humans become microscopic. In sum, the film comes across with a mixed message about the relationship between human and nature: on one scale we are minor beings in a large cosmos; on the other our impact on nature is irreversible.

The film ends with the image of Lorius standing in the middle of the ice raising the question: «Now that you know too, what are you going to do about it?» The main idea put forward in the film is the call for action, but the film makes its point by way of a strong emphasis on looking and touching, as well as how the gaze of the scientist can make visible to us what we don’t yet see. By way of focusing on Lorius, the film provides a human face to science, in itself a necessary and valuable addition to the discourse on climate change, in which climate change deniers have provided harsh criticism of scientists.

Chasing Ice: Through James Balog’s camera

Chasing Ice is filmmaker Jeff Orlovski’s award winning debut documentary film following American photographer James Balog’s attempts to provide «tangible, visual evidence of immediacy of climate change itself».41 The film follows a project set up by Balog called ‘the Extreme Ice Survey’ (EIS). The EIS, founded in 2007, is an ongoing photography program involving 43 cameras at 24 different glaciers around the world, each camera taking a photo for every hour of daylight in order to create time-lapse videos documenting the evolution of these glaciers.

Figure 5: Making snow visible and making man (almost) invisible, seeing snow crystals in the microscope and Lorius captured by a drone.

Figure 6: Cinema as a call for action

Whilst this kind of documentary film may well not have the same Hollywood blockbuster appeal as, for instance, The Day After Tomorrow, the crew behind Chasing Ice certainly recognized its potential for changing minds. Since its release in 2012 the film has been screened in over 172 countries around the world, at the White House, and to a United Nations conference. During spring 2014 the team behind the film launched the ‘Chasing Ice Ohio Tour’ to, in their words, «shift the political conversation around climate change». They specifically targeted a district whose congressman was known to be a climate change denier. Nearly 10,000 people attended special screenings of the film, ultimately resulting in the congressman shifting his stance on the issue.42

Figure 7 Stills from Chasing Ice exemplifying the beauty of Balog’s Photography

The film has two main narratives: the story of Balog’s personal challenges, and the story, as he puts it himself, that is «in the ice». The notion that ice can tell its own story is a vital part of the film’s rhetoric, as Balog and co-workers are presented as unbiased documentarists, catching on film things that are actually happening. The film is also built on the idea that the images are able to tell a story that words alone could not. Balog’s perspective thus echoes the idea behind the Nature Is Speaking campaign. Rather than rely on rational argumentation, Chasing Ice allows the ice to speak for itself by utilizing powerful, emotive images of melting glaciers (Fig. 7) – a tactic that might be effective at dealing with those who are distrusting towards politicians, scientists or even statistical evidence. This is particularly relevant in the realm of climate science where, as we have discussed, the evidence often needs to be made visible. As Jens Kjeldsen argues in a paper on visual rhetoric, «pictorial representation has the ability of performing a sort of ‘thick description’ which in an instant may provide a full sense of an actual situation», and that «pictures are able to provide vivid presence, realism and immediacy in perception».43 The images of the melting glaciers in Chasing Ice are rich in information: they show the size of the glacier; they show how much it is melting, and they show the rate at which the changes are occurring. Removing the visual element weakens the argument, reducing it to «nothing more than ‘thin’ propositions».44

At the climax of the film we are shown footage of the Ilulissat glacier (Western Greenland), in what is thought to be largest glacial calving event ever recorded on tape. The footage shows almost unimaginably large pieces of ice being thrust hundreds of meters into the air, before falling back to the water, and drifting away. In order to provide a sense of scale, an image of Manhattan is overlaid onto a time-lapse of the footage (Fig. 8, whilst it is simultaneously explained in a voice over that the ice is in fact two to three times taller than the skyscrapers found in New York!). Adding to the overall impact of the scene is the accompanying audio from the actual event. Featuring both the cameramen’s visceral, real time reactions to what they are witnessing, as well as the thunderous sounds created by the glacier itself, it provides a level of authenticity to something that may seem scarcely believable. The full scene, lasting around 4 minutes, is an undeniably powerful experience: both beautiful and terrifying, clear parallels can be drawn to the romantic sublime, where the bystander experiences the terror and beauty of nature.45 One measure of its strength is that this particular excerpt from the film has been viewed almost 40 million times on YouTube alone, placing it in the top 200 most viewed videos of all time in the ‘Film and Animation’ category.46

Figure 8. Still taken from the Ilussiat glacier calving sequence in Chasing Ice. An image of Lower Manhattan is overlain to provide a sense of scale.

The majority of the time-lapses from the film are multi-annual compilations of images. The timescale is important to the accuracy of the film as it would be rather misleading to suggest that the Ilulissat event, lasting barely two hours, is representative of climate change on a global scale. It could be argued that the project (and by extension, the film) can be considered piece of science in its own right; the images collected for these time-lapses serve not only as visual evidence of climate change, but have been used by scientists to study the mechanics of glacial melting.47 Balog, in his book Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers (2012), sums up the importance of time in relation to ice and photography, and in doing so also why the time-lapses are important to the film:

We humans assume that we see the world in three dimensions. In fact, we also see in a fourth: time. Time is with us in every moment of everything thing observed. It is with us every time a camera clicks. In snapshot photography, or the street photography made famous by Henri Cartier-Bresson, that’s obvious. But a different relationship with time is at work in EIS glacier photography. Time is an active character, visually explicit at times, implicit at others, constantly re-sculpting every molecule of frozen water. Everything you see on these pages will have changed substantially if not vanished entirely, by the time you hold his book.48

The scenes, which include footage from glaciers in Iceland and Alaska may not quite rival the Ilulissat segment but are nonetheless still fascinating and emotive in their own right. The footage of the Columbia glacier is probably the most effective use of the long-term time-lapses as we see that the glacier is retreating so fast that the camera has to be pivoted on three separate occasions to keep up with its rapid decline (Fig. 9).

As alluded to previously, the second dominant narrative of the film is that of Balog’s personal battle to set up the EIS. We are shown how he battles with faulty cameras, exploding batteries, adverse weather conditions, a chronic knee injury, and even an issue with foxes chewing through cables, in order to gather his evidence. Although unrelated to the central message of the film, this narrative is employed to demonstrate the human struggle involved in such a project. This narrative shares obvious similarities with the efforts of Lorius’ research. As is the case in Ice and the Sky, it succeeds in helping us empathise with Balog’s situation, painting him as trustworthy and relatable. As argued by Alex Copp,49 Balog’s trustworthiness is vital to the persuasiveness of Chasing Ice; he quotes Alanna Myers, who says «A layperson’s sense that climate change is real ultimately boils down to picking the experts you can trust».50 Copp draws comparisons between Chasing Ice and An Inconvenient Truth (2006), stating that both films rely on a charismatic spokesperson to deliver their message. In the case of An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore uses his charisma, humour and family to help convey his trustworthiness, but these efforts are somewhat undermined because of his political affiliations (Gore was, of course, the Democratic party nominee during the 2000 presidential election, and the issue of climate change has become so politicised, particularly in the USA) and his film was met with a lot of negative media coverage.51 James Balog in Chasing Ice did not suffer from this issue, at least in part because the film attempts to avoid the subject of politics. In fact towards the beginning of the film Balog reveals that before visiting the arctic he was originally sceptical about anthropogenic climate change, and thus it appears that Balog’s opinion is not shaped by his political views but instead by what he has seen though his own eyes.52

The overwhelming response to Chasing Ice has been positive, with reviewers suggesting Balog and Olovski succeed with their ambition of providing visual evidence of climate change: «Offering a lesson both to filmmakers and climate-change deniers, Chasing Ice demonstrates how much more powerful it is to capture the real thing» (NPR),53 and «If any film can convert the climate-change sceptics, Chasing Ice would be it: here, seeing really is believing» (The Guardian).54 However, the reception to the film was not entirely without criticism. Ann McCulloch, in an article for The Conversation, argues the film put too much focus upon Balog’s personal battle, and that the competing narratives ultimately detract from what she argues should be the main focus; the significance of the melting glaciers. She also believes the film suffers by seemingly preaching to the choir, sensing that directly confronting climate sceptics with their evidence and including debate from both sides of the argument could have done more to convert the disbelievers.55

Figure 9 A collage of images used in the time lapse of the Columbia Glacier (Alaska) illustrates the speed of the decline. Still taken from Chasing Ice.

Conclusion: Seeing by way of man or media

The two films tell the stories about two men’s battles against different hardships (nature itself, health and public ignorance), and against people’s neglect to see what the two men have discovered, either by way of science or through the camera. For instance, the tagline on the DVD cover of Ice and the Sky is: «One man’s adventure would reveal Earth’s greatest crisis». The Independent compared Lorius with the adventurer Jack London,56 and Mark Kermode in The Guardian even saw him as «something of Moses in the aerial shots of the octogenarian surveying a receding icy ridge, or standing mournfully amid rising seas».57 Balog has been described as a man on a solitary quest (New York Times), and the film about the EIS as «primarily an adventure story about Balog and the challenges that he and his team had to overcome.»58 Accordingly, one can claim that turning the men into heroes comes with the cost of setting nature and climate change in the background. However, we also see some benefits in this approach. When discussing the visualisation of the anthropocene, Nicholas Mirzoeff draws on the role visualization has had in military history: «Once the battlefield became too extensive and complex for any one person to physically see, the general’s task was to visualize it by means of his imagination, supplied with ideas, images, and intuition from his staff and troops.»59 The mark of the great man or the hero, according to Mirzoeff was «that he (always) could visualize history as it happened, unlike all other men.»60 We see these films as efforts to make visible something that people need to see.

Although we don’t want to make general claims about what cinema can, or can’t do, based on these two examples alone, we will foreground the visualization of climate change as a common nominal value. Here we will draw a little more on Jens Kjeldsen’s perspectives on the virtues of visual argumentation. Kjeldsen argues that visual argumentation is possible, but is different than verbal argumentation and that some forms of arguments are, in fact, better presented visually. The possibilities for convincing argumentation are first and foremost through the ability of images to provide presence and thick descriptions. Words provide precise, but thin information, such as: ‘The glaciers are shrinking’. Images, on the other hand, can provide thick and rich descriptions of the situation, as was the case with the calving of the glacier in Chasing Ice. This information can be described as rich, but imprecise.61 The role of the camera and the foregrounding of tools that can document what is going on before our eyes are important in both documentaries. However filmmakers also have the possibility to combine visual and verbal rhetoric, thus achieving visual richness and semantic thickness (as in some of the Nature is Speaking videos). Both films, and in particular Chasing Ice, become convincing by way of combining different media, images, sounds, words, numbers, scale and time. In the end, how we evaluate rhetorical reasoning boils down to criteria such as acceptability, relevance and sufficiency, according to Kjeldsen.62

One of the virtues of visual argumentation is that it is condensed, and this means that it will be up to the spectator to construct the unspoken premises. Accordingly, even an eco-disaster movie such as The Day After Tomorrow can play a part, although feature films, and blockbusters in particular, are seen as forms of entertainment and, only on occasion, are treated as something that takes part in social and political debates. But according to communication scholar Ron von Burg, the rhetoric surrounding The Day After Tomorrow demonstrated that a fictional film could raise attention and help shape public scientific discourses productively: it can in fact be ’flawed’, but useful.63

As we have emphasized, the two films have similarities as well as differences. While both films are about man and ice, we see the two men as representing different roles. James Balog is the man with the camera, while Claude Lorius is the man with the microscope. Ice and the Sky visualizes climate science, and the film can be seen as a portrait of the old man and the ice, and thus the film succeeds in giving climate science a face. Chasing Ice visualizes climate change, but it is also in part a portrait of media technology and photography. Ice and the Sky offers insights into climate research and how scientists can make us see what is not available to the human eye by unveiling what is hidden underground. Chasing Ice shows us what the camera can make us see. While Ice and the Sky can be said to offer the perspective of the microscope, the other film might be said to offer the larger picture on what visual media (cinema and photography) can do for climate communication.

That people don’t want more statistics, graphs or diagrams is the argument put forward by Adam Brenthel, James Balog and the reviewer in Little White Lies. Studies have shown that cinema can influence the current discourse on climate change: According to David Kirby, films can function to popularize science such that helps the necessary resources for specific lines of research are secured; fictional films can ‘shape scientific knowledge itself’ in a dramatic and accessible way, and films can foment scientific consensus on particular scientific issues and help bring closure to scientific controversies.64 As Adam Brenthel has discussed, aesthetic imagery can exceed the limitations of scientific visualization, and is thus able to represent the complex effects of climate change without simplification.65 Using rising water and the concept of «the drowning world» as his principal example when discussing visualization of climate change, Brenthel also demonstrates how aesthetic images have the ability to create phenomenological experiences in the viewer, activating what he calls a material imagination.66 Both Chasing Ice and Ice and the Sky create such moments, where we can almost feel the ice with our fingers and experience the cost of the changes in our stomach.

Early reports suggest that the winter of 2016 is set to be another landmark year as temperatures in the arctic are over 20 degrees above expected levels. Warming of the global climate is unequivocal, and it is imperative that efforts are taken to combat the ever-rising levels of CO2. Communicating the science is vital to this and although we don’t want to exaggerate the impact cinema can have on climate change communication, we do consider these films valuable contributions. In the end the strongest impact of the films is their ability to make strong truth claims, and as such they both transmediate scientific discourse as well as expand it.

Figure 10: The man with the microscope (Lorius) and the man with the camera (Balog).

1«Liam Neeson Is Ice,» Conservation International, accessed October 17, 2016, http://www.conservation.org/nature-is-speaking/Pages/Liam-Neeson-is-Ice.aspx.
2«About Us,» Conservation International, accessed October 17, 2016, http://www.conservation.org/about/Pages/default.aspx.
3Eugene Linden, «Climate Warnings: Heard, but Not Listened to,» Yale Climate Connections, May 20, 2015, http://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2015/05/climate-warnings-heard-but-not-listened-to/.
4Mike Hulme, «Seeing Climate Change: For the Few, for the Many?» (Human Side of Climate Change, Bergen, 2015), http://www. uib.no/sites/w3.uib.no/files/attachments/hulme.pdf.
5Lars Elleström, «A Model for Media Transformation,» in Media Transformation: The Transfer of Media Characteristics Among Media (Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2014), 46–61, http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/9781137474254_4.
6See for instance IPCC, (2013): Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 1535 pp, doi:10.1017/CBO9781107415324. and John Cook et al., «Consensus on Consensus: A Synthesis of Consensus Estimates on Human-Caused Global Warming,» Environmental Research Letters 11, no. 4 (2016): 048002, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/048002.
7Bruno Latour, Pandora’s Hope?: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies, (Cambridge MA: Harvard (UP, 1999).
8Adam Brenthel, «The Drowning World: The Visual Culture of Climate Change» 2016, http://lup.lub.lu.se/record/8871974/file/8871975.pdf.
9Nicholas Mirzoeff, An Introduction to Visual Culture, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2009) and W. J. T. Mitchell: «What Do Pictures Want?» accessed December 2, 2016, http://www.visual-studies.com/interviews/mitchell.html.
10Jens E. Kjeldsen, «Virtues of Visual Argumentation: How Pictures Make the Importance and Strength of an Argument Salient,» 2013, http://scholar.uwindsor.ca/ossaarchive/OSSA10/papersandcommentaries/89/.
11Thomas Lowe, «Is This Climate Porn? How Does Climate Change Communication Affect Our Perceptions and Behaviour?» (Working paper, 2006), http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/content/climate-porn-how-does-climate-change-communication-affect-our-perceptions-and-behaviour.
12Mike S Schäfer, «Climate Change in the Media Where Have We Been, and Where Should We Be Headed?» 2015, http://www.uib.no/sites/w3.uib.no/files/attachments/schafer_keynote_bergen_final.pdf.
13Brenthel, «The Drowning World,» 2016.
14Anil Narine, Eco-Trauma Cinema, vol. 33, Routledge Advances in Film Studies?; (New York: Routledge, 2015), http://www.tandfebooks.com/isbn/9781315762814., Tommy Gustafsson and Pietari Kääpä (2013): Transnational Ecocinema: Film Culture in an Era of Ecological Transformation, Intellect, Scott McDonald, «Toward an Eco-Cinema,» Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 11, no. 2 (2004): 107–32, doi:DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/isle/11.2.107, Stephen Rust, Salma Monani, and Sean Cubitt, Ecocinema Theory and Practice, AFI Film Readers (New York: Routledge, 2013), http://www.tandfebooks.com/isbn/9780203106051., Robin L. Murray and Joseph K. Heumann, Ecology and Popular Film?: Cinema on the Edge, SUNY Series, Horizons of Cinema (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009), http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk &AN=265912&site=eds-live, Stephen Rust, Salma Monani, and Sean Cubitt, Ecomedia: Key Issues, Key Issues in Environment and Sustainability (London?;, New York: Routledge, 2016), http://www.tandfebooks.com/isbn/9781315769820.
15Toby Miller, «Foreword,» in Ecomedia
16Charles Musser, «Trauma, Truth and the Enviromental Documentary», in Eco-Trauma Cinema (Routledge, 2015).
17Anil Narine, Eco-Trauma Cinema, vol. 33, Routledge Advances in Film Studies (New York: Routledge, 2015), http://www.tandfebooks.com/isbn/9781315762814.
18Peter Rudiak-Gould, «We Have Seen It with Our Own Eyes’’: Why We Disagree about Climate Change Visibility,» WEATHER , CLIMATE, AND SOCIETY 5, 2013 (n.d.). and Hulme, «Seeing Climate Change: For the Few, for the Many?»
19Rudiak-Gould, «We Have Seen It with Our Own Eyes’’: Why We Disagree about Climate Change Visibility,» 123.
20Nicholas Mirzoeff, «Visualizing the Anthropocene,» Public Culture 26, no. 2 73 (2014): 213, doi:10.1215/08992363-2392039.
21Rudiak-Gould, «We Have Seen It with Our Own Eyes’’: Why We Disagree about Climate Change Visibility,» 131.
22Ibid., 129.
23Hulme, «Seeing Climate Change: For the Few, for the Many?»
24Adam Brenthel, «The Drowning World: The Visual Culture of Climate Change» 2016, 71, http://lup.lub.lu.se/record/8871974/file/8871975.pdf.
25Brenthel here also refers to interesting perspectives from Sean Cubitt, discussing fiction films. Scientific visualization is limited because «[a]ll data visualizations tend toward spatial solutions for the problems raised by time», while fiction allows time travels as long as it is made plausible within the narrative discourse. Sean Cubitt, «Everybody knows this nowhere: data visualization and ecocritizicism « in Ecocinema Theory and Practice, ed. S. Rust, S. Monani, and S. Cubitt, Taylor & Francis, New York, 2012. See for instance Interstellar. See also Brenthel for a discussion of this.
26M Jackson, «Glaciers and Climate Change: Narratives of Ruined Futures,» Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 6, no. 5 (September 1, 2015): 479–92, doi:10.1002/wcc.351; Mark Carey, «The History of Ice: How Glaciers Became an Endangered Species,» Environmental History 12, no. 3 (July 1, 2007): 497–527, doi:10.1093/envhis/12.3.497.
27Elke Weber, Irena Bauman, and and Olafur Eliasson, «Can Art Inspire Climate Change Action? An Ice Installation Aims to Do Just That,» The Guardian, October 23, 2014, sec. Guardian Sustainable Business, https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/oct/23/climate-change-ice-watch-installation-art-greenland-copenhagen-ipcc; «Ice Watch Paris,» Ice Watch Paris, accessed December 11, 2016, http://icewatchparis.com; For futher discussion see also Brenthel, «The Drowning World,» 2016.
28Mark Carey «The History of Ice: How Glaciers Became an Endangered Species,» Environmental History 12, no. 3 (July 1, 2007): 498.
29Stephan Bojinski et al., «The Concept of Essential Climate Variables in Support of Climate Research, Applications, and Policy,» Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 95, no. 9 (January 29, 2014): 1431–43, doi:10.1175/BAMS-D-13-00047.1.
30Michael Zemp et al., «Historically Unprecedented Global Glacier Decline in the Early 21st Century,» Journal of Glaciology 61, no. 228 (September 1, 2015): 745–62, doi:10.3189/2015JoG15J017.
31For example W. Dansgaard et al., «A New Greenland Deep Ice Core,» Science 218, no. 4579 (December 24, 1982): 1273–77, doi:10.1126/science.218.4579.1273; C. Lorius et al., «A 150,000-Year Climatic Record from Antarctic Ice,» Nature 316, no. 6029 (August 15, 1985): 591–96, doi:10.1038/316591a0; J. R. Petit et al., «Climate and Atmospheric History of the Past 420,000 Years from the Vostok Ice Core, Antarctica,» Nature 399, no. 6735 (June 3, 1999): 429–36, doi:10.1038/20859.
32Ben Orlove, «The Place of Glaciers in Natural and Cultural Landscapes,» SSRN Scholarly Paper (Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, 2004), https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2240321.
33Jeff Orlowski, Chasing Ice, 2012.
34 Carey, The History of Ice, 520.
35Ibid.
36Ibid.
37«Documentary Movies at the Box Office – Box Office Mojo,» accessed October 16, 2016, http://www.boxofficemojo.com/genres/chart/?id=documentary.htm. The film is only second to Michael Moore’s controversial Fahrenheit 9/11 as the best-selling documentary film to date.
38Andrew Pulver, «Ice and the Sky Review – Powerful Eco Doc Fronts up to Climate Change Deniers,» The Guardian, May 23, 2015, sec. Film, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/may/23/ice-and-the-sky-review-powerful-cannes-2015-film.
39«Claude Lorius – Balzan Prize Climatology,» accessed October 16, 2016, http://www.balzan.org/en/prizewinners/claude-lorius.
40David Jenkins, «Ice and the Sky,» Little White Lies, November 12, 2015, http://lwlies.com/reviews/the-ice-and-the-sky/.
41Orlowski, Chasing Ice.
42«Chasing Ice | Our Impact,» accessed October 21, 2016, https://chasingice.com/ourimpact/.
43Kjeldsen, «Virtues of Visual Argumentation,» 4.
44Ibid.
45Edmund. Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, UK, 1998).
46«Most Viewed YouTube Videos | Popular Videos | List View | TubeList,» accessed October 21, 2016, http://www.tubelist.space/list.php?category=1&txtFromDate=2005-04-24&txtToDate=2016-10-18#.
47Yushin Ahn and Jason E. Box, «Glacier Velocities from Time-Lapse Photos: Technique Development and First Results from the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) in Greenland,» Journal of Glaciology 56, no. 198 (October 1, 2010): 723–34, doi:10.3189/002214310793146313.
48James Balog, Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., n.d.).
49Alex Copp, «The Mass Mediation of the Eco-Documentary: A Comprehensive Analysis of the Rhetoric and Reception of An Inconvenient Truth and Chasing Ice,» 2014, http://alexcopp.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Copp-MIT-3901-Eco-Documentary-Comparison-Essay.pdf.
50Alanna Myers, «‘Skeptics’ and ‘Believers’: The Anti-Elite Rhetoric of Climate Change Skepticism in the Media.,» in Environmental Conflict And The Media, ed. L. Lester and B. Hutchins (New York: Peter Lang, 2013), 263.
51Copp, «The Mass Mediation of the Eco-Documentary.»
52Ibid.
53Mark Jenkins, «‘Chasing Ice,’ And Capturing Climate Change On Film,» NPR.org, accessed September 23, 2016, http://www.npr. org/2012/11/08/164236520/chasing-ice-and-capturing-climate-change-on-film.
54Mike McCahill, «Chasing Ice – Review,» The Guardian, December 13, 2012, sec. Film, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/dec/13/chasing-ice-review.
55Ann McCulloch, «Chasing Ice Bewitches Eyes but Won’t Change Minds,» The Conversation, accessed August 23, 2016, http://theconversation.com/chasing-ice-bewitches-eyes-but-wont-change-minds-13326.
56Geoffrey Macnab, «Ice And The Sky, Film Review: Oscar-Winner Luc Jacquet Returns,» The Independent, December 17, 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/ice-and-the-sky-film-review-oscar-winner-luc-jacquet-returns-a6777201.html.
57Mark Kermode, «Ice and the Sky Review – Awe-Inspiring Tribute to Claude Lorius,» The Guardian, December 13, 2015, sec. Film, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/dec/13/ice-and-sky-claude-lorius-scientist-global-warming.
58Neil Genzlinger, «‘Chasing Ice’ Documents the Work of James Balog,» The New York Times, November 8, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/09/movies/chasing-ice-documents-the-work-of-james-balog.html.
59Nicholas Mirzoeff, An Introduction to Visual Culture, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2009), 206.
60Ibid.
61Kjeldsen, «Virtues of Visual Argumentation,» 2–3.
62Kjeldsen, «Virtues of Visual Argumentation.»
63Ron Von Burg, «Decades Away or The Day After Tomorrow?: Rhetoric, Film, and the Global Warming Debate.,» Critical Studies in Media Communication 29, no. 1 (March 2012): 7–26, doi:10.1080/15295036.2011.637221. Svoboda, «The Long Melt: The Lingering Influence of The Day After Tomorrow,» Yale Climate Connections, November 5, 2014, http://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2014/11/the-long-melt-the-lingering-influence-of-the-day-after-tomorrow/.
64David A. Kirby, «Science Consultants, Fictional Films, and Scientific Practice,» Social Studies of Science 33, no. 2 (April 1, 2003): 231–68, doi:10.1177/03063127030332015.
65Brenthel, «The Drowning World,» 2016, 248.
66Brenthel, «The Drowning World,» 2016.

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