Tag Archives: documentary

Midway – a documentary everyone should see

All of us have impacts on the earth’s environment. Simply by living our everyday lives, we leave our footprint on the earth. Some footprints are bigger than others. And even if you want your footprint to be small and take actions to reduce it, it’s still there. But  smaller is better and that’s the key.

Salvin's Mollymawk, a species of Albatross. Taken near Kaikoura, New Zealand.

Salvin’s Mollymawk, a species of Albatross. Taken near Kaikoura, New Zealand.

Each one of us should strive to reduce our environmental footprint. In our household, we do things to try to reduce it.  I’m not happy with the footprint of my commute to work 3 days a week. But it’s better than 5 days a week. And I drive the most economical car I can afford. It’s one step away from a go-cart and with my commute, I can’t really go any smaller. I wish I could afford a hybrid. One day. But I hope I help to make up for my commute, at least in part, by the other things I do to try to lessen my impact on our environment. I’m not criticizing anyone for their environmental footprint. We all have one. I just hope we can all do things to reduce ours individually because if each of us does, collectively, it had a big effect, in a good way.

I think many people, perhaps all of us, to some greater or lesser degree, don’t realize the impacts we have on our planet because we don’t see them in our daily lives. I think this is why changing our behaviour and habits to reduce our impacts on the environment is often difficult. As humans, we are visual creatures and we need to see what our impacts are, in order to believe they exist.

This is why documentaries that actually show us the impacts of the way we live and the daily choices we make, on the earth’s environment is so fundamentally important. I recently wrote about Jim Balog’s documentary, Chasing Ice, that shows how the world’s glaciers are crumbling at alarming rates due to global climate change. Balog’s extreme dedication to the project was because he wanted to show the world that climate change is real.

There’s another documentary coming out this year that shows us the consequences of our actions (and inactions) –  the consequences of our modern lifestyles in developed nations. I’ve seen the trailer for this one and I think it’s a great example of showing us environmental impacts that we didn’t even think we had. You know, the out of sight, out of mind thing we humans are so good at.  Chris Jordan’s film, Midway, brings an important issue into focus.

His documentary is about Midway Island in the Pacific. Yes, the Midway Island, where a famous WW II battle took place. But Jordan’s film has little to do with Midway’s historical significance. Instead, here’s what his film is about:

“The Journey

Midway Atoll, one of the most remote islands on earth, is a kaleidoscope of geography, culture, human history, and natural wonder. It also serves as a lens into one of the most profound and symbolic environmental tragedies of our time: the deaths by starvation of thousands of albatrosses who mistake floating plastic trash for food.

The images are iconic. The horror, absolute. Our goal, however, is to look beyond the grief and the tragedy. It is here, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, that we have the opportunity to see our world in context. On Midway, we can not deny the impact we have on the planet. Yet at the same time, we are struck by beauty of the land and the soundscape of wildlife around us, and it is here that we can see the miracle that is life on this earth. So it is with the knowledge of our impact here that we must find a way forward.” (taken from Chris Jordan’s Midway website).

Midway

There’s a trailer for the film on Chris Jordan’s website. I strongly encourage you to watch it. Warning – it’ll probably leave a lump in your throat. But that’s a good thing. A lump in your throat can provide the motivation to change your behaviour, for all of us to change our behaviour, so that this awful situation is remedied.

SLB-0010_Salvin's Mollymawk

Salvin’s Mollymawk, a species of Albatross. Photo taken near Kaikoura, New Zealand.

You don’t have to be an environmentalist, biologist, or nature-lover to understand the significance of this issue. It should affect us all, deeply enough that we change the situation. I’m not sure what the answer is. But I want to find out. I had read about the impacts of plastic and other materials on marine life. But seeing the Midway trailer really floored me. Actually, the word disgusting was what really came to mind.

Buller's Mollymawk, a species of Albatross. Taken near Kaikoura, New Zealand.

Buller’s Mollymawk, a species of Albatross. Taken near Kaikoura, New Zealand.

Click on the thumbnail below to view the trailer on the Midway website.

Midway trailer

I don’t know when the film is scheduled for release. Sometime in 2013. When I find out, I’ll post it here as well as any links to where it will be showing. I want to see it. I hope you want to see it too.

SLB-9756_Albatross

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A Must See! James Balog’s, Chasing Ice documentary

Yesterday, I went with a friend to see James Balog’s famed documentary, Chasing Ice. It had already shown in Ottawa, but unfortunately I’d missed it. But thankfully it came back for a second showing and I made sure to see it. I just wish I’d had the time to get a bunch of people together to see it. As a scientist myself, it’s the kind of documentary I wish EVERYONE would see. The message in that documentary is stark and I think any climate change doubter would be hard-pressed to refute the visual evidence presented in Chasing Ice.

Click on the image above to visit the Chasing Ice website to see when the film is playing near you.

Click on the image above to visit the Chasing Ice website to see when the film is playing near you.

I know climate change is a very controversial topic – still. The acerbic debates over the existence of climate change seem to have died down. The number of scientist speaking out against the data, saying that climate change is bunk, has dwindled from a vocal minority to nearly none. I think the debate has shifted away from whether climate change is real to a focus on the causes of climate change. Those are two distinct questions.

Franz Josef glacier in south island New Zealand

Franz Josef glacier in south island New Zealand

Is climate change real? I don’t think it’s possible to refute this anymore, at least not with a cogent and reasonable argument. Enough data have been amassed to show the patterns. The problem is that the average person doesn’t relate to data. If science doesn’t get packaged into a form that is understandable and digestible by the general public, then (in my view) some of the value of that science is lost. As scientists, it is our job to ensure that the public can understand the results of our research and the implications for their lives.

Glacier ice and rubble - the soil, rocks and material that get dragged along at the glacier moves.

Glacier ice and rubble – the soil, rocks and material that get dragged along at the glacier moves.

I think James Balog’s idea of letting glaciers tell the story of climate change, through still images and videos is absolutely brilliant. Most people can’t relate to statistics on changes in carbon dioxide concentrations over time. Parts per million by volume means virtually nothing to the average person. But watching a chunk of glacier bigger than Manhattan break off and roll into the ocean is something we can all relate to. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words still rings true.

Have a look at this trailer to Chasing Ice. See the largest glacier calving ever recorded….

Click on the image above to see the video of the largest glacier calving event ever recorded.

Click on the image above to see the video of the largest glacier calving event ever recorded.

I hear people say that they either believe or do not believe in climate change and global warming. Climate change is not about belief. It is about science. It is about data that show that it exists. Religion is about beliefs. Science is not. Science is about understanding what the data tell us – is our global climate changing. I just can’t see how people can answer no to that question anymore. I’m middle aged – old enough to look back on the climate in the city I grew up in – Ottawa, Ontario, Canada – and tell you that the climate here now is different then it was 40-some years ago. Yes, the changes have happened within my lifetime.

Vibrant blue of glacier ice at Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand

Vibrant blue of glacier ice at Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand

I think the bigger debate now is about the causes of climate change. Data have shown that the earth naturally goes through periods of climate change. Temperature and carbon dioxide concentration are highly positively correlated – in other words, they are tightly linked. As one goes up, so does the other. As one goes down, so does the other.

But the tools of science have allowed for the sampling of the earth’s atmosphere through the study of ice cores. An ice core is much like a tree ring. It captures changes over time. Where the width of a tree ring can tell us about the growing conditions during a given year, sampling the air bubbles trapped in an ice core can tell us about the nature of the earth’s atmosphere hundreds of thousands of years ago. But what the data show, is that since the Industrial Revolution, global carbon dioxide concentrations have spiked. Over the past 400,ooo years of the earth’s history, carbon dioxide concentrations have repeatedly been as high as 275 parts per million by volume (ppmv). But data show that the earth is currently far above that concentration and is on track to reach 400 ppmv, nearly double that of the natural cycles in the earth’s history. And when did this spike in carbon dioxide concentrations begin? It coincides with the Industrial Revolution.

Click on the thumbnail below to read about the data…

Chasing Ice data page

There are people who will argue that a correlation between the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the onset of rapid changes in carbon dioxide concentrations on earth are just that – correlations – and that one cannot attribute cause and effect through correlation. This is true. Correlation does not reveal definitive causation. This is why science relies on multiple lines of evidence – it’s like putting pieces of a puzzle together. In my view, we have enough pieces of the puzzle to tell us that global climate change is occurring and that humans have played a role in it.

Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand

Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand

Even for those who don’t accept the data – wouldn’t it be prudent to take actions to do what we can now, to curb carbon dioxide increases while we can? Does it make sense to wait until it’s too late to do something and then say, “oops, we were wrong, humans have played a significant role in changing the earth’s climate”?

If your carbon monoxide detector in your house started sounding you could hypothesize that it is sounding because of a fault in the device or that it is sounding because carbon monoxide levels in your house have reached a dangerous level. In that situation, would you not get family out of the house immediately – assume carbon dioxide is at dangerous levels that can kill quickly – get them to safety, rather than assume that the detector is malfunctioning and that it is giving you a false positive? The consequences to you and your family are too dire to assume the alarm is a false alarm. Carbon monoxide is odourless, tasteless and colourless – you can’t smell, taste or see it. So in those ways, it isn’t tangible. But it’s effects are – it can kill quickly.

How is global change any different from the analogy of your home carbon monoxide detector? Isn’t it prudent to act now and not assume that this is a false alarm? The difference between global climate change and the carbon monoxide example above is scale – temporal scale as we call it in science. In layman’s terms  – time. We can relate to the immediacy of the carbon monoxide situation. But for changes in global climate that occur over decades and the geographic scale of the entire globe, humans have difficulty relating to this scale – to changes over decades and over the entire globe. We relate far more easily to the scale of minutes and so our own surroundings; it’s just part of being human. But as humans, we also have the unique ability of foresight…

Now is the time to think of the consequences of our inaction. You may or may not experience catastrophic consequences of global climate change, depending on how old you are now and where you live.  But what kind of world do you want to leave for your kids, your grandkids, and great-grandkids? I think that is something we can all relate to – how our actions as a society will alter life for our kids and grandkids.

The consequences of being wrong about the causes of global climate change are too great not to do anything about it. I think the only ethical choice is to accept that human are having a very significant impact on global climate and to do something about it before we are past the point of doing anything except leaving our kids one hell of an environmental mess to mop up, courtesy of our current, short-sighted behaviour. I’m not saying it’s easy.  If it were easy, we’d already be well on our way to solving the problem. I think the key now is to identify ways that society can change its behaviour to reduce human impacts on the global environment. But change starts one person at a time….

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Not everyone will agree on the causes of global climate change. But  see Chasing Ice. A picture really is worth a thousand words.

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Filed under Abstracts, conservation, Conservation & Environment, Digital Photography, Landscape, Life's short...., Nature, nature photography, Opinion, Philosophy, photography

Bear 71 – a must see….

Today I was reading my digital  subscription to Canadian Wildlife Federation’s magazine Canadian Wildlife. In it is an article on Bear 71. Or more specifically, an article about the web-based documentary, called Bear 71 Yes, a web-based documentary. To be exact, it’s an interactive web-doco that blends video, photography, mapping, data, neat computer animation and music. It’s a really unique format. Created by Gemini Award-winning, Leanne Allison, Jeremy Mendes, and co-presented and produced by the National Film Board, it’s like nothing I’ve seen before.

The story is about Bear 71, her life in and around Banff National Park and that of her three cubs. What’s particularly appealing about this doco is that it’s told from Bear 71’s perspective. Now before you go and criticize it for being overly anthropomorphic, just watch the documentary. I don’t think you can help but be moved by it. Actress Mia Kirshner is the voice of Bear 71. Her narrative is poignant, as Bear 71 tells her story about living in an environment that is increasingly touched by humans. She tells of her life with her three cubs and in the end, of her own demise when she is killed by a train while walking on the tracks.

The web link opens with a page that lets you choose to be a character (e.g. Bear 71 or some other character like a mountain lion or big horn sheep). Once you’ve chosen your character, the page shows  a trail camera photo of the animal and provides a description of the individual and it’s life. It also presents statistics on the conservation status of that species.

If you click on “Check out the website” at the bottom of the page, this takes you to the web documentary, which opens with some footage showing Bear 71 caught in a leg noose and being tranquilized by conservation officers, then fitted with a radio collar. Next, the video transitions into a funky virtual landscape – a digital representation of the topography in and around Banff National Park. It shows the location  and movement of Bear 71 through the virtual landscape, as well as the movement of several other critters. You can move your cursor around to move through the landscape, passing towns, rail tracks, wildlife trails and natural features such as lakes. While roaming the virtual landscape, Bear 71’s narrative plays and your roaming is interspersed with video clips of Bear 71 and music. It makes for a very moving bit of storytelling.

Kudos to Allison, Mendes, and the NFB for their creative and innovative storytelling. I think one of the most effective aspects of the documentary is that the story is told from Bear 71’s perspective. For me, that’s the key to the impact of this doco. It’s not just a documentary about a bear; it’s about Bear 71, by Bear 71 and it is therein, that the story really tugs on your heartstrings.

I encourage you to check it out. I’m a huge fan of using digital media to promote conservation. The key to effectively delivering a conservation message lies in creating a message with impact. This documentary definitely has impact.

Have a look and let me know what you think of it.

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