The Effect of James Balog

In my senior year of high school, I vividly remember watching the documentary “Chasing Ice,” which followed one man and his team tracking the retreat of glaciers through time-lapse photography.

It may sound dry, but it was anything but. This was because the man, James Balog, was an extremely effective communicator. In fact, “Chasing Ice” was the reason that I chose to study the environment in college.

James Balog was a very convincing and successful communicator, both during the documentary and in following speeches and articles. His documentation of glacial retreat through photography and link to anthropogenic, or human-caused, climate change was staggering.

Balog used photography, filmmaking, and speaking as his primary tools of effective communication. I hope to emulate his success as a communicator throughout my career in the environmental sector.

Balog, using photographs, scientific graphs and data and speech to relay the causes and effects of climate change, made a complex issue sound simple. Climate change, sometimes difficult to quantify, was a non-negotiable in “Chasing Ice.”

Balog’s photography brought artistic value to the graphs and data used, similarly to descriptive writing in an article. It was a different way of communication, but just as effective.

During his film and in a speech after, Balog used visual cues such as stacking up the Capitol Building or the Eiffel Tower in order to explain the scale of ice loss. It was helpful to imagine the retreat in sizes relatable to the human brain.

Balog compared art to science during a speech, saying that art was about the aesthetic while science was about the rational and the quantitative. He used “Chasing Ice” and his photographs to combine the two values that seemed to be at odds with each other.

He used interesting similes and metaphors, such as calling glacial ice the “canary in a global gold mine.” These lines were intriguing and, similarly to the visual cues, helped to explain the scale of the problem.

The greatest thing I believe James Balog does as a communicator is advocates. While there is value in objectivity, I believe a primary function of a good communicator is advocacy.

Balog’s film and subsequent projects support educational awareness of anthropogenic climate change. He doesn’t just give scientific data. Instead, he explains the data and then follows it up with a call for global change.

James Balog has already had an incredible effect on my life through “Chasing Ice,” and I hope to emulate his success as a communicator now and in the future.


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