'That Glacier Is Gone.' Filmmaking as Front-Row Seat to Climate Change

I am an optimist, but we must act now

My film work has taken me around the world, in search of the most spectacular locations on Earth. From the depths of the ocean to the highest mountain peaks, my mission has been to document the natural beauty that conveys the extraordinary and mind-blowing magic of the natural world, and to share it to inspire people across the globe. It's because of this work that I have had the opportunity to see the very tangible and immediate realities of climate change. I can assure you that climate change is real, it's happening now and it's shocking.  

I was born in Aspen, Colorado, to a very passionate outdoor family. Skiing and extreme sports are literally the family business. My dad came to Aspen from Europe in 1947 as a ski instructor and created Sport Obermeyer. So it is natural that skiing is what launched my film career. Carrying a camera on skis at high speed while following ski racers got me noticed, and through a series of lucky breaks, I ended up as a partner in a top Hollywood production company known for high-end commercials and extreme imagery that specialized in shoots with near-impossible logistics.

One of those many shoots was in 2002, when I directed a Samsung Olympic campaign for the Salt Lake City Winter Games. We shot the entire campaign on the Eiger, one of the most iconic of Switzerland's Alps, filming extreme skiing in what can only be described as an amphitheater of otherworldly beauty. It was the most stunning glacier—with deep blue ice, giant crevasses, 200-foot spikes of ice, and truly remarkable shapes that provided insane visual impact. We helicoptered in and landed in the middle of a massive ice field. It was a gorgeous shoot and one of the most inspiring places I'd ever seen.

Almost 20 years later, I was preparing to shoot a campaign for Sport Obermeyer. It was to be a return home to the birthplace of the Obermeyer skiwear brand, so we wanted to shoot in the Alps. Naturally, I wanted to film on the famous Eiger again, so I called up my dear friend and legendary mountain man Stefan Zürcher, who is basically the world's most talented when it comes to shooting extreme snow scenes. It was he who had originally scouted and organized our Samsung expedition. I said, "Let's return to the glacier where we shot the Samsung ad," and he replied, "That glacier is gone. It doesn't exist anymore."

I was devastated and utterly shocked. I stood in silence and disbelief as I absorbed the reality of what Stefan was saying. It seemed impossible, how could that even be true? It was massive and extraordinarily beautiful just 19 years before. It is such a short amount of time for such a drastic change. He went on to explain that they now have to wrap the top of the Eiger above Jungfraujoch with mesh wire so that the permafrost, which is melting, does not cascade rocks down onto the glass structure built for tourists. Stefan conveyed that we couldn't even helicopter into the location anymore because there wouldn't be a place to land. Before, we would land on the ice of the glacier, which gives you a little perch where you can keep the blades off the rocks. Now, it's all just rock.

Revisiting many of the earth's most awe-inspiring natural places over the years has proven to be a stark reminder of cause and effect. I've seen a kind of timelapse if you will.

Films like Chasing Ice help to illustrate to people, through time-lapse photography, the speed at which climate change is moving. When we look out at the ocean, we typically just see beauty. We don't see that 90 percent of all pelagic fish have been killed in the last 50 years. Films can generate real awareness that translates into action.

Two out of three breaths that we take aren't from trees. They're from little baby plankton in the ocean—little exoskeleton creatures that create oxygen. Most of us have little to no knowledge of that fact. The carbon we're putting into the air is being absorbed into the oceans in such extreme amounts that the acidification of the ocean is climbing, essentially reverting back to a prehistoric state in which only jellyfish existed due to the acidity caused by the carbon absorbed from all of the volcanoes during the early days of our planet. It won't be long before it reaches a point where plankton and other calcium based life forms will no longer survive.

However, I am an optimist. My hope is that my glacier story adds to the massive awareness that is building collectively around the world. Humans are capable of incredible things when we work together for a common goal. I believe we must become more elegant in how we use and create energy and fast!

Enough sunshine falls on the earth every minute to power civilization for 300,000 years. We just need to evolve past digging stuff up and setting it on fire to a mode of capturing, storing and harnessing nature's energy sustainably. Done correctly, there will be no sacrifice, only elegant evolution.

Anyone who has accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in under two seconds in a Tesla knows that no internal combustion engine has never been more capable or fun. That exhilarating experience can be powered completely by sunshine. Approximately 50 percent of anthropogenic CO2 is created by transportation, so shifting to electric mobility and solar power generation can have a massive impact. Every day each and every one of us can disrupt greed and utter short-sighted stupidity by voting with our dollars to support companies, products and philosophies that promote sustainability and together we can change the world. We must…

Find out what you can start doing today to change our course for future generations by visiting the UN Environment Programme website.

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