Taking a slower step to improving our world

James Balog takes a look at climate change and how people can help reduce their impact on the environment.

James Balog says there is a way to fix climate change, it just won't happen overnight. 

"Take one step at a time; you don't have to be a hero, you just have to take the next step," Balog told the Hendricks Chapel audience. "Do the best you can with the circumstances you have."

Balog has been an environmental photographer for 30 years, and his photographs have been published in Life, Vanity Fair and National Geographic magazines. Balog focused on issues of how the environment is changing today in a lecture called  "When Mountains Move: Chronicle of a Changing Planet," part of the Syracuse University Lecture series.

Photo: Sarah Hoyoon Lee
James Balog, photographer and director of the Extreme Ice Survey, spoke Tuesday night at Hendricks Chapel.

At first, Balog thought climate change was a computer-generated concept, but he saw the how humans impacted the environment early in his career.

“One of the biggest stories of our time is the collision between humans and the natural environment,” Balog said.

Balog now combines scientific evidence and artistic expression to study climate change. His scientific data is illustrated with compelling images of climate change, including photos from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, droughts in China, melting glaciers in Alaska and wild fires. 

The slideshows revealed undeniable facts about the radical annual global temperature increases from 1850 to 2010 and the unnatural increase in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 1990 to the present. Scientific data also revealed that wild fire seasons burn longer, are more frequent and cover more ground than 20 years ago.

“Climate strange is not an abstraction," Balog said. "It's already affecting wild fire all around western U.S. The trends are self-evident, the trend is toward warming.” 

Balog also showed time-lapse photos of the Petermann Glacier melting in Greenland from the Extreme Ice Survey, the only project to create a visual record of melting glaciers. As the photographer and director of the project, Balog worked with a team of scientists and photographers who captured time-lapse video and traditional photography to record glaciers melting at sites including Alaska, Greenland and Iceland. 

Glacier areas matter because they are “the place on the planet where you can feel, touch and see climate change in action," Balog said. 

Entrepreneurship freshman Michael Chirokas was impressed by Balog's slideshow.

"I felt that his presentation paralleled Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth," Chirokas said. "It was incredibly similar in the slides and the presentation."

Engineering freshman Alyssa Avanzato found the lecture's graphics informative.

"I definitely got more aware about what's going on around the world," Avanzato said. 

Civil engineering freshman and self-described climate change activist Luke Andrews said Balog's appearance is great for campus.

“It's inspiring to hear writers like this come and speak, and I think it's something more people need to know,” Andrews said.

While sustainable energies like geothermal energy and solar power seem unfamiliar, adopting them is a step forward toward halting climate change, Balog said.

“We have to reinvent fire and move forward,” he said. “A lot of people and efforts, specific incremental efforts will change this whole dynamic.” 

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