Person of the Year runner up: James Balog of Chasing Ice

James Balog in Alaska
Photo courtesy of Tad Pfeffer/Extreme Ice Survey

James Balog started his work documenting the changing face of our planet years ago, but the documentary about his work, Chasing Ice, came out early this year and is getting widely distributed and rave reviews. The film tells the story behind the Extreme Ice Survey, a project Balog undertook in 2007 that stationed 30 cameras set to take a photo of glaciers once every day-lit hour, at 15 locations around the world. Balog’s goal when he set out on the project was to show people what was happening, not bombard them with more mind-numbing numbers.

“The public doesn’t want to hear about more statistical studies, more computer models, more projections,” Balog says in the film. “What they need is a believable, understandable piece of visual evidence. Something that grabs them in the gut.”

Chasing Ice, like the Extreme Ice Survey, is doing what decades of science and studies have been unable to do — giving real, visual evidence that our planet is warming.

The camera peers into glacial crevices, where glacial runoff is approaching a tipping point for melt water actually increasing glacial melt, and footage includes the largest witnessed glacial calving event, when a segment of Greenland’s Ilulissat glacier the size of lower Manhattan calves off into the sea over a 75-minute period. The film also tells the story of the personal struggles Balog undertook to complete the Extreme Ice Survey, from working with a team to design the computers to power his cameras to dealing with deteriorating knee joints that often left him limping.

For being the impetus behind a documentary that’s proving to be the next generation of climate film, graduating from the statistics fronted in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth to a story about climate change that triggers an emotional response as much as a logical one, we’ve selected Balog among our people of the year for 2012. A mention must also go to film director Jeff Orlowski, who had the presence of mind to start shooting the 400 hours of film to document Balog’s work that went in to Chasing Ice.

2012 People of the Year: Our Longmont

Runner-Up: Brian Vicente, legal marijuana