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Film Review: Ice On Fire

This HBO documentary paints a gloomy future but also highlights potential ways we can save the planet

In general documentaries about climate change are sobering and somewhat scary – which is, of course, their intention as they try to frighten people into action. I usually end up feeling in need of a stiff drink by the end. “Ice on Fire”, produced and voiced-over by actor and environmental activist Leonardo Di Capro, is no different but it does have some enlightening moments that provide us with some opportunities to reverse the direction mankind is heading with respect to climate change and how to live in a more sustainable way.

The story starts with a researcher driving to the top of a snow-covered peak in the Colorado Rockies to collect samples of the “atmosphere” to measure the concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases. She has been doing this for decades and when she first started the concentrations were around 350ppm now they are in excess of 410ppm. The concentrations of CO2 are one of the main drivers of the rise in global temperatures. 

The documentary goes on to talk about the impacts on the planet of rising global temperatures from what happens when the rise is 1.5 degrees centigrade (the target temperature agreed at the Paris accord on climate change) to rises of 5 degrees when the polar ice caps melt and sea levels rise by 250 feet and the central parts of the planet become unliveable. Very, very scary.

I think most people unless they have their heads buried in the sand, are aware of things that contribute to COemissions – industry, agriculture, cars etc but probably less well known is the threat of methane, a much more aggressive greenhouse gas. One of the things I had not realised is that there is a huge amount of methane stored in the permafrost, especially up in the artic. With the warmer weather and melting arctic ice, this methane is starting to emit into the atmosphere with devastating consequences. This could be much harder to control.

If the first part of Ice on Fire paints a gloomy future the second half focuses on what we can do to stop and reverse climate change. This covers everything from renewable energy sources such as wave energy, solar panels and hydroelectricity to sequestration of carbon by planting trees, growing forests of kelp, taking carbon out of the air, using microbes in the ocean to generate marine snow and my favourite turning CO2 into rocks by pumping into the ground. All of these technologies are here today we just need to invest and scale.

I found this to be a very powerful film with a lot of hope (having said that time is running out to take action). It is very well made with a good blend of science and storytelling. Unfortunately, it is on HBO, so unless you have a subscription it will mean paying to rent the movie on Amazon, Hulu or YouTube – but it is well worth it!

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