Al Gore may have been the man to propel global warming into the media with An Inconvenient Truth but it was Claude Lorius, French glaciologist with data and techniques he began to develop in the 1950s in the then little explored Antarctic, who came up with the data for the US politician's PowerPoint presentation.
And it is Lorius who features in this documentary by director Luc Jacquet showing his part in the international research into global warming. It stretches over 60 years of his life from Lorius’ first pioneering expedition into the white of the south pole at age 23, to his still powerful world presence at 82. We see footage from the past interspersed with the older Lorius set against the stark harsh landscapes of icy regions, remembering and savouring his memories of a lifetime of scientific dedication to finding ways of tracking the history of climate change through examining the ice and snow crystals long left behind. Much of the early sections of the documentary are the original cine films taken on Lorius’ first expedition in 1956. It is as you would expect in terms of quality; jerky, grainy but no less dramatic as you see first-hand the huge efforts that had to be made that long ago simply to load up one year’s supplies onto the pack ice.
It was not just the innovative science that is amazing to witness but the sheer guts of men like Lorius who spent a large part of his life in frozen wastes, suffering snow blindness, frostbite and the agony of being parted from his wife and family for up to eighteen months at a time. Aged 23 on his first expedition he spent one year living in an underground room with two other men conducting and developing his first experiments, a time which kick started his lifelong passion of the study of snow crystals. To survive, they adopted the philosophy of no bad moods and a comradery it is hard to envisage in today’s individualistic world.
During the Cold War years of the 1960s, aged 42, Lorius worked with a Russian, US and French teams in minus 90 degrees centigrade in Vostok at an altitude of 3,250 metres to collect ice cores going back to the beginning of the first ice age. It was here that bullet proof friendships were forged, here in the storage areas where they stacked the ice cores ready for shipment to laboratories for analysis all over the world, and where their 24/7 living temperatures were minus 53 degrees centigrade.
And for what? As we watch we scream with frustration when time and time again the data mined and analysed is ignored by so called experts with vested capitalist agendas and sit, tears in our eyes with Lorius amid the glorious beauty of the world which we are knowingly destroying. Lorius himself said, ‘I sometimes fight the feeling of having no purpose…. I hope men will overcome the blizzards of history… for the sake of our children’s children.’ That Ice and the Sky was chosen to close this year's Cannes Film Festival was no surprise. It is an awe-inspiring, stunning and truly huge documentary of both Lorius the man, his brilliance, tenacity and perseverance in pursuing science in extremely adverse conditions and of the use he made of the science.
Jacquet does full justice to both without hectoring or lecturing and without turning Lorius into a freaky figure with ominous predictions of the end of the world. We emerge with a better understanding of global warming, value and appreciate what Lorius and others like him achieved. But now the Paris agreement is fact, we must also ask with Lorius: ‘What are you going to do about it?’
Ice and the Sky is now showing at FACT - click here to book tickets.