In my last article, I summarized the extraordinary documentary The Human Element and added some of my own commentary about the touching subjects. In this article, I’m relaying the highlights of my interview with James Balog, the writer of the film. The documentary will be available on all major VOD platforms — iTunes, Amazon, DirectTV, etc. — on January 29, 2019.
I asked James Balog to speak on something I heard him say before — “If we change the chemistry of the air, air holds heat differently.” He responded:
“What I would like to share is something that just started to dawn on me in about 2010, 2011. It really has come to the fore consistently and constantly for me. And that is that this air that we breathe — it appears to be nothing, it appears to be just like the ether, something in outer space.
“But this air that surrounds us is, in fact, is a dimensional substance. It has weight and mass and volume and molecules. It’s a real material. It’s as real as the keyboard in front of you. It is as real as the telephone I am holding in my hands. And if we could see the air, we’d be having a whole different conversation about climate change. But we don’t have the sensing mechanisms in our 5 senses to properly see and comprehend the air.
“Think about this — you, there at sea level in Florida, that air weighs 14.7 pounds per square inch on your shoulders. 14.7 pounds. You don’t know that, but it’s real. And so, if you think of air as real and being consequential and having weight and mass and volume, it starts, at least, to acquire a sense of reality — a sense of reality that we need to have in order to think about keeping the air clean. Because otherwise we just say, ‘Oh, the hell with it. Let’s just dump our effluence into this nothing place.'”
James is also a former mountain guide. His voice takes on a quieter tone as I ask him about breaking through denial. He advises:
“I think the other part of this is — I’ll use a metaphor from mountaineering, because climbing mountains has been a big part of my life for 50 years — sometimes you reach an obstacle that you simply cannot go up and you have to say, ‘We’re going around it.’ And so you try a different strategy and you go around the obstacle. And there are certain factions of denial in this country that are unchangeable. And it’s not worth burning up energy throwing yourself up against a cliff that’s unclimbable.”
On engendering a lighter footprint:
“The short answer is there really is no silver-bullet solutions. There’s a whole bunch of small ones.”
I also ask James about his feelings on electric cars.
“I have very strong feelings and I own one. I think to the extent that one’s bank account can afford it, you should do that the next time you have to buy a car. Well, hell, if you can’t afford a full-on electric car, you get a plug-in Prius or a plug-in Ford C-Max. You do whatever you can with the tools you have and the resources you have.”
I mention that, yes, I have actually transitioned from an EV to an electric bicycle. Not only do I save money, but I am also happier from the outdoors and exercise. That is affordable compared to a car of any kind.
I also asked James to speak on his belief in a “willed optimism” and any wisdom he might share on rising above a sense of futility, exhaustion, or depression when dealing with societal and environmental concerns. I mention that he is a force of nature himself, stronger than many.
“Yeah, I get it. We all talk about that.
“Anybody who’s honest with themselves at this time has to recognize that they are on a seesaw — between hope and despair. And it’s just the nature of our time, and this subject matter, and this situation that we’re in now. And I battle, I battle that issue literally every day. And it is starting to get to be so long-lived — I’m starting to wonder if it is really getting imprinted in my actual mind now instead of just being a conscious choice — and that’s, of course, dangerous. I don’t want to be a manic depressive every day.
“So what I’ve come to in addition to the willed optimism idea is to recognize that if, as many psychologists say, despair is anger turned inwards, then action is anger turned outwards. Actually, they say if depression is anger turned inwards, action can be anger turned outwards.”
Visually breathtaking, his work will help you to transform your patterns of belief in environmental issues.
More of James Balog’s work can be found on his website. Here are a few closing quotes from James:
“Today, truth and evidence matter more than ever. The visual evidence shows that people are changing the other elements fast.
“Our deeds are leaving their imprint in the fabric of time. And what I want to do, is bring this story to life.
“It’s up to us to make the right choice.”
As he noted in another article I wrote about James and his work, “An imbalance in one element leads to an imbalance in another. People are the only elements that can choose to restore balance. And that gives me hope.”
Related stories & links:
- The Human Element
- Chasing ICE
- The Extreme Ice Survey
- “It’s Not Fear That Should Drive Us To Act, It’s Love” — Interview With Susan Kucera, Director Of Living In The Future’s Past
Again, The Human Element will be on all major VOD platforms on January 29, 2019:
- Google Play
- Independent Systems
- Telus (CA)
All images used were part of the film’s press package or were screenshots from the film, The Human Element.