“I can’t escape the fact that coal made me who I am today,” says photographer James Balog, whose grandfather died, at 62, in a coal-mining accident. Balog has chronicled one climate change consequence of human coal use in Chasing Ice (Mountainfilm 2012), and narrated a film documenting another in Message in a Bottle (Mountainfilm 2016). In The Human Element, he ponders “the fifth element” (after water, earth, air and fire). By changing the other four elements, he says, humans are “shaping the Earth as we know it.” Balog documents this collision between people and nature through stories ranging from Chesapeake Bay’s dwindling Tangier Island to California’s record-breaking wildfires of 2017 to last summer’s three devastating hurricanes.
- Matthew Testa
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