Remember when adults were, like, really smart? Here’s one, talking about climate change: “I believe there is weather, I believe there is change and I believe it goes up and it goes down and it goes up again and it changes depending on the years and centuries.” But wiser voices are weighing in. “Burning all these fossil fuels creates carbon dioxide into our atmosphere and gets stuck,” That’s Diego, 12, reading from his letter, one of thousands collected by Protect Our Winters as part of its effort to mobilize the outdoor sports community against climate change. Who’s the grown-up now?
“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.