For many of us, thinking about climate change is a little bit like contemplating infinity. It’s abstract. We know it’s there—at least those of us who believe the scientists who have been studying the subject for decades—but we’re not really sure what it looks like, or how it’s going to effect our planet. Of course, that just changed a little bit for millions of Americans who live on the East Coast, and who were under water, thanks to the flooding and power outtages brought on by Hurricane Sandy.

But is it fair to make a connection between the two?

“People often ask if a particular event was due to climate change but that’s the wrong question,” says director Jeff Orlowski, whose Chasing Ice, about environmental photographer James Balog’s quest to document the melting of our ice caps through time lapse photography, opens this weekend. “It’s like asking if a specific home run hit by a baseball player on steroids was due to the steroids. But, yes, there is a direct link.”

You need no further proof than the images of Sandy’s devastation, but you still have to check out Chasing Ice, a documentary that had a deep impact on me, making climate change a visceral, unforgettable event that isn’t veiled in an intellectualized fog.

Orlowski thinks of Chasing Ice as the story of Balog, whose images of ice are chilling and breath taking. I wasn’t so moved by his personal narrative, but I didn’t need to be; the dying ice is all the story I need. Chasing Ice is structured a little bit like Oscar-winner The Cove, which is to say, as an eco adventure. It follows Balog’s crazy mission to capture the images while his motley crew and concerned family follow along and worry about his well-being.

That was a good way to frame the narrative, but I was more impressed by Balog’s photography and the real money shot for me was the work of Orlowski, who captures Balog’s team as it records a cataclysmic churning of ice, the size of whole swaths of lower Manhattan. The incredible cinematography and the bone-crushing sounds of crashing ice make the film feel like eco-sci fi fable.

It’s an incredible coincidence that Orlowski used a computer model of Manhattan to demonstrate the vast size the ice chunks that are melting, because it now eerily echoes the recent images of water washing through New York City’s downtown streets.

It’s disturbing — as it should be. News of a five fold increase of natural disasters in North America in the last 30 years, as Orlowski relays, should freak us out.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen