Photographer Balog to highlight human element amid climate change April 22

For four decades, environmental photographer James Balog has traveled the world capturing the connections between humans and nature in vivid detail.

The Cornell community will have the opportunity to explore these connections, too, when Cornell Cinema hosts a free screening of “The Human Element” on Earth Day, April 22, at 7 p.m.

The screening is presented by the Atkinson Forum in American Studies and is co-sponsored by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

Balog will attend the screening and participate in a Q&A session.

The Human Element,” directed by Matthew Testa, follows Balog as he documents the lives and experiences of Americans threatened by the effects of climate change. The film is framed around the four classical elements: air, earth, fire and water. It also includes an often unacknowledged fifth element: people.

Balog visits with unemployed miners in Kentucky’s coal country, firefighters in California, a Colorado family afflicted with asthma and a fishing community in the Chesapeake Bay. Along the way, he captures vibrant, dramatic footage of wildfires, hurricanes and rising sea levels. The film illustrates how human activity has shifted the balance of the essential elements in nature, and it puts a human face on the overlooked communities that are most affected by a changing climate. In the process, the film encourages the audience to re-evaluate its relationship with the natural world.

“‘The Human Element’ seeks to create a new and provocative vision of humanity’s relationship with nature by looking at what happens when humanity changes the other elements in the world: earth air, fire and water; and how, as we change those elements, those elements push back to change us,” Balog said.

“Human health is inextricably linked with the health of our planet, and both are vulnerable to the threats posed by climate change. That message is especially relevant on Earth Day,” said David Lodge, the Francis J. DiSalvo Director of the Atkinson Center. “We are grateful that James will be joining us to share his powerful and compassionate vision of these environmental connections.”

Over the course of his 40-year career, Balog has crisscrossed the globe, from the African savannah to the Himalayas to the polar icecaps, documenting the complicated relationship between people and nature. His photography has been featured extensively in National Geographic and other international publications, and he’s the author of eight books. Balog founded the Earth Vision Institute as a way to educate and inspire the public about the changing environment. In 2007, he launched the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), which resulted in a wide-ranging, photographic study of glaciers. His work with EIS was highlighted in the Emmy award-winning documentary “Chasing Ice.”

“Cornell Cinema had the pleasure of hosting James Balog six years ago with a screening of ‘Chasing Ice,’” said Cornell Cinema director Mary Fessenden. “His dedication and passion offer hope amid the climate change crisis, and that’s certainly something we’re all looking for these days.”

The Atkinson Forum in American Studies is held twice a year and brings individuals and groups to campus to enrich the curriculum of the American Studies Program in the College of Arts and Sciences and the cultural life of the university. It is sponsored by David R. and Patricia D. Atkinson.

David Nutt is managing editor for the Atkinson Center.

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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 Cornell Cinema will host a free screening of “The Human Element” on Earth Day, April 22, at 7 p.m.