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Ice on Fire

Doc produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio investigates novel ways of sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere - live from Cannes


Our planet is getting warmer. The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere grew from 80 ppm (parts per million) in pre-industrial times (about 200 years ago) to more than 400 ppm at present. In a few decades, it could reach 700 ppm, causing sea levels to rise more than 80 metres. And it isn’t just carbon dioxide that’s threatening us. The methane levels are also alarmingly high. Ice on Fire investigates the impact of such changes on our planet and reveals some very peculiar initiatives created in order to mitigate and even to fix the dangerous phenomena.

The biggest issue that we’re facing right now is that we are releasing far more CO2 into the atmosphere than “sequestering” it into solid materials (a scientific term meaning “removing from the atmosphere”). The fossil fuels are largely to blame, as is deforestation. The Arctic suffers the most as temperatures rise three time faster than elsewhere, killing off the jet streams (air currents) that keep the rest of the planet nice and cool.

Methane is being leaked largely due to coalbed gas extraction, the Four Corners region of the US being a notorious hot spot. In the second half of the movie, two scientists drill a hole in the Alaskan permafrost allowing methane (which is a flammable gas) to flow into the air. They then proceed to light it, creating the titular fire of ice. This lethal combination of CO2 and methane in our atmosphere could lead to a temperature rise of up to 2C as early as 2050, with catastrophic consequences for the Earth and its living creatures.

Fortunately for us, a lot of clever scientists and entrepreneurs are already taking action in order to avoid the imminent tragedy. In the US, giant wind turbines are sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere and turning it into rocks, and the project in now being rolled out in Iceland. A major carbon immobilisation spot has been set up in the Orkney Islands of Scotland, where underwater propellers do the dirty work. We also learn that redwood trees and a large seaweed known as kelp are also very good for sequestration, and there are a few initiatives aiming to disseminate these terrestrial and aquatic plants.

Some impressive drone and time lapse images of the Arctic, Iceland, the Orkney Islands and various parts of the US combined and a subtle humming score in order to provide a impressive texture to the movie. Talking heads interviews explain the nuts and bolts of the various phenomena and the technologies. A narrator in voice-over makes the profound reflections about our future

Ice on Fire, however, fails to address the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable communities of our planet. While everyone around the world feels the effects of climate change, people living in the world’s poorest countries – such as Bangladesh, Haiti and Timor-Leste – are the most vulnerable. Shifting seasons and natural disasters (such as severe draughts in Timor Leste and flooding in rural Bangladesh) disproportionately threaten these peoples, increasing their dependency on humanitarian aid. The doc instead focuses almost entirely on the US and Europe.

It’s also very peculiar that Ice on Fire avoids talking politics. It never addresses which countries and governments are doing their best in order to tackle climate change. The film alludes to the Paris Agreement several times, yet it fails to mention that Donald Trump withdrew the US from international treat exactly two years ago. A very strange omission.

But the biggest problem with Leila Conners’s doc is that the call-to-action is just too broad. It hardly tell us anything we do not already know. It’s common knowledge (except amongst climate change deniers, but these people are not going to watch the film anyway) that our planet is dangerously close to the tipping point, and that we need to take serious action now. But what is it that each one of us can do individually in order to prevent global warming? We’re not going to jump into the cold and ferocious waters of the Orkney Islands in order to operate a device that looks like a floating UFO. We need practical solutions that each and everyone of us can implement in our daily routines.

Ice on Fire was produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, who also makes a very brief appearance in the end of the movie. It just premiered at the 72nd Cannes International Film Festival. The screening was attended by the film director and the film producer, who gave a passionate speech about climate change.

By Victor Fraga - 22-05-2019

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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