Movie Review: "Canary"
by Gregory Mann
SEPTEMBER 13, 2023
Witness the extraordinary life of Dr. Lonnie Thompson, an explorer who went where no scientist had gone before and transformed our idea of what's possible. Daring to seek Earth’s history contained in glaciers atop the tallest mountains in the world, we see the front lines of climate change, to recover these priceless historical records before they disappear forever.
The Quelccaya Ice Cap is located 5300-5670 meters above sea level in the southeastern Andes of Peru and is the Earth’s largest tropical glacier. The observed change in surface elevations on QIC is similar to those seen at other glaciers. However, the second-largest mountain range in Peru, the Cordillera Vil-canota (CV), south-east of the Cordillera Blanca, has received much less attention to date. Consequently, little is known about the timescales and equilibrium conditions of the vast majority of tropical Andean glaciers, and how climate variability affects their mass balances. In Peru, most studies have focused on glaciers in the Cordillera Blanca, which represents the largest mountain range in the tropics.
Glaciers are thought of as excellent indicators of climate change, as small climate variations can produce rapid glacial changes. Changes to small tropical glaciers, such as those found in the central Andes of South America, are difﬁcult to predict as the coarse resolution of global climate models makes resolving the steep topography of mountain areas crucial. Yet glacial retreat and mass-balance loss as a result of warming trends may have important consequences in this region, the current state and future fate of Andean glaciers and seasonal snow cover are of central importance for the water, food, and power supplies of densely populated regions in countries including Peru and Bolivia. Glaciers in many parts of the tropical Andes are retreating and losing mass.
The CV is home to the Quelccaya Ice Cap (QIC), the earth’s largest tropical ice cap, one of the few sites of long-term glacier research in this region; Dr. Lonnie Thompson and his Ohio State University research group have been visiting and monitoring the ice cap since 1974. Glaciers in the tropical Andes of southern Peru have received limited attention compared to glaciers in other regions, yet remain of vital importance to agriculture, fresh water, and hydropower sup- plies of downstream communities. Little is known about recent glacial-area changes and how the glaciers in this region respond to climate changes, and, ultimately, how these changes will affect lake and water supplies.
When we get to Cusco, Peru, we start to see large populations that depended on the glaciers. Hydroelectric power generated from glacier runoff powered the homes and livelihoods of millions. As we drive towards the glacier, we see farms, agriculture, and animals that are all raised with the water that comes off the glaciers. We follow rivers all the way up to Quelccaya, the largest tropical glacier on the planet. It's a massive white expanse and is the source of all this water and power for an entire part of Peru. The goal is to show the world that science stories are cinematic, emotional, and entertaining. It's not only to gather data but also to form personal connections with the glaciers and the people surrounding them. The relationship with glaciers like Quelccaya allows audiences to experience the climate impacts emotionally. The story connects us to the indigenous communities that are some of the people directly impacted by climate change. It even touches on the one aspect of climate change that's hardest to face: denial. The film encourages people to take steps to address global warming. You will walk away from this documentary with the belief and motivation that we can do something about it.
The extraordinary documentary shows us climate histories that go back hundreds of thousands of years, records of ancient volcanoes, and evidence of human-caused climate change, the greatest threat that we’ve ever faced to our civilization. The film opens up an entirely new frontier of scientiﬁc exploration and changed our understanding of the climate. We realize how susceptible we're all to denial when we're told news about things that affect us. The non-linear increasing rate of thinning with lower elevations has previously been observed at mountain valley glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere. While ice margin retreat has been observed at tropical Andean glaciers, there are few repeated measurements of surface elevations and volumes on tropical glaciers. The denial of human-caused climate change is as much a human emotional problem as it's a factual one and if this documentary is going to make a difference on this issue, we've to tell his story. The film shows that we're all capable of denial in the face of climate change. The story shows the importance of facing seemingly impossible challenges head-on and not giving up until we win, a lesson we all need in facing climate change.
There's an urgency and clarity about the climate crisis that neither of us had ever read about or seen on screen. On the mountain, beyond the end of the road, so much is unpredictable. From bad roads and tire blowouts to half the pack horses needed for the expedition not showing up, we've to understand the concept of mountain time. The glaciers in Peru are one of the places on our planet where you can cover global warming in this way. You can’t be shy of telling people your dream. It’s rare that scientists get to see themselves depicted as fully ﬂeshed-out human beings, let alone the center of the story. They're often scapegoated and misrepresented by fossil fuel companies to the point that they get death threats. This movie portrays scientists as they're, not as some boogeyman. The reality is that there are a ton of scientists who look for the truth and get punished/attacked/harassed when they speak it. We've to understand that these stories are important in telling the narrative around climate change. Politicians and policymakers can take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves if they're really ﬁghting for a sustainable future. In order to address climate change, we need a change in our approach.
In today’s society, there are people doing incredible work to reimagine the world so that we and future generations don’t suffer. Right now, it seems impossible with the amount of challenges they face. Those people need the wind in their sails. We need people to believe that we can address climate change and that the world will be better for it. We need to shift away from ﬁghting climate denial to realizing that addressing climate change makes the future better for all of us. It’s time to embrace all the opportunities to make the world better. 5we’re all capable of being fooled, and with climate change we’re all fooling ourselves at the moment. Fossil fuels have to go, it can’t happen soon enough. Fossil fuels are an important part of building the society we've, but now they are kind of like Tower Records in 1998 before the internet changed everything. They're the past, there are thousands of solutions already to climate change, and we need to start pursuing those, because there’s no future in fossil fuels.
When our kids in our age, the glacier will be gone. Gone will be the rivers. Gone will be the water for agriculture, drinking, and farming. Gone will be the water for the hydroelectric dams. Gone will be the power. Millions of people will have to migrate. We never truly understood this aspect of climate change, and how entire regions will need to be abandoned while millions of people seek a better life with the basic necessities. This is a world we can’t even process. The chaos that our kids will inherit when they in our age is a type of chaos that is hard to stomach. It's hard to process. Audiences we feel empowered that they're not alone in worrying about this, and if we all keep doing our parts, play our role, we can shape a better future than the one the status quo offers. We can ﬁght for good. We all face challenges, many seem insurmountable, but persistence and passion can take you to amazing places, will make you meet incredible people, and can change the world. The climate crisis seems impossible to tackle, but humans can come together to do amazing things.
Opens Fri, Sep 15 at Gateway