Blood Glacier and Creative Climate Storytelling: Uncertain Future
An eerie mountain landscape, a handful of jump-scares, and plenty of gore — “Blood Glacier” may seem like every other low-budget horror film. It has a different story.
“In 2014 the last skeptics fall silent,” the film’s title card begins. “The climate disaster is worse than ever imagined… The consequences are unclear but we know one thing. Life on earth will change forever.”
The film follows a team of scientists, government officials, technicians and a technician as they fight mutants at a research facility in the Austrian Alps.
Christy Tidwell laughed the first time she saw the film. Tidwell, an associate professor at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, studies science fiction and environmental humanity.
The film isn’t very good compared to other eco-horrors she’s seen, she admitted to GlacierHub in an interview. But its “badness” struck her curiosity, leading to her recent publication, titled “‘We will change’: Deep past and uncertain future in Blood Glacier,” in the journal Television and Science Fiction Film.
Although the film may not reflect the literal realities of climate change, it asks its audience to consider how their choices shape a future so fragile that even the world’s glaciers are no longer permanent, Tidwell explained.
“Blood Glacier” follows a growing trend toward telling creative stories about climate change. Fiction and nonfiction stories about melting glaciers and coastal towns that are at risk from rising seas can offer a deeper understanding of a warming world than science has.
Finding the Right Story to Tell
Matthew Tegelberg’s bookshelf is filled with climate fiction. GlacierHub spoke to Matthew Tegelberg, an associate professor at York University’s department of social sciences, about climate fiction and its value in communicating the climate crisis. “Fiction invites the public into the world of science in ways that it is hard for the scientists to do themselves,” he said.
Tegelberg studies environmental communication, exploring how stories are told to people who don’t care or don’t know that climate change is a real problem. He explained that fiction can help scientists and policymakers communicate the climate crisis. “If science communicators can look at how fiction is done and find ways to build narratives that do the same for nonfiction, then we have a better chance at getting the action we need.”
Tidwell’s article echoes points to Research co-authored by Tegelberg on how the media represents glacier retreat — a difficult phenomenon to communicate to the public, given its geographical distance and non-human time scale. The Emmy-award-winning documentary “Chasing Ice” is successful in this, Tegelberg explained. The film follows National Geographic photographer James Balog, as he documents the effects global warming has on glacial ice through time-lapse photography.
Stories about climate change often lean on what Tegelberg called “icons” of climate change, like a lone polar bear balancing on a melting iceberg, which distances the public from this reality due to how often this image is shared in mainstream media. However, time-lapse photography brings the audience closer to the real impacts of climate change. It shows how much geological history has been destroyed by human activity over a few hundred years.
How can these stories of horror, comedy, and creative climate be made into real-life action?
“Link them to lived realities,” Tegelberg answered. “We need to scale [stories]Look at the local level and consider how these larger issues can be addressed. [climate] concepts are making their way to the community level.”
Climate Futures on New Jersey Coast
Far from the Austrian Alp sits Asbury Park, New Jersey — the setting for David Eisenhauer’s storytelling and research. Bennington College researcher, David Eisenhauer, focuses on future stories about the coastal town to inform potential solutions to climate change impacts. For example: sea levels are rising partly because of melting glaciers.
Asbury Park has a history that has been marred by racial segregation, housing inequalities, and has seen a recent boom in luxury condos and fancy restaurants. This has resulted in a significant increase in development, Eisenhauer explained GlacierHub. He explained that Asbury Park’s future climate story will involve coastal flooding along the beachfront. This would make housing more desirable and push low-income residents further west and out to the city.
Climate storytelling can envision a more desirable future in Asbury Park. It will not only address the past, but also address current concerns. This story can influence how decision makers create a just and sustainable coastal city.
But what does it mean when these future stories aren’t so hopeful?
Climate Storytelling in Uncertain Future
In the final few minutes of “Blood Glacier,” the main characters escape their research base in a helicopter, speechless and terrified. The climate disaster is much worse than they expected and there is a dark, uncertain future.
In fiction there’s a danger in sensationalizing climate change, Tidwell explained, comparing “Blood Glacier” to Roland Emmerich’s “Tomorrow is Tomorrow” — a 2004 film about a paleoclimatologist who warns the United Nations about superstorms but is largely ignored. In the film, a mega-hurricane sucks frozen air from space and literally chases the movie’s characters.
“Emmerich was really trying to say something [about climate change]But the [public’s] reaction was ‘That’s ridiculous, it’s not going to happen like this,’” Tidwell said. She explained that eco-horrors can make climate change more difficult to understand, but expecting it to offer real solutions is asking too much of the genre. “Blood Glacier” acknowledges that climate change is scary and evoking that emotion is what it can do uniquely well.
Tidwell stated that eco-horrors require audiences to create new relationships between humans and nature. This can be both useful and productive for climate communicators.
The documentary “Chasing Ice” does something similar, raising questions about how the media can expand its own relationships with whose story it tells, like dedicating more resources and time to frontline communities that may not have access to time-lapse photography to tell their own climate stories, Tegelberg added.
Eisenhauer’s work also highlights new relationships in its storytelling, connecting the dots between the historical past, the present issues people are facing in Asbury Park, and the possible futures that they can work towards. He said that this work allows residents to tell their stories and helps them advocate for a more equitable community. “Stories don’t solve everything, but having a story that makes all of these connections is really important,” he noted.
Whether it be eco-horror, a documentary, or nonfiction, storytelling “is about experience and emotion—the things that traditional science says we aren’t supposed to include,” Tidwell concluded. “It can’t do everything, but whatever it is doing, you get to feel that.”