Ice on Fire

Leonardo DiCaprio, George DiCaprio Mathew Schmid, Leila Conners | HBO
Thursday, June 13, 2019

A new HBO documentary Ice on Fire explores the science of climate change and novel solutions to pull carbon out of the atmosphere and live more sustainably. The film, which is produced by Oscar-winner Leonardo DiCaprio, George DiCaprio and Mathew Schmid and directed by Leila Conners, features EAPS Professor of Geophysics Dan Rothman. Rothman's research includes dynamics of Earth’s carbon cycle, and the co-evolution of life and the environment. He sets the stage for the audience's understanding of this point in geologic time and the carbon cycle:

When the carbon cycle is unstable, it moves into a realm that we don't understand. Going back into geologic time, is that occasionally, there are these, essentially, bursts within the carbon cycle in which things change. One of them which is widely known is the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maxima, 55 million years ago, and others which are decidedly worse. They're destructive or catastrophic events. They're mass extinctions. The worst of them is known as the Permian Extinction. So, that's the historical record, but what we're doing to the carbon cycle now is another kind of problem because now, we know what's going on. We know that we've been adding carbon dioxide as a consequence of fossil fuels. And then the question is, does that risk engendering the kind of bursts that we've seen in the past, that could create what I would call an instability in the carbon cycle? That is one in which small changes become bigger changes. That's a precise scientists' definition of catastrophe.

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Ice on Fire Full Documentary


Produced by Oscar-winner Leonardo DiCaprio, George DiCaprio and Mathew Schmid and directed by Leila Conners, Ice on Fire is an eye-opening documentary that focuses on many never-before-seen solutions designed to slow down our escalating environmental crisis. The film goes beyond the current climate change narrative and offers hope that we can actually stave off the worst effects of global warming.

Eleven years after Conners’ first collaboration with DiCaprio on The 11th Hour, which emphasized the problems of climate change, Ice on Fire instead focuses on the cutting-edge research behind today’s climate science – and the innovations aimed at reducing carbon in the atmosphere, which could pave the way for a reduction in the global temperature rise and a benefit to the planet’s life systems.

With sweeping cinematography of a world worth saving, Ice on Fire was filmed across the globe, from Norway to Alaska, Iceland to Colorado, Switzerland to Costa Rica to Connecticut. The film highlights firsthand accounts of people at the forefront of the climate crisis, with insights from scientists, farmers, innovators and others.

Ice on Fire emphasizes the importance of an immediate, two-pronged approach to reversing the crisis: reducing carbon emissions through traditional renewable energy sources and new ones, like tidal energy, and implementing “drawdown” measures, focusing on methods for drawing down and sequestering carbon, including direct air capture, sea farms, urban farms, biochar, marine snow, bionic leaves and others.

While much of the political and economic focus has been on the energy sector, the film points out that drawdown (pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere and oceans and sequestering it underground or into new materials) is perhaps the best hope for mitigating climate change.

The film visits places such as: the Usal Redwood Forest Foundation in northern California, highlighting a carbon-storage project that focuses on reforestation and creates “biochar” to put CO2 back into the soil; Ron Finley’s urban farm in Los Angeles, where members of the community grow food that takes carbon out of the air and is nutritious; Climeworks’ nimble direct air capture machine in Zurich; and Thimble Island Ocean Farm off the coast of Connecticut, where owner Bren Smith grows shellfish and seaweed that soak up more carbon than land-based plants and can be used for food, animal feed and fertilizer.

Ice on Fire finds that while the risks and urgency may be higher than ever today, there are also greater opportunities for innovative solutions, offering a realistic but hopeful perspective on a key global issue that demands our attention.

Ice on Fire is directed by Leila Conners; narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio; producers, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mathew Schmid and Leila Conners; executive producers, George DiCaprio, Roee Sharon Peled; cinematography by Harun Mehmedinovic. For HBO: executive producers, Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller.