NAU Professor Coproduces HBO Climate Change Film, ‘Ice on Fire’

Aug 2, 2019

HBO’s latest documentary, “Ice on Fire,” produced by Leonardo DiCaprio portrays the global threat of climate change, but also presents several cutting-edge options for halting and even reversing it. The coproducer and cinematographer on the project is Bosnian-born Harun Mehmedinović a professor at Northern Arizona University. He’s has built a career on chronicling the natural world. Mehmedinović spoke with KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius about the film and the imminent threat of climate change.

Cinematographer and NAU professor Harun Mehmedinović filming "Ice on Fire" in Svalbard in the Arctic in 2017.
Credit Harun Mehmedinović

Ryan Heinsius: Humanity has a fairly limited window to solve this problem. After working on this documentary, are you hopeful we can do it?

Harun Mehmedinović: I think we can definitely do it from an innovation standpoint. The problem is that we are unlikely to act until it’s too late. So yeah, it’s literally a form of suicide you could make a case humanity is committing by being inactive, not proactive on this issue.

Harun Mehmedinović filming "Ice on Fire" in 2017 in Santa Rosa, Calif., following a devastating wildfire.
Credit Harun Mehmedinović

RH: There are several ways to slow climate change described in the film. There’s carbon sequestration and tidal turbines. Which do you think of these methods holds the most promise?

HM: None of them really are going to solve the whole thing by themselves. The closest thing are ocean-based solutions. Something like kelp farming, which is a much easier one to set up. If you were to do about 9% of U.S. territorial waters with kelp farms you would sequester 40% of emissions, which is pretty crazy. The other one is marine snow, and that is a more complicated solution because it involves using a certain amount of iron in the oceans, which no environmental organization at this point supports as it is a form of geoengineering. But as the guy in the movie says, we’ve been geoengineering the oceans since we started burning all the carbon so we may need to use some bioengineering to reverse the problems in the oceans, to deacidify the oceans. If you were to put about 100 square miles of that it’s also about 40 to 50% of emissions. So, between those two solutions fully implemented you could almost draw down 100% of yearly emissions in the world.

Filming "Ice on Fire" in Svalbard near the North Pole in 2017
Credit Harun Mehmedinović

RH: The scientists in the film present a pretty air-tight case that human activity is changing the climate, yet people still deny it. How is that still the case in your mind?

HM: You can choose not to believe, all right, I’ll give them that. But I think they have to admit that heating is happening. They’re usually going to say it’s natural causes and it’s happened before, but let’s say that we look at what’s happened before. What’s happened before is during the end Permian Extinction is that the temperatures rose 6, 7 degrees and at that point it was already pretty much an extinction-level event. So, let’s say we look at history and this has happened before and it’s happening now, well we’re dead. So we need to do something about it. I don’t even care anymore if you believe in human-caused global warming or not. Let’s just face the reality that it’s actually warming and let’s figure what we’re going to do about it.