Ice Scream: Shedding Light on Glacial Retreat

© Philippe Echaroux

French artist and climber Philippe Echaroux released his latest work this week, a project titled 'Ice Scream', which quite literally casts light on the issue of glacial retreat and global warming. Using his self-coined concept of Street Art 2.0 - or painting with light - Philippe projected 'grafitti' messages on areas of the Mer de Glace in Chamonix to highlight the topical issue of climate change, with an appearance from top alpinist and Chamonix PGHM member, Jeff Mercier.

Jeff Mercier screams at the state of our glaciers  © Philippe Echaroux
Jeff Mercier screams at the state of our glaciers
© Philippe Echaroux

Philippe's message is especially timely considering Trump's controversial decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement last month and the resultant tensions at the recent G20 meeting, with a particular clash between Trump and the French delegation over climate change. Chamonix as a choice of location for Philippe's project is also pertinent, as the town and the Arve valley in general struggle to reduce carbon emissions from wood fires and traffic fumes. In winter, the area has the highest fine particle pollution levels in France; manifesting as a veil of smog lying dormant in its v-shaped valley, trapped by bouts of high pressure.

Ice Scream - Chamonix
© Philippe Echaroux

As climbers, the effects of rising temperatures are clearly visible in some of the sensitive environments we visit. According to one study by a team at Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, if present climatic conditions are maintained, the Mer de Glace will continue to shrink dramatically in the coming decades, retreating by 1200m between now and 2040 - and that's assuming the climate situation doesn't worsen in the meantime.

Chamonix local Jeff Mercier commented:

'Climate change, seasons all over the place - when you're a mountaineer, this has an inevitable impact on you. At age 20, I was training for ice climbing on the Bossons glacier. 25 years later, I now use my axes on rock more often than I do on ice. Change is necessary, but this evolution of the landscape itself is becoming critical. What kind of Alpinism and mountaineering will be practised in 25 years?'

We asked Philippe some questions about the light projections, which lasted one night only but are now doing the rounds on social media in his striking images. Watch the video of the project below.

Responses translated from French.

What is Street Art 2.0 as a concept?

I work first and foremost as a photographer and portraitist. Using my background in these areas, I decided to create my own way of doing Street Art with the tool I know and master best: light. What's more, it allowed me to create ephemeral art that leaves no trace on the space it occupies. Street Art 2.0 was born.

Why did you choose to concentrate on glacial retreat in particular? Do you participate in mountain activities?

This project follows our earlier work creating Street Art in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. I wanted to use my art to raise awareness of an ecological cause - the destruction of the rainforest. Glaciers are the logical continuation. The forest represented oxygen, which we are idiotic enough to make every effort to deprive ourselves of, and the glaciers represent water.

I'm not an Alpinist or mountaineer, but I have been climbing since my teenage years. It is a sport that I grew up and developed into adulthood with, and it is extremely important to me.

Ecology/Apology - Mer de Glace
© Philippe Echaroux

Why did you choose to focus on this region?

Actually, with a project like this I'm not thinking on a local scale. I did this project in Chamonix, but I want to talk about glaciers and the problems of global warming. The location of the project alone is not all too significant; it is the global message that counts. Glaciers are melting everywhere in the world except for in the Himalaya, which is why I see a global issue, even if it starts by solving more local problems.

Do you explain the meaning of the portrait and the three graffiti?

I think it's up to you and your audience to tell me what you see there!

Why did you choose Jeff Mercier as subject for the portrait?

I met Jeff during my stay in Chamonix by knowing the small world of climbing. I loved his character. Jeff is also a member of the prestigious Chamonix PGHM, a mountain guide and a world expert in ice climbing and dry-tooling. He was the perfect person to talk about the problem of melting ice.

'Make President Trump Smart Again...Oh wait...'
© Philippe Echaroux

I want to show local people in their habitat, as they are the ones who speak best of the worries encountered because they are confronted with these concerns daily - I'm simply a mediator in expressing their views.

In your opinion, what can be done to address these climactic problems? (Big question, I know...)

"We" I don't know, but everyone can take responsibility individually. It is easier to criticise others than to act personally. If we succeed in reversing this dynamic egocentric in his quest for personal glory, then we will have made an important first step.

Read a UKC article on the Karakoram Anomaly Project, a study into why glaciers here are stagnating or even growing.
Read our UKC Digital Feature on Jeff Mercier and Nick Bullock.

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13 Jul, 2017
In Cham recently I was aghast how far the glaciers had melted in the almost 50 years since I 1st visited. They will soon be gone :-( Chris
13 Jul, 2017
Yes, it has to be seen to be believed - and even then it is incredible!
13 Jul, 2017
This appears to be yet another architect or artist (in this case) indulging in the most self-indulgent type of superficial virtue-signalling common in our contemporary culture, our narcissistic, self-indulgent, self-obsessed, me me me society. Without the lights, the glacier would look natural, raw and genuine. It is necessary to take a long-term perspective. Contemporary history and the geological time-scale are necessary reference points before any conclusions can be drawn about the present. During the Holocene optimum, there was no ice anywhere in the Northern hemisphere excepting Greenland. Northern hemisphere glaciers are no older than 4500 years (which in geological terms is nothing). There was a general retreat of the glaciers between 1820 and 1970. The fastest rate of retreat was between 1920 and 1960, prior to any influence from any CO2 increase. There is no reason, or any written law of nature why the present day ice and glacial extent should return to any previous peak extent or regression, or to the Victorian state of ice advance (ca. 1850). Today’s inter-glacial temperatures are much lower than those during the Holocene era - as substantiated by studying cores from Greenland’s ice sheet. The artist's prognostications are completely unrelated to anything Trump decides. The so-called "Paris climate agreement" is a bureaucratic farce and irrelevant to the real issues, so Trump's decision is probably a very good one - for the USA. Smog and particulate pollution is a completely different issue to CO2 and that debate. Smog is manageable. CO2 is managed by the Earth and the oceans by the natural cycle, Henry's law etc etc. Remember that sometimes Porsches in LA or smog-laden alpine valleys take in dirtier air than they emit from their exhausts. The same can not be said about the numerous polluting 2CVs driven by "greens" across France. Alpine glaciers may well disappear completely. That does not prove anything - except natural climatic variability. Horses and palm trees used to be prevalent in Northern Greenland. And as for "street art" in the Amazonian rainforest - you could not invent a better form of pollution. A bit like artist junk hanging around the Lake District and the Eden valley. Nothing beats nature - leave it alone. DC
14 Jul, 2017
A rather sobering graphic.
14 Jul, 2017
A interesting read and view point(s). Can you explain what you mean by Holocene Optimum, and when was this - are we not in the Holocene now? Many things are a question of scale I agree, so can you give a little more context and detail on what you mean by: 'there was no ice anywhere in the Northern hemisphere excepting Greenland. Northern hemisphere glaciers are no older than 4500 years' - the ice may not be older than 4500 years, but couldn't glaciers still be present from the end of the Younger Dryas to the current day (unless it has already gone). I may have mis-read your post, but no ice present anywhere in the Northern hemisphere exc. Greenland would imply everything melted between the end of the YD and 4,500ya?
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