Here in Alberta, there is immense beauty in our natural landscapes and one of the most prominent examples is the Columbia Icefields — a massive expanse of ice that can be found on the way to the mountain town of Jasper.

Despite the beauty of the icefields, it is at risk of melting away — with climate change being the main culprit. But, to combat this loss of natural splendor, a group of Albertans has started an art project called the Guardians of the Ice.

Rather than using a strictly scientific approach, the Guardians of the Ice project aims to make the topic of climate change more approachable. It blends art and science to create what the artists hope will be a powerful and emotional project that resonates with people.

This is being done through a documentary, an art exhibition, a book, as well as educational tools developed through work on the project. The creators wish to bring a tangible vision of what is happening in the public eye.

Jennifer Jansen, the project’s educational leaders, is dedicated to helping students and youth realize that climate change isn’t a problem that can be ignored. She notes that although they can’t always see it, climate change is always present and relevant to them.

Here in Alberta people struggle to connect with the issue of climate change. Often it doesn’t pertain directly to them, Jansen says. For example, the polar bears dying off or the ice caps melting.

“But in Alberta, our students don’t see the ocean every day — they don’t see polar bears every day,” Jansen says. “This is something very real that we can show — how climate change is affecting the glaciers and how they affect our lives.”


View of the glaciers of the Columbia Icefield from a guided tour. Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Mountaineer and filmmaker Jim Elzinga also says that climate change is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with. He said he finds most people often become overwhelmed by scientific jargon when trying to parse the facts.

He says that people may feel hopeless or believe they can’t do anything on their own to correct what is happening to the world. Elzinga wanted to show people that their actions do matter.

That’s why he founded the Guardians of the Ice project.

The artists, scientists, and educators working on this project use film and photography to depict the Columbia Icefields in the state they are in today. The group hopes this will show how the icefields are shrinking dramatically.

“If we can capture this pristine beauty that we have and then show people on an emotional level that this is going to be lost and this is what we’re losing, we can then make that connection,” Elzinga says. “But, if we can make it emotional, people will make that connection and raise their awareness, and get them to start making changes.”

With the overload of information there is on the subject, it can be difficult for people to want to make a change, Elzinga says. Graphs displaying temperature rises, rising sea levels and estimations of the megatonnes of greenhouse gases being released into the air, can make it seem like the subject is too complicated to understand, he says. 

Trying to overcome these challenges is where the artistic element of the project comes in. Lin Oosterhoff, the lead designer and creative director of the project, says this is part of the process the project wants to approach in a unique way.

“I feel art can speak to anyone in any language, so it’s good to get that information out there without any kind of fear-mongering that is usually associated with climate change,” Oosterhoff says.

Through art, the group running the Guardians of the Ice project say they hope people will realize they can do something to protect the planet. The group says they don’t expect a massive change right away, but small steps are still something they believe are needed.

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Editor: Nathan Woolridge |

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