A Plastic Ocean Director Craig Leeson On The Environmental Catastrophe That Faces Us All
Documentary maker Craig Leeson is so scared of heights that he struggles to stand on the balconies of Hong Kong apartment buildings—yet he’s currently planning a trip to Peru during which he is hoping to paraglide off a 6,000m mountain. Is he out of his mind?
“I’m not doing it because I enjoy it,” laughs Leeson, the director of the award-winning 2016 documentary A Plastic Ocean, which shone a light on the plastic pollution crisis facing our planet. “But I had to get into the mountains so that I could see this for myself and we could film it.”
“It” is the melting of the world’s glaciers and Leeson, who remains a “global evangelist” for the Plastic Oceans Foundation, has swapped his wetsuit for mountaineering gear and has been scaling peaks around the world to film The Last Glaciers, a documentary partly inspired by the adventures of a fellow Hongkonger.
“One of the other producers of the film is Malcolm Wood, the founder of Maximal Concepts,” says Leeson. “Malcolm is a good mate of mine and he’s into paragliding and para-alpinism, which is mountaineering and flying off the tops of mountains. He was getting me involved in the sport and, as that was happening, I read about scientists in France who were doing ice core studies on glaciers.
“These guys go to glaciers around the world and take ice core samples from different layers of glaciers and they analyse the gas that’s trapped in the ice," continues Leeson. "What they’ve found is that over the past 800,000 years there’s been natural oscillation of climate change but that in the past 100 years the point goes completely off the chart. They’re seeing four times the amount of methane that they have ever seen before and two times the amount of CO2. So they have the evidence that the climate has changed radically in the last 100 years.”
But the scientists are working against the clock. “Once these glaciers melt, these gases are released and they won’t ever be able to recover the science,” explains Leeson. The Last Glaciers will film the scientists at work while also examining the effects the melting of the ice is having on mountaineers and mountain communities.
The documentary has taken them around the French Alps so far, and Wood and Leeson plan to visit Peru before the end of the year and, on a separate trip, piggyback on a Nasa mission to map the continental shelf of Antarctica. “All of our trips have been a challenge physically and mentally,” says Leeson. “We’re walking along ridges a foot wide with 1,500m drops either side. You can literally see the fear in my eyes, so it makes for good television.”
The release of The Last Glaciers is planned for the third quarter of 2019. To keep up to date on the project, visit thelastglaciers.com.