Steger Baffin Island Expedition Sends Global Warming Message To World
Sunday, July 22,
By Steve Foss, Timberjay Newspaper
It's tough to track down Will Steger these days. Even as he's preparing to launch an expedition to Baffin Island early next month, he's been maintaining a breakneck pace, lecturing around the state to any group who will listen.
His topic is compelling, hard hitting.
Global climate change may already have doomed certain animal species, and unless it is halted soon, will turn humankinds's world on its ear.
Already, Arctic native peoples have reported their winter hunting season has been cut in half by warm winters and pack ice that melts so soon they can't effectively pursue game such as seals.
Mounting evidence over the last several years has convinced the vast majority in the scientific community that global warming's affects are here, and accelerating.
Steger, who has lived on his homestead outside Ely for decades, moved a little over a year ago to a houseboat on the Mississippi River in St. Paul to be closer to the center of his mission.
Steger was en-route to the Arctic on Wednesday when he phoned the Timberjay from Chicago. He said the mission of bringing Minnesota into the lead against global warming may not occupy the rest of his life, but the 62-year-old polar explorer said it'll take several hard years to turn the tide.
He said he'd seen direct evidence of global warming as long ago as the late 1980s, noting the beginning disintegration of the Antarctica ice cap.
"Morally, we see very real impacts on the human race. The Inuit hunting culture depends on Arctic ice," Steger has written. "The melting sea threatens to obliterate this culture.Once global warming is in your conscience," he said in the phone interview, "there's no avoiding it.
More Than Lectures
Steger is perhaps uniquely qualified for an ambassadorship against the greenhouse gases that have caused global warming.
He is most well known for the 1986 expedition he co-led with Paul Schurke that was the first documented unsupported dogsled expedition to the North Pole. And in 1990, he finished the first dogsled crossing of Antarctica, a 3,700-mile journey that went from ocean to ocean
He also holds bachelor's degrees in geology and biology and a master's degree in education.
The upcoming expedition is not Steger's first attempt to publicize global warming via expedition. In 2004, he and a team went to Nunavut for a dogsled journey, sending back updates to Steger's Web site about the issue and developing school curriculum so students around the world could share the experience.
Steger cut that expedition short because pack ice, melting early, made conditions unsafe to continue.
Baffin Island Or Bust
This time around, Steger will be joined from Ely by three others, and the four will meet up with four Inuit hunters to form a team that will travel 1,200 miles by dogsled, visiting Inuit villages along the way.
The expedition is one of three educational expeditions over the next two years planned by Steger as part of the Will Steger Foundation's Global Warming 101 initiative. In 2008, Steger and others plan an expedition to record how the Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica has declined, and a 2009 expedition is planned to traverse Greenland in an 1,800-mile journey to document how global warming has affected the ice sheet and to discuss global warming threats and solutions.
Those three regions are key, Steger and other scientists believe, because global warming could start a chain reaction there with destructive consequences worldwide.
While Steger is the impetus for the Baffin Island expedition, it takes a lot of people to make it go.
Steger's companions from Ely will be John Stetson, who has known Steger for 20 years, and Outward Bound instructors Elizabeth Andre and Abby Fenton.
Each day, the group will post video, images, sounds and text on their Web site at www.globalwarm ing101.com. Those feeds will be available worldwide, and teachers in many schools will integrate the materials into their coursework, participating in the expedition through research and forums.
The expedition team's week-long stays at a succession of Inuit villages also will allow the team to listen to and document the Inuit experience with climate change.
Steger said such documentation will help drive home the message that the traditional Inuit way of life is unraveling.
John Huston, expedition base camp manager, said some Twin Cities schools have formed partnerships with the expedition, and that some students have traveled to Ely to volunteer at the Steger homestead. He said others may actually travel from the Twin Cities to Baffin Island on Earth Day in April to spend time with the team and Inuit people. Huston added that there also will be a documentary film produced.
Hectic But Happy!
Huston is the nexus of activity at the homestead these days.
The expedition group will get a big sendoff from Ely at the Mukluk Ball on Feb. 3 at the Ely Community Center and is expected to leave Ely for the Canadian north on Feb. 5 or 6.
Steger himself was traveling while Huston on Wednesday was deep into coordinating laying in supplies and final sled-building details with workers and carpenters at the homestead.
While Huston was busy with that, expedition members were out working with the dog teams in the surrounding woods.Huston said he and others had been working on expedition prep since about Nov. 1. He and Jim Paulson, along with Ely sled dog trainer Nancy Moundalexis, will form the core of a series of moving base camps on the expedition. There will be five such camps supplying the team.
Sitting in the homestead's kitchen after the lunch hour, Huston talked about how challenging it is to organize, particularly since there are a "multitude of changing conditions," he said.
It's clear that he relished the challenge.
Reason For Hope?
Steger said Wednesday that he believes the darkest days of the struggle to put global warming on the international media's radar have passed, noting that publications such as Time, Newsweek and the New York Times all recently ran major pieces on the issue within a week's time.
He has little hope that the U.S. government will be the primary force curtailing the spread of greenhouse gases.
The push, he said, will come from the marketplace.
"With our dependence on foreign oil," he said, "and the rising gas prices, people will demand cars that get 60 to 80 mpg and alternative fuels."
And while his hope is that global warming can be solved in time, it may be too late for some animal species.
"I'm not optimistic about species such as polar bears and walrus that depend on sea ice," he said Wednesday. "Extinction is the thing I have a hard time facing in my mind.
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