Minnesota explorer brings notice to global warming

Aidan M. Anderson

I’ll probably go down in history as seeing more lasts than firsts,” Minnesota native Will Steger said of his polar exploration career.

Steger has visited several ice shelves in his life that no longer exist.

The renowned polar explorer spoke on impending global meltdown Sunday at Cowles Auditorium. The problem of global warming goes deeper than simply losing the outdoor ice skating season, he said.

Steger called for a grassroots initiative to begin pursuing alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power. Hybrid vehicles are a good start he said, but the next step is to replace their fossil fuel element with biodiesel.

The government and media are partly to blame for misleading the public about facts surrounding global warming, he said.

But the science behind the theory is in, and the technology to do something about it is here, he said.

Best known for his 1989-1990 traverse of Antarctica by dogsled, Steger drew on personal experiences in the Arctic and Antarctic to illustrate his points.

Slides of the austere Antarctic plains and 85-pound polar huskies delighted the 200-plus audience members.

Steger primed the crowd on the basics of the greenhouse effect ” the process by which the atmosphere traps carbon dioxide, causing temperatures to increase ” then presented his case based on personal observations from some of the harshest environments on earth, like Antarctica, where the wind chill can dip to 150 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

One of his more dramatic slides depicted the Larsen Ice Shelf, an expanse of ice roughly the size of Wisconsin and 1,000 feet thick, on the Antarctic Peninsula, as Steger and his exploration team viewed it in 1990. A later satellite image shows the mass had disintegrated.

The Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, one of the largest in the Arctic, completely disintegrated in 2003, Steger said. It was the last of the big ice shelves to go, he said.

Steger has combined education and adventure for most of his career and carries it over to his global warming message.

“We’ve always used adventure as a tool of getting people in,” he said. “I think it works well here.”

St. Paul resident Avery Schroeder said he came to see Steger for his adventurous experiences. The global warming information was a “real eye-opener,” he said. He hadn’t formed an opinion by the end of the speech, but said it brought the issue to his attention.

“Next time, when I hear something on (public radio) about it, I might turn the volume up instead of down,” he said.

The presentation was one of more than 70 held at Midwest Mountaineering’s Winter Outdoor Adventure Expo.

Midwest Mountaineering owner Rod Johnson said Steger’s notoriety helps heighten the visibility of the event.

“(Steger) always draws a good crowd,” he said.

Johnson said he has seen the signs Steger spoke about.

“Ten years ago there was snow at the peak of Kilimanjaro year-round,” he said. “Now it’s just the glaciers.”