Pawlenty might join explorer on Arctic trek

.MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Gov. Tim Pawlenty might be joining famed explorer Will Steger on a trek to the Arctic to get a firsthand look at melting polar caps and other signs of climate change.

Steger is leaving for the northernmost tip of the Canadian Arctic in mid-March. After several months of meetings and discussion, Steger said he and Pawlenty were close to finalizing arrangements for the governor to join the expedition.

“He wants to see it firsthand,” Steger said. “The governor is very willing. He’s serious about this.”

Pawlenty confirmed that he is discussing the possibility of meeting up with Steger for several days in May.

Steger, who runs a foundation that works to increase awareness of global warming, will be leading a small international team on a 1,500-mile dogsled trip from Resolute Bay in northern Canada to Ellesmere Island, which is about 500 miles below the North Pole and is known as “The Island at the Top of the World.”

Pawlenty would travel by commercial flight, then on a charter resupply plane to Ellesmere, stopping at several Inuit villages along the way, Steger said. The region is sparsely populated, with fewer than 170 inhabitants and little vegetation.

Pawlenty said he and Steger plan to talk over details of the trip Monday when the two host a forum in Duluth on the effect of climate change on Lake Superior.

Steger began private conversations with the governor’s office after jointly addressing the House and Senate on climate change in January.

As head of the National Governors Association, Pawlenty holds the special ability to drive the national agenda and could influence governors who have been slow to climb aboard the environmental bandwagon, Steger said.

When he took the helm of NGA this year, Pawlenty said clean energy would be his signature issue, and when the Legislature reconvenes in February, he is hoping to shepherd through a proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state 80 percent by 2050. Such emissions have been connected by a majority of scientists to a rise in global temperatures, although global warming itself remains a politically controversial issue.

Home to deep fjords, glaciers and rock spires and dominated by a majestic mountain range, Ellesmere is a spot of spectacularly raw but fragile beauty. In recent years, gradual warming has caused changes, including polar melt. Steger said that what had been a 300-mile-long ice shelf has dwindled in recent years and now a chunk “the size of Manhattan” has broken off.

That is part of what the explorer wants Pawlenty to see.

“We’re at a tipping point,” Steger said. “To get someone like him up there for even 24 hours, that’s so important.