Cold Truth

Arctic explorer Will Steger takes on global warming and political spin

Will Steger, Minnesota’s preeminent explorer, is sounding the alarm on climate change. He’ll address the topic at the Nobel Conference on October 2 and 3 at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.

What is it about Arctic exploration that gives you insight into climate change?
I’m an eyewitness. I’ve seen it firsthand. I traveled across the Larsen Ice Shelf day after day after day, and then the entire thing collapsed; the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf in northern Ellesmere Island collapsed, too. I’m not sure
if I’m bad luck for ice shelves, but all of the ones that I’ve been on have collapsed. These events are directly related to global warming.

What other signs of change have you seen?
We’re losing the summer sea ice. We were up at Baffin Island earlier this year. The ice used to be around for nine months. Now, it has been reduced to about six months and conditions are more dangerous.

You testified to Congress about this matter in 1990. Yet there are still skeptics.
Most [skeptics] are funded. You can trace the money trail. There’s nothing wrong with debating science—it’s a healthy process. But these people have an agenda to confuse people.

Tell us why you started the Will Steger Foundation and Global Warming 101.
The Will Steger Foundation is something I planned 20 years ago. I used to run all my nonprofit programs out of universities. About two years ago, I started my own foundation. I moved from Ely to the Twin Cities to work full-time on this because I thought it was the right time to act.

I felt that 80 percent of the population was confused about global warming but that 99 percent of the science was in. I felt that once people saw the light of day we would have a movement on global warming—and that is exactly what is happening now.

What message do you hope to convey to audiences about the implications of global warming?
We have a very serious problem, but there are solutions. The solutions will involve people individually and collectively. We have communications and technology—it’s all there. We just need the will.

What changes might we see in Minnesota?
We may not have trout or walleye anymore. We might lose our spruce trees, our jack pine, our red pines—the forests will totally change.

But the more sustainable our economy, the better off we’ll be. Minnesota is in a good place. We have wind resources, and we produce ethanol—though in the future, we’ll have to produce ethanol from prairie grasses.

What is your next big trip?
We’re returning to Ellesmere Island again next spring. It’s where many of the signs of global warming are most visible.