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Steger to showcase global warming through Nunavut expedition

Steve Foss
Posted 8/30/03

Noted polar explorer and Ely-area resident Will Steger will tackle a new exploration come December.

Steger and five others, pulled by 30 dogs, will sled across Nunavut during a six-month, …

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Steger to showcase global warming through Nunavut expedition

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Noted polar explorer and Ely-area resident Will Steger will tackle a new exploration come December.

Steger and five others, pulled by 30 dogs, will sled across Nunavut during a six-month, 3,000-mile expedition. Nunavut is a new Canadian Inuit province that was split off from the Northwest Territories.

During the expedition, Steger plans to verify satellite data on snow depths and densities with on-site readings, a process called “ground-truthing.” Such data is crucial to understanding and documenting recent human-influenced climate change, what most now call “global warming.”

But such ground truthing is simply the beginning of what Steger hopes will become a national, perhaps even international, groundswell of grassroots activism to counteract global climate change.

The large majority of the worldwide scientific community now accepts as fact that the sudden warming of the Earth is due largely to human industry.

While some countries are taking active steps to slow or reverse the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, Steger contends that the United States is far behind in accepting the problem.

“People wouldn’t fool around with their stock port like we do with the environment,” he said. “If we hear a warning bell on the stock market, surely we’ll take action, but we’re playing games with the weather and the majority doesn’t have an understanding of what’s happening.”

In particular, Steger, a longtime environmental advocate, believes the Bush administration isn’t listening.

“So this project is about awareness,” he said.

Expedition members also will film Inuit elders in Nunavut and record their stories about how global warming has harmed their fragile Arctic environment.

Other objectives include:

‰ To demonstrate the impacts to the Inuit to the general public, interest groups and decision-making forums, and to bring such awareness into K-12 school curriculums.

‰ To increase our understanding of the Arctic and foster appreciation and humility for our relationship with the environment.

‰ To forge strong alliances between the public and private sectors and enforce better public education on the issues.

Details, details

Joining Steger from the United States will be Aaron Doering, Paul Preont and Eric Dayton. Hugh Dale-Harris, from Thunder Bay, Ont., and Mille Porsild, from Denmark, will round out the team.

Steger plans to leave Ely early in December and launch the expedition in the winter Arctic darkness from Yellowknife, N.W.T., on Dec. 15. They’ll travel over tundra and on the Arctic Ocean, and plan to finish by arriving on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, in June, when it will be light 24 hours a day.

Steger estimates the expedition will cost $300,000, and said he’s raised only about 1/10 of that so far. About 75 attended a fund-raising party at Steger’s compound outside Ely last Saturday. Steger said that went well, but he was unsure how much money was raised. He said he’s engaged in talks with National Geographic in hopes the society will work in cooperation with the expedition, but said nothing had been set.

There are no corporate sponsors for this trip, he said.

“My credit cards are all maxed out,” he added, “but that’s how you do one of these things.”

Sales of expedition T-shirts and posters could well pay for the whole journey, he said, adding that “I’m just hoping to break even.”

Personal journey

While the expedition was born partly through Steger’s frustration over poor understanding of and action over global climate change, his impetus was personal as well.

Steger first won international acclaim in 1986, when he and a team co-led by Paul Schurke made, without resupply, the first confirmed dogsled journey to the North Pole. He has since traversed Greenland south-to-north in the longest unsupported dogsled expedition in history (1988), teamed up for the only dogsled traverse of Antarctica (1989/90), and made the crossing of the Arctic Ocean from Russia to Ellesmere Island (1995).

He said his last journey was a failed attempt to reach the North Pole with a canoe sled in 1997, and he’s been feeling negative and pessimistic recently for the first time in his life, which is out of character. So the expedition is a tonic, as well.

Steger said organizers will start promoting the expedition in Ely within a month, including presentations at the schools.

Contact Foss at stfcatfish@yahoo.com or (218) 365-3114.

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