Polar explorer returns with climate change message

Posted: Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Polar explorer Will Steger began his career in Juneau with a double Klepper kayak he paddled to Skagway with a friend in 1963.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Just 18 years old, he hitchhiked from Minnesota to Prince Rupert, boarded the ferry and made his first expedition in Lynn Canal.

Forty-seven years later, he's back in Southeast Alaska for the first time since that trip as a teenager.

This time, the accomplished cold-climate expedition leader has a Power Point presentation and a message: America needs to do something about climate change, now.

Steger said a lot of Americans are asleep over the issue. With Congress turning its attention to energy legislation and the jobs it could create, he came back to Alaska because its delegation needs to hear from constituents on climate change, he said.

His talk, titled "Eyewitness to Change," Monday afternoon at Centennial Hall was the first of a four-day tour through the state.

Steger has made legendary expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctica, traveling thousands of miles by dog sled, kayak and, most recently in Greenland, kite ski. His accomplishments as expedition leader include many polar firsts, and his resume includes a list of international awards and recognitions, many of them for work on climate change.

Steger said he felt a kinship with Alaskans, since they too can see the effects of global warming in their daily lives. Yet he didn't discount oil and the role that plays in the state's politics.

"They straddle two items here, but they could be real leaders," he said.

Steger isn't all politics. He promises to not "bore" his audience with too many graphs, and pauses on sled dog pictures while telling how much they love affection. Watching his presentation is like switching channels between a National Geographic special and Inconvenient Truth.

Steger didn't just come to climate change recently. He was working on it in the late 1980s, when it wasn't accepted as real science.

A defining moment came in 2002, when he opened a newspaper and saw news of the disintegration of the Larson B ice shelf in Antarctica. It had taken him and a team two weeks to cross that ice shelf, one step at a time.

"And now it was gone," he said. "It was a real reality check."

While Steger is focused on politics for now, he plans another expedition in Canada in several years.

He heads to Fairbanks and Anchorage next. See his schedule at www.willstegerfoundation.org.

Steger's presentation wasn't the first in Juneau this year addressing climate change. Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, the husband and wife duo behind the film, "Not Evil, Just Wrong," lectured in January about how extreme environmentalism and global warming hysteria has "preserved poverty" around the world.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.

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