Polar explorer talks climate change at UW-L

 Legendary Polar explorer and Minnesota native Will Steger attends a book signing event Tuesday at UW-La Crosse before speaking on campus. Steger led the first confirmed dogsled expedition to the North Pole in 1986 and is a leading spokesperson for artic preservation.

Polar explorer Will Steger doesn’t mince words when it comes to global warming. For 45 years, Steger has journeyed to the world’s coldest climates.

He’s seen the changes first-hand, he says. Open water where there should be ice, broken up pieces of the Arctic Ocean clogging the bays of Greenland, ice caps on the move.

He shared eyewitness accounts Tuesday with students at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
“It’s pretty hard to deny what’s going on if you look around the world,” Steger said. “This is something that’s going to affect our population.”

The Richfield, Minn., native is best known for his groundbreaking dog sled expeditions, but his fascination with exploration began before he left high school.

It started in the pages of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and the photos of National Geographic Magazine.
“I kind of wrapped my dreams in those pictures,” he said. “I decided that I wanted to do a life of adventure.”
Still a teenager, Steger boated the length of the Mississippi River and kayaked through Alaska.

He ventured to the North Pole in 1986, leading the first confirmed dog sled journey without resupply. Two years later he traveled the 1,600-mile length of Greenland, followed by a 3,741-mile trip across Antarctica.
The treks offered Steger a glimpse of more than just unexplored arctic landscape. He witnessed an even rarer image — the bounds of human possibility.

“You’re traveling basically just on your faith and your skills,” Steger said. “A lot of the time you don’t see the outcome of what your faith is about.”

Steger has since written numerous books about his work, and was awarded the National Geographic Society’s John Oliver La Gorce Medal.

An innate concern for the environment inspired him to beat a path for regions unknown.
“I have this love of the North,” Steger said.

What he saw inspired him to speak out.

Steger is an unabashed champion of climate issues. Dependence on fossil fuels is making real changes in parts of the world hidden to most people, but that doesn’t mean the changes aren’t real, he said.

The problem is bigger than politics, and the world is changing as liberals and conservatives argue over the aisle, Steger said.
“The wool has been pulled over a lot of people’s eyes,” he said.

He still believes a solution is possible. If people can work together, there are plenty of opportunities to grow jobs and improve the economy with clean energy initiatives, Steger said.

“The hope is us coming together,” he said. “We have to work collectively.”

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