‘I’m hoping to put a human face, a
cultural face, on global warming’
By Sam Cook
Duluth News Tribune
Published February 18, 2007
In the beginning, he went to the ends of the Earth for
the sheer challenge of exploration.
In subsequent Arctic expeditions, he began to wed exploration
Now, Ely dogsledder Will Steger is set to embark on a
three-month expedition with Inuit hunters to drive home
the consequences of global warming.
John Stetson runs a team of sled dogs through the woods
north of Duluth as he trains for the Global Warming 101
Expedition led by Ely’s Will Steger. Stetson is providing
20 of the 44 dogs that the team will use in a 1,200-mile
traverse of Baffin Island in the eastern Canadian Arctic
starting Friday. (Bob King/News Tribune)
Steger and six others, including three Inuit men, will
depart Friday on a 1,200-mile trip across Canada’s Baffin
Island, stopping to interview Inuit families in five villages.
An education arm of the expedition will provide daily
online updates to students and others.
Afterward, Steger plans to bring Inuit hunters and their
families to Washington, D.C., to testify before Congress
on global warming.
“My main goal is bringing about education, and using
that to drive policy,” Steger said in a recent telephone
interview. “It’s a golden time for that with the politicians
we have in office.”
All of these efforts are part of a three-year commitment
by the 62-year-old Steger to increase awareness of global
warming and effect policy changes. He has moved from his
remote homestead near Ely to live in a houseboat on the
Mississippi River in St. Paul for three years while he
conducts his grassroots campaign. He is spearheading the
efforts through his new Will Steger Foundation and through
his Web site, www.globalwarming101.com.
Steger and his teammates are now en route to Iqaluit,
Nunavut, a community at the south end of Canada’s Baffin
Island. Joining him from Minnesota will be Duluth musher
John Stetson and Ely Outward Bound instructors Elizabeth
Andre and Abby Fenton. The expedition will travel by dog
team from Feb. 23 to about May 10.
Team members will be joined on the last leg of the trip
by two high-profile adventurers who also are committed
to curbing global warming. Sir Richard Branson, record-breaking
hot-air balloonist and founder of Virgin Airways, will
accompany the team from Clyde River to Iglulik. So will
Ed Viesturs, who has summited Mount Everest six times
and appeared in an IMAX film about his 1996 ascent.
THROUGH INUIT EYES
The trip will focus on changes that global warming is
causing in the Arctic and how those changes have been
detrimental to wildlife and the Inuit families who live
“I’m hoping to put a human face, a cultural face, on
global warming,” Steger said. “If we can touch people
heart-to-heart, when people have a sense for it, then
that will change them. It will change their habits.”
Steger has experienced the effects of global warming
firsthand. Ice shelves he once traversed by dog team in
the Arctic and on Antarctica have broken away and fallen
into the sea. A former science teacher, he has involved
students in his expeditions since the advent of the Internet.
Steger conceived the idea for this expedition while visiting
Inuit villages on his six-month Arctic Transect expedition
from Yellowknife, Northwest Terrorities, to Baffin Island
“The Transect was a fact-finding mission, in a way,”
Steger said. “I wanted to see how people of the Arctic
would respond to a project like what we’re doing now.
We were really well-received.”
Steger started his foundation and committed to working
on global warming after that expedition. With his scientific
background and his firsthand experience on the ice, he
is emerging as a respected voice in the global warming
discussion. He testified along with University of Minnesota
scientists before the Minnesota Legislature on Jan. 30
about the issue.
STORIES FROM THE TRAIL
While traveling through Inuit villages in 2004, Steger
met people whose lives were being affected directly by
“Everyone had a story about how it was affecting their
hunting and their lives,” he said. “The ice is forming
later and later and breaking up earlier. A lot of them
are not able to get out for a lot of their hunts, especially
for walrus. In a lot of these villages, 80 percent of
their food comes from the land.”
Other changes affect the Inuit, too. Warming currents
have changed prevailing wind patterns, and Inuit often
navigate by knowing the wind’s direction, Steger said.
Those same currents are melting ice from below.
Arctic adventurer Lonnie Dupre of Grand Marais, who also
has been active on the global warming issue, supports
“Will tying into the Inuit people is perfect,” Dupre
said. “Global warming is impacting the polar regions at
an alarming rate. The Inuit have been living off the land
for centuries. They don’t need scientists to tell them
something has run amok.”
Dupre, too, spoke with many Inuit people when he made
a circumnavigation of Greenland by dog team and kayak
from 1997 to 2001. Now the Greenland ice cap is shrinking
“The Inuit elders are devastated,” Dupre said. “The elders
are highly respected for their views on the environment
and the animals. When they can no longer predict when
caribou are coming or how many days of good weather they’ll
have, they feel their purpose in life has been undermined.”
Both Dupre and Steger see a greater acceptance among
the public that global warming is real and that humans
are partly responsible for it.
Over the past year, since Steger has been in St. Paul,
he has been speaking to any group that will have him.
He’s been to churches and schools all over the state.
He is equally comfortable in a church basement or the
state capitol. Small and wiry, he seems tireless, say
those around him.
“Will definitely has a celestial force,” said Linda Nervick
of Duluth, his marketing and public relations coordinator.
“Things just work out. He has a knack for attracting the
right team, the right timing. He never gets upset or stressed
or frustrated. It just kind of flows. It’s wonderful to
work around his energy.”
“Will is a visionary,” said John Stetson of Duluth who
has worked and traveled with Steger intermittently since
1987. “He doesn’t see things like we see things. He’s
not constrained by our social parameters.”
As successful as he and others have been at getting out
the message about global warming, Steger says it may be
too late for some species.
“Things don’t look good for polar bears and walruses,”
he said. “Regardless of what we do, we’re going to lose
a portion of the Arctic biome.”
But he remains optimistic.
“We’re making big progress,” Steger said. “The science
is overwhelming. There are still some skeptics, and we
need to get these answered. But we have great solutions.
We have 10 years to act on this to prevent a catastrophe
for our kids.”