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Explorer Will Steger speaks in Willmar

WILLMAR -- Will Steger proved modern day adventurers can still capture the public's attention when he led six men and 36 dogs on the first ever crossing of the Antarctic continent on foot.

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WILLMAR -- Will Steger proved modern day adventurers can still capture the public's attention when he led six men and 36 dogs on the first ever crossing of the Antarctic continent on foot.

They started their nearly two-year journey in 1989 by traversing the Larson Ice Shelf. It required a grueling, 300-mile trek over ice and blowing snow where the wind chills routinely ranged from minus 80 to minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Minnesota's famous polar explorer told a Willmar audience on Sunday evening that he couldn't cross the ice shelf today.

"The Larson no longer exists,'' Steger told a crowd that filled the Ridgewater College cafeteria.

In a matter of six weeks in 2003, the ice shelf the size of Iowa disintegrated into the sea, a casualty of global warming.

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"Abrupt change,'' said Steger, is a characteristic of global warming. He alone has seen it at both of the earth's poles.

Steger said the earth's arctic regions are experiencing global warming at a rate three to five times faster than the mid-latitudes, such as Minnesota.

The ice sheet that covers the Arctic Ocean at the earth's North Pole has shrunk by nearly one-third in the last 24 years alone.

There are dramatic, satellite images that document this loss, but Steger said the first hand observations are even more compelling. As the ice disappears, so does the habitat that polar bears need to hunt seals.

Last year he traveled to northern Greenland, where the retreat of the ice cap has left polar bears stranded and starving on the shores of the northern island.

The native peoples who depend on the polar ice sheet for 80 percent of their food are suffering as well, according to Steger. Their hunting season on the ice sheet has been shortened from eight months to four months.

The build up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere are responsible for the rapidly warming temperatures, according to Steger. He said we will face even more dramatic changes, including the possible loss of polar ice and a 20-foot rise in sea levels by 2090 if we do not reverse the trends.

Minnesota might not be seeing changes as dramatic as those evident in arctic regions, but climate change is a reality here too. If current trends persist, Minnesota will see its summers become dry and hot like those of northern Oklahoma and Kansas by the end of the century, according to J. Drake Hamilton, science policy advisor for Fresh Energy, formerly Minnesotans for an Energy Efficient Economy.

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Those summers will be "miserable,'' she said, with an average of 40 days with greater than 90 degree temperatures. Forests and lakes will disappear.

Winters will become more like those of northern Illinois, with more rain than snow.

Scientists are sounding the alarm that it is time to do something about global warming, said Hamilton.

Steger and Hamilton said scientists believe it is possible to reverse global warming if we reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide by 80 percent by 2050.

"There's still hope, but we do have to move really, really quickly on this,'' said Steger.

Hamilton said we have the technology to move that fast, and we could profit for it. She said Minnesota could copy the example of countries like Denmark and Germany, which have made commitments to wind and other renewable energy sources. In Germany, wind power can now supply up to 70 percent of the country's electricity on windy days. The fast-growing wind industry in Germany has created 40,000 jobs, she added.

Wind, solar, and renewable fuels from agricultural products are all means of producing our own energy, creating jobs in Minnesota, and reversing global warming.

Can Steger's campaign to encourage action on global warming win the public's attention like his 1989-90 crossing of Antarctica did?

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Hamilton said Steger has been speaking about global warming to audiences in Bemidji, Brainerd, Morris and other rural communities in the state. Like his visit here, she said all of them have attracted large and supportive audiences.

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