You think you know climate change. You've seen An Inconvenient Truth. You've noticed the changing and warming weather patterns in your part of the world. You're beginning to suffer from acute ecoanxiety. But to really see global warming in action, you'd need to travel to the Arctic, where climate change is already kicking into high gear. Temperatures are increasing faster in the far north than they are in the more temperate zones in the world, and recent studies indicate that the North Pole could be underwater in the summer in less than 10 years. But seeing the Arctic firsthand isn't easy, unless you're handy with a dogsled so Will Steger is going to take you there.
Steger is a legendary polar explorer, the first person to make a dogsled trip to the North Pole, and winner of the National Geographic Adventure Lifetime Achievement Award. He's at home in those frozen, hostile parts of the world that few of us will ever tread. But he's also a dedicated environmentalist who was early to ring the alarm bell on global warming, the effects of which he saw firsthand in his frequent polar expeditions, both in the Arctic and Antarctica. To help raise awareness of the damage climate change is wreaking on the polar regions, next month Steger will be leading a team of six young adventurers on a 1,400-mile, 60-day-long dogsled expedition across Ellesmere Island, in the far Canadian Arctic. The rest of us will be able to observe Steger's journey intended to appeal to what he calls "emerging young leaders" below the age of 30 on the website GlobalWarming101.com. "We want to take our audience to the front lines of global warming," says Steger, still trim as a Navy ship at 64. "We provide the spark with this expedition." (Listen to Steger talk about his mission and the impact of climate change on the Arctic on this week's Greencast.)
Steger's expedition will benefit from some celebrity association, with Sam Branson the 22-year-old son of British airline tycoon Richard Branson part of the team. Also on the expedition will be 27-year-old Norwegian Sigrid Ekran, who last year became only the second woman to win Rookie of the Year for the Iditarod not a small deal in the world of dog sledding. The team will be uploading video, text and photos to the website as the journey progresses, allowing classrooms Steger's foundation is working with the National Education Association on the project to follow their progress firsthand. "We can actually bring the audience up there," Steger says.
What they'll see may be startling. Climate change has already refashioned the geography of the Arctic, melting glaciers that past adventurers not to mention the Inuit who make their home in the far north once journeyed on securely. On a 1995 Arctic expedition, Steger had his own close encounter with climate change, when the ice he was traveling across broke up unexpectedly early, thanks to warmer temperatures. He barely escaped. "I've seen a lot of these changes myself over the past 15 years," he says. "The ice caps are just gone."
Steger and his teammates hope to jolt the young people of the world into action on global warming. For their generation, says Sam Branson, "climate change is definitely going to be the biggest issue." There's still hope for the worst effects of global warming to be avoided, if we can come together globally, and projects like Steger's can only help. But the truth is that for the Arctic, at least, the sheer momentum of greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere means that profound climatic change is virtually unavoidable, no matter what we do. "Within a decade or less, it's going to be impossible to reach the North Pole," says Steger. "If we're not taking action immediately, we're running out of time." Man your computers GlobalWarming101.com might give you a last glimpse of a dying polar world.