Will Steger Views Global Warming from the Coldest Places on Earth (Podcast)
TreeHugger: You have worked a lot to protect Antarctica from mineral exploration. Where does that stand now? Is there drilling down there, is it safe, is it protected?
Steger: The purpose behind our crossing Antarctica, in '89/'90 was to draw attention to what was called the "Treaty of Review." They were making a decision then, the treaty nations that governed Antarctica, basically whether or not to open it up for mineral exploitation (which would have been the beginning of the end of Antarctica) or to leave it alone. Our expedition was to draw world attention to the need to preserve that.
Fortunately, that treaty was re-signed and it set Antarctica aside now for another 30 years. So right now Antarctica is in good shape. They're not going to be drilling in any near future.
I think we have to be looking more in the Arctic regions and other regions. The Antarctic treaty was one of the greatest international treaties we've ever had. So that's a real positive story of international co-operation.
Ironically, what's destroying Antarctica right now is the change of climate and the burning of fossil fuels. That's what we have to start addressing.
TH: The poles are described as barometers for the climate. The rate of change at the poles tends to be faster and more dramatic than we see elsewhere in the world. Am I right about that?
Steger: Yeah. Let me explain that. We have Antarctica, a huge continent, almost 3,000 miles across. That continent is extremely high, averages 10,000 feet high. And it creates its own weather system.
But if you look at the North Pole area, it's actually a deep ocean, 14, 000 feet deep. It's the size of Mexico and the United States put together, and up until three years ago, that was covered by a very thin layer of sea ice in the summertime. 95 percent of that was sea ice in the summer.
When you have 24 hour light for a five month period, that's a lot of radiation hitting a large area. That, like a mirror, used to reflect back into outer space. But now that ice is disappearing in the summer. 50 percent of that went in '07. So you're now starting to see a massive amount of energy absorbing into the ocean, in the summer, which is melting, again, more ice. And starting to thaw the permafrost.
So we're starting to see what we would call a tipping point, a change of the energy system on the earth. So it's really in the Arctic, the northern part of the area, that we're seeing changes, and that's because we're rapidly losing ice on land and sea, and that is causing the temperatures to rise three to four to five times higher than we're seeing now in the continental USA.
TH: When you're speaking in front of an audience of people who you feel may be skeptical or unduly swayed by the way that climate issues are portrayed in politics or the mass media, what do you see is the best way to put this issue out there?
Steger: Normally I try to speak to a conservative audience, because I could preach to the choir and the Democrats and everyone's catching on. But we need the conservative business people on board, because the solutions are actually economic. So I go where there's the most resistance, because that's where you get the most changes. There is a lot of confusion out there, thanks to, as you mentioned, the media, and the political agenda behind climate change. A lot of times it's hard to get traction.
If I have 45 minutes to show my presentation I can make a pretty clear case about climate change, but right now I almost like to put climate change on the shelf and talk about the economy.
I look at it this way. We have three major problems that all revolve around the use of our energy. We have a major climate issues that we're talking about now. We have an economic issue (a big recession, no manufacturing base). And the third is our national security, and relying on foreign oil.
The solution to all this--or at least 50 percent of it--is developing new forms of energy, solar and geothermal to name a few. And the other 50 percent is conservation: conserving the energy that we now have. We use multi-trillion dollars of fossil fuel energy and we can start recycling some of that. This is a 30 year transition that we're looking at.
But if we can start having our own energy sources--wind, solar--all of these are American jobs conservation. We can start building this new economy and building up the tax base. So the conservatives are more open and most people are more open to hear the story about jobs.
Here in Minnesota, they don't have a drop of oil, a clump of coal in the state. We spend six to seven to eight billion dollars a year. That money goes outside of the state to foreign countries or big coal corporations and we don't see that money. But we're endowed with wind, geothermal, biomass, and so forth. If we can start utilizing our own energy sources, our state economy, our national economy is going to grow.
But the fossil fuel industry pumps in over a hundred million dollars a year in disinformation. So that's hard to combat.
Disinformation is disseminated anywhere from Forbes Magazine to Wall Street Journal, down to FOX Network. It's really a broad based. So a lot of business conservatives are very confused and very misinformed on this. But if they can only see the vision of this. We had no problem putting a person on the moon. This task is actually more American, and probably easier, because the technology's right there. So it's a matter of, I think, showing a new vision of where we're going to go.
When people think of protecting the climate they think it's too big of a sacrifice; that we're going to have to live in a cave with a candle. It's not that way at all. We'll just have to be thinking a little better and using our energy more wisely. And it means a better lifestyle for us. So it's getting this vision across, this real clear economic vision of where we have to go. People will then catch on to it.
We need the Republicans on board on this. Right now, they're lock-step denying climate change. I can't think of anything more irresponsible and reckless as that stance right now. If you're looking at our our kids and our kids' kids, this is not considering them whatsoever.
But if we look at climate change economically, a lot of these people will go on board. If they can see through the misinformation from the fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel industry does not want competitors and they're out there to stop any type of competition. They put the money behind it and they buy all sorts of political leaders, which we've seen in the past.
So we're up against a lot, but we still have the economy here and people listen to jobs. So I'm approaching it more in that direction.