Polar explorer Will Steger makes NU tour stop

Alexandra Finkel

Students for Ecological and Environmental Development tried to publicize Tuesday’s global warming speaker by painting a polar bear clinging to an iceberg on The Rock Sunday night.

It was gone by noon. Another student group was holding an event and decided they needed the real estate.

According to Will Steger, the real polar bears might not have much longer.

The Arctic explorer and global warming expert spoke to about 65 students on what can be done to save polar bears and the rest of the Arctic in a talk sponsored by SEED in McCormick Auditorium Tuesday evening.

It was Steger’s second stop on The Longest Summer Tour, a self-sponsored global warming initiative with stops at college campuses and sustainability organizations across the Midwest.

Steger illustrated his talk with photos from his most recent expeditions dog sledding across AntArctica and the Greenland ice shelf as well as graphics representing the effect global warming has on the earth. He then connected the idea of climate change to the endangered polar bear.

“The polar bear relies on the ice for food, but with the ice retreating, the bear population and other animals are in danger,” he said. “In fact, the entire Arctic biome could be threatened if we don’t act really quickly.”

The damage will not be limited to the Arctic, Steger said.

“It’s also the situation that we, as a human race, are in right now,” he said. “We used to say we had 10 years, but according to scientists, there may be an ice-free Arctic by then.”

Scientists say global warming is dangerous because the rapid rate at which the ice caps melt causes extreme weather and the destruction of ecosystems.

SEED co-chairman Jesse Sleamaker said the foundation contacted the group for Northwestern to be part of their tour, and he thought it would be the perfect opportunity for a big event with a fairly well-known speaker at a low cost.

Steger’s firsthand experience with climate change made him a unique and dynamic speaker, Sleamaker said.

“The firsthand account lends a certain sense of humility to the discussion,” the former Daily columnist said. “It really brings it down to the level of the people.”

Steger was one of four speakers who participated in the event. Other speakers discussed greenhouse gas emissions, solutions to the problems and environmental activism.

Mert Hilmi Iseri, a McCormick sophomore, said he came to the talk because of his passion for the environment.

“I wanted to take the opportunity to be part of the green movement,” he said. “I do this because I’m concerned about what will happen 20 years from now and what kind of world our children will live in.”

Steger’s speech was important because it illustrated hard evidence of global warming, Iseri said.

“If you haven’t visited the Arctic Pole like Will, then global warming is not visible to you and it never will be,” he said.

Although NU students might be superficially aware, they don’t have a personal investment in the issue, Sleamaker said.

“I think we get bombarded with climate change issues,” he said. “People are constantly talking about what’s going to happen if we don’t take action right away, but I think that’s a good thing.”

It’s important to bring the discussion from an abstract idea to a more tangible one, Sleamaker said.

“It’s not just about saving the abstract polar bear anymore,” he said. “It’s about how global climate change affects the individual.”

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