Global warming team finds audience in Minnesota

Will Steger leads Ellesmere Island Expedition
Will Steger leading a team of young adventurers from across the globe.
Courtesy of the Will Steger Foundation

The Will Steger Foundation teamed up with Fresh Energy, Aveda, Great River Energy, and 1Sky to bring James Hansen to Minnesota.

About 70 teachers and a group of young people took part in sessions during the day.

In the evening, more than 250 people filled the auditorium at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Dr. James Hansen
Dr. Hansen helped raise awareness of global warming issues with his testimony on climate change to congressional committees in the 1980s.
NASA

They listened to James Hansen, a top NASA scientist who raised the hackles of the Bush administration when he began speaking out on global warming.

Hansen talked about tipping points, among other aspects of global warming. For Hansen, the most serious tipping point is when something changes past the point of no return.

First, we need a price, a tax, on carbon.

"An example would be the ice sheets. If they once begin to collapse, and slide into the ocean, then it's too late. You can't reduce CO2 and hope that you're going to stop them because it's out of your control at that point. And unfortunately we are almost certainly going to lose all of the ice in the Arctic Ocean," Hansen said.

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That's because of something he called the feedback loop.

"As you begin to melt the Arctic sea ice, it exposes darker ocean, absorbs more sunlight, and melts more ice."

Hansen said the level of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere is already causing problems: melting ice in Greenland, more and fiercer wild fires and melting glaciers that are a key source of water for millions of people.

Then, taking off his lab coat and putting on his policy wonk hat, Hansen offered his ideas on what to do about it.

First, he said we need a price, a tax, on carbon.

Steger's dogs
Steger's dogsled expedition.
Courtesy of the Will Steger Foundation

"If we had put a carbon price, a gradually increasing carbon price, then the gasoline would probably be costing you $4 a gallon now, but you would have vehicles that use half as much, or less."

And this carbon tax wouldn't be so hard to take, if politicians followed his next piece of advice.

"That money should be given back 100 percent to the taxpayers, on a per-capita basis, so the person who does better than average in terms of conserving his energy use and carbon emissions would actually gain money," Hansen said.

Hansen said we need to stop burning coal, because it produces more carbon dioxide than any other fossil fuel.

Will Steger has been working with young people on the global warming issue for several years. He says they're energetic and practical.

"What is really marvelous about the youth is they're inclusive. They're not political. They see this as a common issue, and that I think is one of their biggest strengths: they include both sides," Steger said.

Both Steger and Hansen said the problem of climate change should not be a partisan issue.

Kim Kang agrees. She wants to represent her neighbors in Orono and Shoreview in the Minnesota House, and she came to the forum to learn more about global warming.

"The climate affects all of us; we all live on this planet, so it's not a partisan issue at all. I think it's just a question of the timing, are we going to invest the money to do it? And the time is now. Our environment is getting in more critical condition," Kang said.

Another audience member, Alice Marszalek is ready to look to the future. She is confident we can solve the problem of global warming.

"Just because when we put our mind to it, we've always accomplished what we need to accomplish. This is an emergency and we need to focus all our energies on it," Marszalek said.

Marszalek and others in the audience seemed to have plenty of energy, and that's what Will Steger and James Hansen were hoping for.