The climate is a-changing

Lauren Mimms

Paul Scherke shared his experiences in the arctic and discussed the impact of global warming from first-hand experience Thursday, May 21. He gave his talk to a crowd of interested students, outdoor recreation fanatics, community members and his son, a high school junior who came along to visit Lawrence.
Scherke was first intrigued by the outdoors when he took his first trip to a wildlife reserve in Minnesota at the age of 10. He recalls the power that “the loons calling in the distance, and watching the bear cubs on the shore” had on him as a child.
In his college years at St. John’s, he was leaning towards medicine, but nature inevitably took a hold on him. “Curious things happened in the late ’70s, and I got engaged politically in wilderness protection on campus,” he said.
The debate was over funding for a nature reserve. The government assumed that the elderly and disabled could not participate, and this denial struck up something within Scherke and his friends.
In 1977, they took a group of friends with disabilities on a canoeing trip, and a writer for The New York Times accompanied them. “She wrote a compelling article which helped turn the tide of this political debate. On top of that, my friend and I decided to make this in the long haul,” Scherke said.
That is when Scherke and his friend decided to create Wilderness Inquiry, which hosts about 500 people each winter in Northern Minnesota and allows them to explore the woods via dogsled.
He discovered that the “winter gig was where [it] was at.” They secured grant money because they provided resources for the disabled, and they built a great organization. Scherke even makes it a family event, including his college-graduate daughter, high-school-age son, and younger daughter in his explorations.
Soon after creating his nature expedition company, Scherke started making trips to the high arctic, including the North Pole, when spring and summer came around.
He was introduced to this polar travel by Will Steger, and in 1986 he made his first polar quest.
“The North Pole is five square miles of constantly moving ice; you have to work your way across pack ice for thousands of miles to get there,” he said.
He and a team of seven others, including the first woman ever to trek the pole, set out with five teams of dogs and 3.2 tons of supplies. “It was a very hard trip, often times being 70 below zero,” Scherke said.
“This was far beyond everything we had anticipated. We were round down to short reserves a month into the trip. Sometimes we wondered if this was a suicidal mission,” he said.
There was no option for resupply, and they were navigating purely by celestial means with a mariner’s sextant. Luckily, ice conditions improved and they could move at a brisker pace. They had to use a pickaxe to make a track for the sleds, and find a way around arctic waters.
They woke up preparing to harness their dogs for another day: “I went out before breakfast to determine our position, and we had a gift from the polar ice pack that the drift had shifted and while we slept – we had been deposited right at the pole,” Scherke said. It had a marked impact on all of their lives.
Now when Scherke makes trips to the arctic, camps of scientists are there investigating the climate change problems. The pole has been shrinking 10 percent every decade for the past 50 years, which impacts the world’s climate.
Scherke showed striking photos of the shrinkage of the arctic. In just the last few years, it seems to have shrunk by about half its size. Greenland and Antarctica are also both losing 40 cubic miles of ice a year, which has a greater effect than most would imagine.
If Greenland melted, oceans would rise 30 feet, burying most coastal areas. If Antarctica melted, ocean levels would rise 300 feet and cover most of the land on Earth.
Scherke said, “It’s hard to know what to do, but writing letters to your local representatives is a good way to help. It’s also beneficial to choose what to buy and what not to buy, like products from sustainable forests.”
Scherke has been able to work to change governmental policy, help the disabled, and realize the effects we all have on the environment with his adventurous spirit. His talk shed light on the fact that everyone can do something to help preserve the beauty of our planet.