Melting ice and rising seas will make Alaskan villagers America's first climate refugees

נשלח 28 באפר׳ 2014, 12:19 על ידי Sustainability Org   [ עודכן 28 באפר׳ 2014, 12:20 ]
by Chris Tacket, 26/9/2013

kivalina alaska climate change refugees
CC BY 2.0 USCG Press

Adapting to climate change is going to affect the lives of every human on Earth. But for some those impacts are hitting sooner and harder than they are for others. For Americans, the first to feel the brunt of the changing climate are Alaskans, in particular the indigenous tribes that live off the sea ice.

In May, The Guardian published an excellent feature on Newtok, Alaska and why residents there may become "America's first climate refugees."

In August, the BBC reported on the tiny village of Kivalina, Alaska, and warned that villagers there could see their entire village undersea within a decade.

Almost no one in America has heard of the Alaskan village of Kivalina. It clings to a narrow spit of sand on the edge of the Bering Sea, far too small to feature on maps of Alaska, never mind the United States.

Which is perhaps just as well, because within a decade Kivalina is likely to be under water. Gone, forever. Remembered - if at all - as the birthplace of America's first climate change refugees.

Four hundred indigenous Inuit people currently live in Kivalina's collection of single-storey cabins. Their livelihoods depend on hunting and fishing.

The sea has sustained them for countless generations but in the last two decades the dramatic retreat of the Arctic ice has left them desperately vulnerable to coastal erosion. No longer does thick ice protect their shoreline from the destructive power of autumn and winter storms. Kivalina's spit of sand has been dramatically narrowed.

The images of Kivalina are striking and disconcerting. The BBC report has a great shot that shows just how precarious the small village is without the frozen sea ice as a shield. And The Daily Mail have compiled even more.

This video from The Episcopal Church tells the story of the village and the challenge of fighting back a warming, rising sea.

The threat of coastal erosion is something Americans all along both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico are having to face, but for these small Alaskan villages, as the BBC reports, the solution is not as easy as simply moving further inland.

Retreating ice, slowly rising sea levels and increased coastal erosion have left three Inuit settlements facing imminent destruction, and at least eight more at serious risk.

The problem comes with a significant price tag. The US Government believes it could cost up to $400m (£265m) to relocate Kivalina's inhabitants to higher ground - building a road, houses, and a school does not come cheap in such an inaccessible place. And there is no sign the money will be forthcoming from public funds.

Kivalina council leader, Colleen Swan, says Alaska's indigenous tribes are paying the price for a problem they did nothing to create.

"If we're still here in 10 years time we either wait for the flood and die, or just walk away and go someplace else.

"The US government imposed this Western lifestyle on us, gave us their burdens and now they expect us to pick everything up and move it ourselves. What kind of government does that?"

For most Americans in the continental US, adapting to rising seas will mean redesigning cities or putting homes on stilts, for example, which are not insignificant or inexpensive challenges, but I don't think they create the same sort of existential issues facing these indigenous tribes.

For an extreme example of this sort of existential crisis created by climate change, consider the case of the small, low-lying islands in the Pacific. Ozy.com reports:

Rising seas, disappearing glaciers, melting ice, storm surges: The threat of climate change still feels distant to many people.

Not for residents of small, low-lying islands in the Pacific. Global warming has arrived, and it’s turned their nations — Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Palau, Kiribati and others — into slowly sinking ships. In some regions, the freshwater has turned salty, farmlands are barren and officials say rising waters will submerge entire nations by century’s end unless concerted action is taken.

Concerted action has most definitely not been taken.

As a result, many of these countries have resorted to extreme measures. They’ve engaged global legal experts to figure out whether a drowned nation still exists, have threatened legal action against coal plants a hemisphere away and have tried to drum up support for a case at the International Court of Justice. Quixotic as these tactics may sound, they risk alienating wealthy countries — the very ones they’ll rely on for humanitarian aid to help refugees from droughts and floods.

“There’s a real existential question for these islands,” says Earthjustice attorney Erika Rosenthal, who works with small island states to stem the volatile tides of global warming. For these tiny nations, climate change raises the “most urgent questions of national sovereignty.”

In 2009, the Marshall Islands’ ambassador to the U.S. asked Gerrard to look into that very question, as well as other queries that sound surreal: Is a country underwater still a nation-state? Does it retain its seat at the United Nations? What happens to national assets like fishing rights? And where should its citizens go?

[My emphasis]

Our actions impact others, as does our inaction. The United States and the rest of the global community via the United Nations needs to create a comprehensive plan for how to attempt to right the wrongs being done to these Alaskan tribes and Pacific islanders and everyone displaced by climate change. We should work to make their transition to a new location and way of life as easy as possible.

Source: treehugger.com

America's first climate change refugees: Hundreds forced to flee their Alaskan village before it disappears underwater within a decade

  • A huge retreat of Arctic ice has left Kivalina vulnerable to coastal erosion
  • It is no longer protected from ferocious storms by a think layer of ice
  • 'We are expected to pick everything up and move it ourselves' says villager

By Anthony Bond

Published: 08:42 GMT, 30 July 2013 | Updated: 09:13 GMT, 16 August 2013

It is a small Alaskan village whose inhabitants have relied on the sea for countless generations.

But within a decade, it is expected that the ocean which the village of Kivalina has so relied on will completely destroy it - creating America's first climate change refugees.

Temperatures in the Arctic region of Alaska are warming twice as fast as the rest of the U.S, causing ice to retreat, sea levels to rise and coastal erosion to increase.

Scroll down for video

Worrying: It is predicted that within a decade the Alaskan village of Kivalina will be completely underwater - creating America's first climate change refugees
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Worrying: It is predicted that within a decade the Alaskan village of Kivalina will be completely underwater - creating America's first climate change refugees

Extreme:  Kivalina is located on a barrier island off the coast of northwest Alaska. Many of the Inupiat Eskimo villagers rely on wild animals to survive
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Extreme: Kivalina is located on a barrier island off the coast of northwest Alaska. Many of the Inupiat Eskimo villagers rely on wild animals to survive

At risk: A dramatic retreat of Arctic ice has left the village vulnerable to coastal erosion
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At risk: A dramatic retreat of Arctic ice has left the village vulnerable to coastal erosion

Protection: The inhabitants of the village have always been protected from ferocious storms by a think layer of ice. Instead, they now rely on these sandbags
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Protection: The inhabitants of the village have always been protected from ferocious storms by a think layer of ice. Instead, they now rely on these sandbags

The 400 indigenous Inuit inhabitants of Kivalina, who live in single-storey cabins, have always been protected from the ferocious autumn and winter storms by a think layer of ice.

But, as reported by the BBC, during the last two decades there has been a huge retreat of Arctic ice, leaving the village vulnerable to coastal erosion.

Angry: The inhabitants of Kivalina are furious, saying they are having to pick up a mess which was not created by them
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Angry: The inhabitants of Kivalina are furious, saying they are having to pick up a mess which was not created by them

Tough: Many of the 400 indigenous Inuit inhabitants of Kivalina live in single-storey cabins
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Tough: Many of the 400 indigenous Inuit inhabitants of Kivalina live in single-storey cabins

Icy: This aerial image of Kivalina taken in 2008 shows the partly ice covered sea to the left
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Icy: This aerial image of Kivalina taken in 2008 shows the partly ice covered sea to the left

Reduction: However, this image taken this year shows how much the ice surrounding Kivalina has melted
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Reduction: However, this image taken this year shows how much the ice surrounding Kivalina has melted

Remote: This map shows the isolated location of Kivalina within the Alaskan wilderness
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Remote: This map shows the isolated location of Kivalina within the Alaskan wilderness

Now, engineers predict the 7.5 mile-long barrier island will be uninhabitable by 2025, completely submerged by the surrounding Chukchi Sea.

The U.S government estimates that it would cost up to $400, (£265m) to relocate the residents to higher ground.

But, with there being no sign that the money will come from public funds, the indigenous residents of the village are furious.

Speaking to the BBC, Kivalina council leader, Colleen Swanm, said: 'If we're still here in 10 years time we either wait for the flood and die, or just walk away and go someplace else.

'The US government imposed this Western lifestyle on us, gave us their burdens and now they expect us to pick everything up and move it ourselves. What kind of government does that?'

A census taken in 2000 shows there were 377 people on Kivalina in 78 households with a total of 64 families residing in the village.

It revealed the racial makeup of the village was 3.45 per cent white with 96.55 per cent Native American.

Perhaps most worryingly for its future, of the 78 households,  61.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them.

When President Obama promised to take measures to combat climate change it provoked strong opposition.

But those campaigning to highlight the issues of global warming will show the cynics how, through Kivalina, it is happening in their own country.

Concerns: Built on this long, narrow stretch of land, Kivalina is now extremely vulnerable to the sea
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Concerns: Built on this long, narrow stretch of land, Kivalina is now extremely vulnerable to the sea

Desperate: Residents are now using every means possible to save their homes
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Desperate: Residents are now using every means possible to save their homes

Traditional: This image from Kivalina, taken around 1900, shows members of the Eskimo town council
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Traditional: This image from Kivalina, taken around 1900, shows members of the Eskimo town council

Wrapped up: Pupils from the village's school are pictured at around 1900
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Wrapped up: Pupils from the village's school are pictured around 1900

DOOMED VILLAGE HOME TO DOZENS OF FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN

Kivalina was first known as Kivualinagmut after its discovery in 1847 by the Russian Navy.

Since then, it has long been a stopping place for travelers heading to Arctic coastal areas.

The most recent census shows there were 377 people on Kivalina living in 78 households.

Perhaps most worryingly for its future, of the 78 households, 61.5 per cent had children under the age of 18 living with them.

It is the only village in the region where people hunt the bowhead whale.

Originally, it was located at the north end of the Kivalina Lagoon but later relocated.

In 1960, an airstrip was built on the island. A new school and an electric system were constructed during the 1970s.

The problems in Kivalina are also experienced in the most northerly tip of US territory in the town of Barrow.

The residents of the town have been fraught with problems this year thanks to climate change.

In March, the sea ice began to melt and break up.

After eventually refreezing, it was so unstable that the townsfolk were unable to hunt for whales and seals, completely wrecking their hunting season.

Experienced whale hunters say for the first time in decades, they caught not a single bowhead whale. Residents now face a long, bleak winter.

Climate change is a divisive issue in the U.S among politicians.

New Jersey Democratic Rush Holt released a 90-second YouTube campaign ad last Monday  in which he calls for a carbon tax.

Without it, he warns, 'millions will die.'

On his campaign website the eight-term congressman, one of two physicists in the House of Representatives, blames global warming on 'the assault that corporate interests are waging on our planet.'

'We can no longer allow Republicans to deny obvious truths,' Holt says in the longer version of his campaign video.

'Our climate is changing, the consequences are lethal, humans are responsible, and America must act.'









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