Aerial view of KIvalina, an Inupiat village in the Chukchi Sea, Alaska. Photo: Re-locate Kivalina

By Adam Wernick
7 August 2015

(PRI) – Scientists estimate that due to climate change, the village of Kivalina, in northwestern Alaska, will be underwater by the year 2025.

In 2008, the Inupiat village sued 24 of the world's biggest fossil fuel companies for damages. In 2013, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case and the village has declared it will not file a new claim in state court.

Meanwhile, nature, heedless of humankind’s eternal squabbles, goes about its business: the sea around Kivalina continues to rise, the storms get stronger, the ice gets thinner — and Kivalina's 400 residents must grapple with how to relocate in the decade they're estimated to have left.

Kivalina is on a very thin barrier reef island between the Chukchi Sea and the Kivalina Lagoon, in the northwest of Alaska, above the Arctic Circle. It takes three plane flights to get there: one to Anchorage; another to a town called Kotzebue; and a third, aboard a tiny cargo plane, to Kivalina.

Kivalina City Council member Colleen Swan says the people of the village rely for food mostly on what the environment, especially the ocean, provides for them. “It’s been our way to make a living for hundreds of years,” she says. “During the winter months the ice is part of our landscape, because we go out there and we set up camps and hunt, and it's all seasonal. We were able to see the changes years ago.” […]

Swan says she is exhausted by the stress of watching her community wash away and wondering whether they will need to evacuate. “We just had a minor storm last fall and I'm one of the first responders if anything goes wrong, so I keep an eye on things,” she says. “When we got that storm last fall, I decided I'm just going to go to sleep. I'm tired of worrying, I want to get some rest.”

“The next morning when I woke up, I saw the impacts from a minor storm and how quickly the water rose, and I realized that was a very dangerous thing for me to do, to sleep, to not face the reality of that night,” she continues.

“I realized this is what climate deniers do — not us. Not us, who face the reality every day. We wake up to it. There was never a debate for the people of Kivalina. We just wake up to it every morning.” [more]

Will the residents of Kivalina, Alaska be the first climate change refugees in the US?



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