Residents of Shishmaref voted to relocate to the mainland, but in common with other Alaskan towns, there is no clear source of funding to do this. Photo: Andrew Burton / Getty Images

By Oliver Milman
10 August 2017

NEW YORK (The Guardian) – The US government’s withdrawal from dealing with, or even acknowledging, climate change may have provoked widespread opprobrium, but for Alaskan communities at risk of toppling into the sea, the risks are rather more personal.

The Trump administration has moved to dismantle climate adaptation programs including the Denali Commission, an Anchorage-based agency that is crafting a plan to safeguard or relocate dozens of towns at risk from rising sea levels, storms and the winnowing away of sea ice.

Federal assistance for these towns has been ponderous but could now grind to a halt, with even those working on the issue seemingly targeted by the administration. In July, Joel Clement, an interior department official who worked with Alaskan communities on climate adaptation, claimed he had been moved to a completely unrelated position because of the administration’s ideological hostility to the issue.

“We were getting down to the brass tacks of relocation [of towns at risk] and now work has just stopped,” Clement told the Guardian. He has lodged an official complaint over his reassignment.

“Without federal coordination from Washington DC, there isn’t much hope. This will take millions of dollars and will take years, and these people don’t have years. I think it’s clear I was moved because of my climate work. It feels like a complete abdication of responsibility on climate change.”

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, 31 Alaskan communities face “imminent” existential threats from coastline erosion, flooding, and other consequences of temperatures that are rising twice as quickly in the state as the global average. A handful – Kivalina, Newtok, Shishmaref, and Shaktoolik – are considered in particularly perilous positions and will need to be moved.

“It was clear from the start of the Trump administration that there was no interest in helping Alaskan communities, particularly coastal communities, adapt to climate change,” said Victoria Hermann, president of the Arctic Institute.

“There’s now no liaison from Washington on the issue. The biggest loss has been momentum. It feels like the Obama administration was kickstarting something useful but now it has dropped dead.” [more]

Alaskan towns at risk from rising seas sound alarm as Trump pulls federal help

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