Alaska Natives are suffering from global warming.
Coastal erosion has been an issue for decades, but rising global temperatures have started to thaw the permafrost that once helped anchor some Alaskan Native villages in place. Sea ice that protects Shishmaref’s coast from erosion melts earlier in the spring and forms later in the fall. As a result, the increasingly mushy and exposed soil along Shishmaref’s shore is falling into the water.
The crumbling land already toppled one house into the sea. Thirteen other homes had to be moved inland.
The warming climate and erosion also threaten to steal the Kokeoks’ centuries-old culture, their unique language and the viability of their entire village.
They’re not alone. A dozen Alaskan villages, including Shishmaref, are at some stage of moving because of climate-change-related impacts like coastal erosion and flooding.
Around the world, as many as 150 million people may become “climate refugees” because of global warming, according to an Environmental Justice Foundation report, which attributes some of the moves to rising sea levels.
Moving an entire town is not cheap. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that Shishmaref’s relocation, if it happens, will cost up to $200 million. Relocations of other Alaskan villages carry similar estimates.