Alaskan Village To Relocate Due To Global Warming

Photo: Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images
By a narrow margin of 11 votes, the residents of the Alaskan island village of Shishmaref have opted to relocate to the mainland in the wake of global warming, CNN reports. The Inupiat hunting and fishing community has held out against rising water levels and diminishing shorelines for decades, but even its subsistence lifestyle is becoming unsustainable as surrounding ice continues to melt.

Shishmaref sits on a quarter-mile-wide speck of land in the Chukchi Sea, near the Artic Circle. In the past 40 years, the island has shrunk 200 feet, The New York Times reports. As a result of later freezing, ice fishing for tomcod and whitefish is becoming more sparse. Thinner ice also threatens the Inupiats' access to wild caribou.

But even though its prospective new neighborhood is just five miles away, moving isn't so simple — and certainly not cheap — for the Inupiat. According to an estimate calculated in 2004, the relocation would cost $180 million.

"The problem we've been facing for the last 40 years is there is no money from the federal or state government," Donna Barr, secretary of the Shishmaref Council, told CNN.

Due to that funding gap and the need for fresh infrastructure, the relocation is likely a long way off. When that time comes, it won't be the only Alaskan village on the move. A report from the Arctic Institute identified 31 communities on the verge of climate change-related collapse. In fact, Shishmaref can take notes from Newtok, a village of 300 that has already begun its relocation to a site with a few homes and roads, but no power or sewage.

“Those 12 families will be pioneers,” Aaron Cooke with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center told Alaska Public Media. “They’ll be living in kind of a pioneer existence at the new site.”

While chilly villages like Shishmaref and Newtok may be small, surviving global warming means confronting enormous challenges and leaving a lot behind.
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