For many years, climate change has displaced millions in the developing world – and now America is seeing its first climate refugees. Over 180 native communities in Alaska are under threat as ice melt, rising seas, and erosion threatens their traditional way of life. A new report by the US Army Corps of Engineers predicts that Alaskan villages such as Newtok (located on the western coast of Alaska and 400 miles south of the Bering Strait) could be completely underwater as soon as 2017.
The Ninglick River surrounds Newtok on three sides, and it has been eating away at the soil before emptying into the sea, gouging more and more at a speed accelerated by glacial melt. Native Alaksans were forced by the government to settle in permanent encampments after statehood, and now they are receiving little to no help from the system. 350 residents will soon be forced to move from their village in order to survive, and they are not alone.
This week, the Arctic Council met in Sweden to discuss the threat global warming poses to their populations, although native communities were not said to be high on the list of concerns. The Obama administration told officials in a statement last Friday that no additional money would be allocated to help these refugees. However, half of America’s population lives within 50 miles of a coastline, and sooner or later the contiguous states will be confronted with the same challenges Alaskans are now facing. Villages that have no choice but to move or perish must also find a way to finance their relocation – a price tag that can reach into the millions of dollars. Alaska has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the country in the past 6 decades, and as time progresses the state will continue to be the nation’s canary in the arctic coal mine.