READ: An Alaska Native Village Faces Relocation Due to Climate Change

By Yessenia Funes Jun 05, 2017

Different communities experience different elements of climate change. For some, it hits much closer to home. This is especially true for Alaska Native villages, whose coastlines are receding and bringing the shore closer to their residences.

Off the Chukchi Sea sits Shishmaref, a small island city that has had to grapple with the possibility of relocating. Nearly all of its residents are Alaska Natives, and almost half of its 614-person population lives below the poverty line. It’s a city where many homes lack running water and whose residents depend on food stamps for survival.

The tiny village was profiled in a story USA TODAY published June 2.

Shishmaref is located on Sarichef Island, which is seeing accelerated erosion rates. However, President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget omits funds residents hoped would begin their necessary relocation to the mainland roughly 20 miles away. The move is a costly $180 million, by some estimates.

Overwhelmingly, residents don’t want to move. Their cultural ties to the place run deep. Hunting sites are passed down by generation, yet many residents also understand that they have no choice at this point.

“I wish we didn’t have to move,” said resident Lorraine Jungers to USA TODAY. “I know the benefits of moving. But we’d be too far apart from the people that mean the most to us. This is our whole life right here. I can’t picture us anywhere else.”

Now, the move seems less and less of a reality—but also an even more urgent one as the president has decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally. Without U.S. participation, it remains uncertain how the rest of the world will tackle the eminent threat of climate change when the U.S. is the No. 2 contributor to climate change worldwide. USA TODAY reports that most of the island’s homes could be gone within 15 years unless drastic action is taken against climate change. 

USA TODAY goes on about the conflicting thoughts surrounding a move:

Some residents don’t think the town will move. They say there’s no way to pay for it and no way to physically move an entire village across miles of open water to reach the mainland. In that event, residents here would slowly disperse over time as the water flowed its way inland.

Even if the relocation happens, they fear there will be no way to maintain the same sense of community in a new place. Other struggles include questions over polar bears coming onto the mainland, whether to move the bodies buried in the island’s small cemetery and how to overcome the inertia that comes with having lived in the same small piece of land for generations.

The villagers were critical of former President Barack Obama, who didn’t do enough, many said. Today, under the Trump administration, they must deal with the prospect of offshore gas and oil drilling in the surrounding Chukchi Sea, on which the villagers depend for fishing and recreation.

Trump signed an executive order April 28 to expand offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic. Interior Ryan Zinke signed a separate order June 1 to “jumpstart Alaskan energy.”

Read the complete USA TODAY story here.