America’s First Climate Refugees

Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 12.20.28 PMSusan Goldenberg writes at the Guardian:

Sabrina Warner keeps having the same nightmare: a huge wave rearing up out of the water and crashing over her home, forcing her to swim for her life with her toddler son.

“I dream about the water coming in,” she said. The landscape in winter on the Bering Sea coast seems peaceful, the tidal wave of Warner’s nightmare trapped by snow and several feet of ice. But the calm is deceptive. Spring break-up will soon restore the Ninglick River to its full violent force.

In the dream, Warner climbs on to the roof of her small house. As the waters rise, she swims for higher ground: the village school which sits on 20-foot pilings.

Even that isn’t high enough. By the time Warner wakes, she is clinging to the roof of the school, desperate to be saved.

Warner’s vision is not far removed from a reality written by climate change. The people of Newtok, on the west coast of Alaska and about 400 miles south of the Bering Strait that separates the state from Russia, are living a slow-motion disaster that will end, very possibly within the next five years, with the entire village being washed away.

The Ninglick River coils around Newtok on three sides before emptying into the Bering Sea. It has steadily been eating away at the land, carrying off 100ft or more some years, in a process moving at unusual speed because of climate change. Eventually all of the villagers will have to leave, becoming America’s first climate change refugees.

It is not a label or a future embraced by people living in Newtok. Yup’ik Eskimo have been fishing and hunting by the shores of the Bering Sea for centuries and the villagers reject the notion they will now be forced to run in chaos from ancestral lands.

But exile is undeniable. A report by the US Army Corps of Engineers predicted that the highest point in the village – the school of Warner’s nightmare – could be underwater by 2017. There was no possible way to protect the village in place, the report concluded.

If Newtok can not move its people to the new site in time, the village will disappear. A community of 350 people, nearly all related to some degree and all intimately connected to the land, will cease to exist, its inhabitants scattered to the villages and towns of western Alaska, Anchorage and beyond.

It’s a choice confronting more than 180 native communities in Alaska, which are flooding and losing land because of the ice melt that is part of the changing climate.

The Arctic Council, the group of countries that governs the polar regions, are gathering in Sweden today. But climate change refugees are not high on their agenda, and Obama administration officials told reporters on Friday there would be no additional money to help communities in the firing line.

On the other side of the continent, the cities and towns of the east coast are waking up to their own version of Warner’s nightmare: the storm surges demonstrated by hurricane Sandy. About half of America’s population lives within 50 miles of a coastline. Those numbers are projected to grow even more in the coming decades.

What chance do any of those communities, in Alaska or on the Atlantic coast, have of a fair and secure future under climate change, if a tiny community like Newtok – just 63 houses in all – cannot be assured of survival?

But as the villagers of Newtok are discovering, recognising the gravity of the threat posed by climate change and responding in time are two very different matters.

Read more here.

16 Comments on "America’s First Climate Refugees"

  1. BuzzCoastin | Sep 21, 2013 at 9:16 pm |

    wait about 50,00 years and
    it will be like it was 50,000 years ago

    I haven’t owned a car since 2007
    and Newtok’s still washing away

  2. Charlie Primero | Sep 22, 2013 at 7:43 am |

    Ahhhh. The warm comfort of normalcy.

    Good German had not posted a hysterical Climate Fraud article to Disinfo in ages. This anomaly was creating torsion stress in the universe.

    All is better now. Thank you GG !

    • Ad hominem and appeals to ridicule are weak attempts to deny facts. What in the article is untrue?

      • Charlie Primero | Sep 22, 2013 at 10:45 am |

        The statement “the overwhelming scientific view that climate change is caused primarily by human activities”.

        It’s not a scientific view. If you believe it is, you are probably ignorant of what Science actually is. Ignorance is easily remedied.

        • Well, we can’t run the entire Earth through the last couple of centuries without the Industrial Revolution as a control, but if I saw a bus barreling towards me in the street I’d still get out of the way, even though scientists can’t falsify the theory that getting hit by it would kill me.

          • Jin The Ninja | Sep 22, 2013 at 4:42 pm |

            if climate change is SUCH a wide-spread and far reaching conspiracy- why have no corporations, western govt’s or talking heads for either, come out with RADICAL solutions to the problem? instead we see RADICAL denial, postponement, inefficacy, lack of will, or anyone in positions of power even willing to listen to the radical conclusions necessitated by industrial civilization’s ever-greater effects on the natural world?

            pollution is just air. sewage is just water. round up is naturally occurring (as are GMOs), the world is ours to own. god loves us most.

          • I think it was Robert Tracinski who, in a fit of hyperbole, made up the Plot to Tax Human Breath. Six years later many of the deniers seem to believe it actually exists.

            And they call us hysterical.

    • Monkey See Monkey Do | Sep 22, 2013 at 10:22 am |

      Tell that to the people of Kiribati and The Maldives.

  3. I’m sure there are some Okies who might not agree with this use of the title “America’s First Climate Refugees”.

    • Charlie Primero | Sep 22, 2013 at 10:53 am |

      That title should probably go to the paleo-Amerinds who fled ice age Alaska for Mexico City. Without them we would lack the magical human bullet-proofing elixir known as Tequila.

    • Hadrian999 | Sep 22, 2013 at 4:09 pm |

      the Pueblo people had them beat by a bit

  4. doodahman | Sep 22, 2013 at 10:51 am |

    River displaces town for 100 millionth time in human history> Must be global warming.

  5. IrishPotatoGun | Sep 22, 2013 at 11:21 am |

    The change in climate of European Guns, Germs and Steel have been way more devastating to Native Americans then any weather occurrence. But you can’t put a tax on that. Global Warming is now trying to re-branded as climate change because the temperature data doesn’t match the preconceived predictions. Nothing more then another in a long line financial scams to siphon wealth from the working mass to the ownership elite.

  6. Ron Chandler | Sep 23, 2013 at 4:19 am |

    Don’t forget the Tuvaluans. And the Maldivians. And…

Comments are closed.