Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The first climate refugees in the US

The Yupik Eskimo of Newtok, Alaska are about to become homeless. Like many other northern natives, they were forced into settlements a generation ago as a condition of schooling and welfare. Thanks to global warming, their town is now sinking into fetid mud as the permafrost melts. The NY Times 27 May 07 called them “the first climate refugees in the United States.”
Studies say Newtok could be washed away within a decade. Along with the villages of Shishmaref and Kivalina farther to the north, it has been the hardest hit of about 180 Alaska villages that suffer some degree of erosion.
Some villages plan to hunker down behind sea walls built or planned by the Army Corps of Engineers, at least for now. Others, like Newtok, have no choice but to abandon their patch of tundra. The corps has estimated that to move Newtok could cost $130 million because of its remoteness, climate and topography. That comes to almost $413,000 for each of the 315 residents.
Not that anyone is offering to pay.

CNN reports 22 Apr 2009 that sea ice no longer protects the village from ocean storm surges. "We are seeing the erosion, flooding and sinking of our village right now," says Stanley Tom, of Newtok Traditional Council. "Our land is our resource, our source of food; it's our country. We live off of it. If we go to another village or city, we will not be able to survive."

Score of other Alaska coastal communities are in danger. First Peoples all over the Arctic are seeing life-threatening changes, says Inuit leader Sheila Watt-Cloutier. Newtok is only one example of climate refugees, in the North and the South, who will number at least 150 million by 2050.

Thanks to Steve Barth's 27 May 2007 post in his blog Reflections: A World Safe for Hypocrisy. See also recent news updates: 28 Oct 08 Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the US military announce earmarked mitigation funds for Newtok; 20 Feb 09 an emergency flood shelter is badly needed by Newtok residents but no funds are available to construct it; 14 May 09 Congress and the Alaska government repealed funding, and Newtok natives have nowhere to go.

Meanwhile, the US government is bailing out car manufacturers by as much as $50 billions; and the Waxman-Markey bill earmarks $60 billions for the coal lobby.

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