Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rising Ocean Disasters - Shishmaref and Kivalina

I live in a part of the world that is more affected by climate change than any part of the globe. That is the Arctic. I live in Alaska. My state has over 180 villages that will be inundated by rising ocean waters. It costs several million dollars to move one village. The price for moving all 180 plus villages would be greater than the entire budget of the government disaster relief agency, FEMA. 

There are two villages that were scheduled to have already been evacuated. One is called Shishmaref or Shismaref and the other is Kivalina. 

I have a friend who is from Shishmaref and her parents still live there. For this reason, I know more about what is going on in Shishmaref than in the other 180+ villages. 

Shishmaref is a low island, largely composed of ice. Much of the soil in Shishmaref is laced with ice. As the ocean rises around Shishmaref, it undercuts the soil, melting the ice and rapidly eroding it. Large chunks of the island fall off in every little storm. Smaller pieces are constantly going into the ocean. People's houses often fall into the ocean. The village is disappearing bit by bit.

Since the island of Shishmaref is small and pretty flat, there is no place for the villagers to go to avoid the rising waters. Eventually it is expected that Shishmaref will be entirely under water. The only solution is for the villagers to move to the mainland. 

Not all of the villagers believe that their island has to go under water. They have started a fund to save their village and have a web site about it. 
Shishmaref Relocation Committee
They managed to get the Army Corps of Engineers to build a breakwater to protect their village. The breakwater has slowed down the rate of destruction of their village. It can do nothing about the rise of the ocean. 

The United States government wants to move all of the villagers of the 180+ villages to the mainland. The government wants to move most of the villagers to Fairbanks. A lot of the villagers already have relatives in Fairbanks. The government wants to move the rest of them to Anchorage. 

There are many social and cultural problems with moving the villagers to Fairbanks and Anchorage. Some of these problems are because most of the villagers are Alaskan Natives. The villages allow the Alaskan Natives living in them to retain more of their culture and traditional skills than Alaskan Natives living in cities can usually manage.

Many villagers still live a subsistence or mostly subsistence lifestyle. Many of them still depend on what they get from the land for their survival. If they don't catch enough fish and dry them, or hunt or gather berries, they can go hungry. This forces them to keep their traditional skills active. 

Villagers also speak their native languages more often than Alaskan Natives who live in less remote areas. Bringing 180 villages worth of Alaskan Natives to larger urban areas will inevitably dilute the pool of native language speakers and of people who retain native culture and skills.

Among the villagers who are going to lose their villages to the rising ocean waters, there is no universal solution to their problems. Even if funding for solving their problems was unlimited, it would not be easy to fix everything and make everyone happy.

The problems faced by the people of Shishmaref and Kivalina and the other 180+ villages that will be flooded by rising ocean waters are happening all over the world. The problems will keep happening. More and more people will be affected.

Even if you belong to the minority of humans who live far enough inland to not be directly affected by  rising oceans, you will be affected. Some of the studies of this problem that I have read say that about 75% of the human race will be flooded out by rising oceans. 
Article on people likely to be affected by rising oceans
Estimates of amount of sea level rise
Interactive Variable Map of Global flooding
If you are in the 25% you are going to have a lot of new neighbors. The economy of your country will be affected by having 75% of homes flooded out, and the people in them, of course. Your food supply is also very likely to be affected. The availability of fuel is also likely to be affected. There is a lot more, but that will do for starters.


  1. I say bring it on. If what you say is true, it is a self correcting problem. As armagedon occurs, we will become a primitive society eliminating the problem, and whoever is left will get to freeze their butts off again. Problem solved.

    1. Sorry I didn't reply sooner. This comment got past me somehow. What you say is true, mostly. I think we could wipe ourselves out, but I was taking the position that having some of the human race survive is a good thing.