A new project led by architects, artists and others has mobilized in Western Alaska to raise worldwide awareness of current conditions.
Charts in a recent DKos diary by FishOutofWater illustrate just how vulnerable Western Alaska is to the results of loss of sea ice and accompanying ocean level rise. This part of Alaska is a vast, low treeless expanse punctuated by rivers and lakes. It has been settled for more than 10,000 years and today the descendants of Inupiat and Yupik Eskimos still live along the coastline in scattered small villages. Access is via small plane airfields served by larger hub communities of Bethel, Kotzebue and Nome, which have larger runways that can land jets flying from Anchorage and Fairbanks.
The region has always been vulnerable to storms and flooding -- but the degradation of the previous protection regime -- the presence of permanently frozen ground, and pack ice that protected the settlements from beach erosion during most of the year -- has led to a dire emergency in dozens of villages. And in general it appears to be a spiraling, irreversible process, as Fish's diaries have explained at length.
The Republican leaders of Alaska have so far considered that the changes observed along the Western coast are aberrations -- just normal pendulum swings of weather -- but that attitude is quickly changing as evidence of new realities emerges. Unfortunately, a lot of the response is along the lines of: these villages are no longer viable, and the residents should be moved to Anchorage and Fairbanks. [Where they will simultaneously be expected to lose their subsistence lifestyle, independence, culture and traditions within a generation.]
One village is already being moved to slightly higher ground a few miles away -- a reprieve, but for how long? And how many villages can we afford to move? How will priority be established? Even Alaska's deep pockets will be stretched to the limit. Most of the villages have substantial infrastructure -- schools with $50 million replacement costs; electrical grids; fuel storage; houses and clinics and stores and government offices.
Mitt Romney delivered an applause line in his convention speech tonight -- something like, Obama promised to slow down the rise of the oceans [eye roll]... while my promise is to help average families. Addressing the former problem would mean everything to the families of Western Alaska.
I don't have any big ideas to offer here. Just check out the sites linked above.