Friday, February 24, 2017

Climate change could force growing Alaska coastal communities to relocate entire populations

Kivalina, Alaska, has about 382 residents
Despite increasing out-migration, high birth rates are increasing the population of coastal towns in Alaska, Kavya Balaraman reports for Climatewire. With many of these communities being the most vulnerable to climate change, they are one major storm away from "climigration," a term coined by Robin Bronen, executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice, to describe "communitywide relocation as a direct consequence of shifting weather patterns."

Bronen told Balaraman, "Climate-change factors that cause climigration are decreased Arctic sea ice, which is no longer providing a buffer to storms that come in, coupled with permafrost thaw as a result of radically increased temperatures, The permafrost thawing is causing accelerated rates of erosion. That's happening right now."

Lawrence Hamilton, a professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, said "erosion can threaten the region's housing and infrastructure. It puts people at a higher risk of damage under extreme weather events, and some of the villages in the region will probably be abandoned within a decade," Balaraman writes. He said in an email, "Relocation or abandonment, whether planned or done in haste, will eventually be necessary."

Experts say as "populations continue to grow, two problems are likely to crop up in the next few decades," Balaraman writes. "First, more people are vulnerable and future relocation for them will likely be more expensive. Second, the risk profile of those who remain is drastically altered."

Philip Loring, lead scientist of the Sustainable Futures North project, which focuses on the impact of climate change on Arctic and sub-Arctic communities, told Balaraman, "If some people are leaving because they can, and the ones who remain are ostensibly young mothers and young children—then five years from now, these communities are going to have a lot of young children and young mothers who don't have a number of options for employment or other resources."

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