In approximately 10 years, the village of Kivalina in northwestern Alaska could be submerged, giving its approximately 400 residents the ubiquitous honor of becoming the first climate change refugees of America, so much so that the U.S. government says it may be too dangerous to live there.
Kivalina is located on a very thin barrier reef island between the Chukchi Sea and the Kivalina Lagoon, in the northwest of Alaska, above the Arctic Circle. Not an easy place to reach, one has to first fly to Anchorage, then to a town called Kotzebue, and then board a tiny cargo plane, to Kivalina.
Colleen Swan, a Kivalina City Council member, says people rely on what the environment, especially the ocean, provides for them. "It's been our way to make a living for hundreds of years," she said to PRI.
It was about 15 years ago that the villagers noticed the seasons starting early and the ice beginning to thin sooner than before. "We didn't notice at first the gradual change until it became two weeks early consistently from year to year. The hardest one to swallow was the fact that our ice wasn't safe any more for us to set up whaling camps," Swan says, according to PRI.
The Arctic is warming about twice as fast as the global average, so sea ice is forming on the Kivalina coastline later in the year and melting faster in the spring and summer. Alaska's indigenous tribes are paying the price for a problem they did nothing to create.
"If we're still here in 10 years time we either wait for the flood and die, or just walk away and go someplace else. The U.S. government imposed this Western lifestyle on us, gave us their burdens and now they expect us to pick everything up and move it ourselves. What kind of government does that?" Swan asked while speaking to the BBC.