Last update:
2020-02-06

Climate change displacement of Shishmaref native Alaskans, USA

Residents of a small Alaskan village voted in 2016 to relocate their community from a barrier island that has been steadily disappearing because of erosion and flooding attributed to climate change.


Description:

Shishmaref is a community composed primarily of Native Inupiaq Eskimos just South of the Artic Circle located on a small barrier island. Climate change has led rising temperatures melting the seas ice that shelters the community from storm surge as well as the permafrost of the island which has led to major erosion. In 2002 realizing the only viable option was to leave the island residents voted to relocate the entire community. No relocation action was taken due to a lack of resources. A 2006 study conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers estimated the cost of relocation between $100-200 million. The same study predicted that the existing village would be destroyed by erosion and flooding within 10 to 15 years. The question of how the Shishmaref community will be able to survive and retain their 4,000 year old culture in the face of these changes remains open.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Climate change displacement of Shishmaref native Alaskans, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Alaska
Location of conflict:Shishmaref
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Climate change related conflicts (glaciers and small islands)
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Relocating island residents will cost an estimated $180 million and remove residents from the land that has been part of their culture for generations.

Project area:1890
Level of Investment:180,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:588 current population of Shishmaref
Start of the conflict:2001
Relevant government actors:EPA, US Congress, Shishmaref Village Council
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Shishmaref Erosian and Relocation Coalition, Shishmaref Native Corporation, Shishmaref Village Council
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Inupiaq
Forms of mobilization:Media based activism/alternative media
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Outcome
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Migration/displacement
Relocation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The Shishmaref has brought a great deal of public attention to the climate justice issues facing Native Alaskan communities but the individual case of where the village residents will be moved and how relocation will be paid for remained open. Shishmaref continued to look for resources to aid relocation that finally took place in 2016.
Sources & Materials
Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

"Relocating the Native Village of Shishmaref, Alaska Due to Coastal Erosion"
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Arctic Change
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CNN - Climate change threatens life in Shishmaref, Alaska
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[1] New York Times, by Christopher Mele and Daniel Victor, Reeling From Effects of Climate Change, Alaskan Village Votes to Relocate, 20 August 2016



Aug. 19, 2016
[click to view]

[1] New York Times, By Christopher Mele and Daniel Victor



Aug. 19, 2016

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

A photo of some of the damage from erosion on the island.
[click to view]

The last day of Shishmaref
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As climate change melts the permafrost, Arctic villages slip into the sea, taking a way of life with them. Here is audio taken from one such village, Shishmaref, Alaska.
[click to view]

A controversy in 2020: Climate activists urge British Museum to reject BP funding, as Arctic exhibition announced. Planned show seeks to raise awareness of climate change (with objects from Shishmaref), but London museum criticized by partnership with oil and gas giant. Hannah McGivern. 10th January 2020
[click to view]

A controversy in 2020: Climate activists urge British Museum to reject BP funding, as Arctic exhibition announced. Planned show seeks to raise awareness of climate change (with objects from Shishmaref), but London museum criticized by partnership with oil and gas giant. Hannah McGivern. 10th January 2020

Other comments:This is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan
Meta information
Contributor:Katy Hintzen, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update06/02/2020
Comments
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