For the low, low price of $200 million
On Tuesday, the 169 registered voters of the Alaskan village Shishmaref had to decide whether to move inland or stay put and brave rising tides caused by global warming. In a close vote that included nearly the entire community, 89 voted to move their ancestral home to the mainland while 78 voted to stay, CNN reports.
Accessible only by plane, boat, or snowmobile (during the winter months when the surrounding ice is thick), Shishmaref is an island community that has been plagued in recent years by the devastating effects of rising global temperatures. Local Esau Sinnok wrote in an essay for the U.S. Department of the Interior last December,
“Over the past 35 years, we've lost 2,500 to 3,000 feet of land to coastal erosion. To put this in perspective: I was born in 1997, and since then, Shishmaref has lost about 100 feet. In the past 15 years, we had to move 13 houses -- including my dear grandma Edna’s house -- from one end of the island to the other because of this loss of land. Within the next two decades, the whole island will erode away completely.”
But Shishmaref isn’t the only town facing impossible challenges. At a minimum, 31 similar Alaskan villages are at risk of being wiped out thanks to climate change, a study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office states. Some, like Shishmaref, are considering relocation, but the stark reality is that many won’t receive the necessary federal funding to make the move with costs ranging between $200 and $250 million per village.
And as Sinnok pointed out in his essay, global warming isn’t just threatening their homes but their way of life as well. He writes, “The lack of ice has affected our hunting, fishing and other traditions… Every year it gets harder and harder to collect enough meat for the winter.” Unless drastic changes are enforced soon, there’s a very real possibility entire communities along with their unique cultures will be wiped away.