The Alaska Native village of Shishmaref sits on the sinking barrier island of Sarichef in the Chukchi Sea near the Bering Strait. The island lies between the United States and Russia, where it is increasingly threatened by the effects of climate change.
The village is home to approximately 600 members of the Inupiat people. They live simply, without running water or other modern technology.
Sea level rise, flooding, increase erosion and the loss of sea ice and protective land is a major concern for villagers. Some want to leave.
In fact, the community voted in favor of the proposals to relocate elsewhere. Yet, more than six years after the last vote, Shishmaref remains in place. The planned move costs more than the village can afford.
Thus, the community continues towards a disturbing future.
The villagers perpetuate their traditions. They celebrate birthdays baptisms and school graduation ceremony. Their life centers around their home, the local school and one of the most northern Christian churches in the world. churches.
Aaron Silco leads the local Lutheran Church. He called concern about shrinking land and flooding “too chargefor the community. He said if villagers think about climate change too often, it will hurt their ability to live their lives. This will take away things like birthday parties, funerals, and sporting events.
“There is still life,” Silco said.
Rich Stasenko agrees. He moved to Shishmaref in the 1970s. He describes the community as “resourceful” and “resilient.”
“I don’t see any casualties here,” he said.
In the 30 years since 1992, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association says temperatures in Alaska have risen 1.4 degrees Celsius.
This region of the Arctic had warmed twice as fast as the rest of the world. Now it heats up three times faster.
The island already doesn’t have a lot of space where people can live. It is only about five kilometers long and 400 meters wide. It was once protected by a large layer melting ice. Lack of ice means more flooding and more storm problems. The sea takes over the coast. About 14 houses had to be moved inland in 2002.
There are many towns in Alaska like Shishmaref that are having problems due to global warming. Most of the inhabitants of the small towns are natives related to the first inhabitants of the islands.
The US government’s accountability office says climate change is expected to make their problems worse.
Lloyd Kiyutelluk is president of the local tribe advice.
“I’m afraid we have to move…” he said. He doesn’t want the government to say the situation is ‘an emergency…but as it stands we have storms that we’ve never seen before’.
Government leaders have warned that the island will have a problem during a storm in September. Officials said it could lead to the worst flooding in 50 years. As the storm moved through the Bering Strait, it knocked out power, destroyed a major road and flooded a human waste treatment center.
Molly Snell, 35, spoke about the storm. She said she hoped the village would not have to clear out.
“The right storm, with the right wind, could destroy the whole island,” she said. She said the island is over”vulnerabledue to climate change.
Who is to blame?
Over time, the community changed its habits. However, the people of Shishmaref do not have contributed much to climate change. Most of the greenhouse gases to blame are produced by people in Europe and continental North America.
Elizabeth Marino calls this an example of “climate injustice”.
Marino is an anthropologist, or an expert on humans and their communities. She studied the people of Shishmaref and wrote a book about her findings.
I am Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on an Associated Press report.
words in this story
erosion -not. the gradual destruction of something by natural forces such as wind and water
Baptism -not. a ceremony that makes a person a member of the Christian church
graduation -not. graduating from a school, college or university
church -not. a building used for Christian church services
charge -not. something difficult to deal with, accept or deal with
resilient –adj. able to become strong again after something bad
layer -not. a piece of material that sits above or below something else
advice -not. a group of people who are chosen to make rules, laws, or decisions about something
clear out -v. to get someone out of a dangerous place
vulnerable –adj. easily hurt or injured
to contribute– v. help make something happen
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