Enoch Adams prepares his rifle for a caribou hunt on Sept. 10, 2019, in Kivalina, Alaska. The hunters in the village have seen the migration of fish, caribou, seal and whale change due to warming weather. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Most Alaskan tribes stay put despite climate threats

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CLIMATEWIRE | Rural Alaskans who face worsening climate conditions — from sea-level rise to melting permafrost — often don't leave their homes for safer, more urbanized areas, according to newly published research from Pennsylvania State University.

Rather, such communities are more likely to adapt in place. For a handful, that means making hard choices about physically moving homes, buildings and infrastructure to secure ground nearby. But that costly option may not be available to many small, indigenous Arctic communities, which are among the most climate vulnerable in the world.

“Community relocation from climate-related environmental changes is a possible option in Alaska, but it is an unpopular and expensive process,” said Guangqing Chi, a professor of rural sociology, demography and public health sciences at Penn State and lead author of the paper published in the journal Regional Environmental Change.

The issue is not unique to Alaska. It is playing out in climate-threatened communities around the United States, from the Sea Islands of South Carolina, the ancestral home to the Gullah/Geechee Nation, to Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana, where members of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe lived for two centuries before their island succumbed to storm surges and rising seas. Today, most former Isle de Jean Charles residents have moved to a new community 40 miles inland.

Factors such as family, culture and a sense of community are compelling people to stay in communities that face mounting climate impacts. For example, researchers found that 144 of 229 Alaska Native tribes are threatened by erosion, flooding and thawing permafrost.

Of those, just 15 are exploring physically moving homes, buildings and public infrastructure, the researchers found. They would follow two other Alaska Native communities — the Chevak Native Village and the Yup’ik community of Newtok — that together have invested millions of dollars to relocate buildings and infrastructure, experts said.

“As critical climate tipping points are reached, threats to these communities’ viability, health and livelihoods will only increase,” Ann Tickamyer, a study co-author and professor emerita of rural sociology and demography at Penn State, said in a statement.

Yet despite temperatures increases that are rising much faster than in the Lower 48 states, the socioeconomic effects of climate change on Native Arctic communities has been understudied, including how warming may affect future migration to and from the region.

“This is an important gap because of the severity of Arctic climate change impacts and the regional predominance of indigenous communities — many of which have already been negatively impacted by centuries of racism, cultural loss and political disenfranchisement,” Chi said.

Link: Most Alaskan tribes stay put despite climate threats (politicopro.com)