Kivalina is an eight-mile spit of barrier reef located 70 miles north of the Arctic Circle that roughly 400 people of Inupiat Eskimo descent call home. And its residents may be the first Americans forced to evacuate because of climate change–by 2025.
If you’ve ever even heard of Kivalina, it might be because in 2008, the Alaskan population of largely subsistence hunters and fishers sued 24 energy companies, including big-hitters Exxon Mobil Corporation, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Dutch Shell, claiming that those companies contributed to the climate change eroding their land. They sought damages for the cost it would take to relocate the entire village–some $400 million, at least.
That suit was dismissed by the Ninth Circuit, but the village has filed an appeal. In the meantime, the BBC reports that the U.S. Army Corps of engineers has estimated that Kivalina will succumb to erosion caused by rising temperatures and sea levels in the Arctic Circle:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a defensive wall along the beach in 2008, but it was never more than a stop-gap measure.
A ferocious storm two years ago forced residents into an emergency evacuation. Now the engineers predict Kivalina will be uninhabitable by 2025.
Kivalina’s story is not unique. Temperature records show the Arctic region of Alaska is warming twice as fast as the rest of the United States.
Retreating ice, slowly rising sea levels and increased coastal erosion have left three Inuit settlements facing imminent destruction, and at least eight more at serious risk.
The BBC also interviewed Colleen Swan, Kivalina council leader, who told the program that Kivalina inhabitants will “either wait for the flood and die, or just walk away and go someplace else.” The Kivalina suit, meanwhile, describes bigger coastal storm waves, storm surges, and erosion that puts houses and buildings “in imminent danger of falling into the sea.”
The rapid, disturbing disappearance of Arctic sea ice has been linked to everything from to altered jet stream currents, which impact weather in extreme ways. NASA has ranked this past June as one of the warmest on global record, and while Arctic sea ice melt has not yet hit last year’s record low, it decreased 61% faster than the average rate of decline over the previous decade, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.