The remote Alaskan village of Shishmaref, perched on a narrow island 600 miles north of Anchorage, voted Wednesday on a proposal to relocate the entire community to a new but currently undecided location. An unofficial count by the city clerk found 89 votes to leave and 78 against but the vote itself is largely symbolic because there's no funding to cover the estimated $180 million cost of the move.
While the U.S. government has funds available to rebuild communities after extreme events like hurricanes and earthquakes, there is no federal or state plan in place for dealing with the unfolding, slow motion disasters of climate change. However, communities are feeling the impacts of erosion and sea level rise across the country and Shishmaref is not the only community that feels forced to move to higher ground.
Melting sea ice around Shishmaref is washing away the thawing arctic soils, leading to extreme erosion. Members of the community report that they have had to move over 30 houses in the last 15 years and that swathes of coastline have disappeared in their lifetime. In just two decades, they say, the island could be gone entirely.
Esau Sinnok, 19, comes from Shishmaref and was invited to the White House last month where he was praised for his climate activism. He has expressed the concern held by many that relocation could effectively end a way of life and break up a community that has held together for generations.
"All 650 people there are my family. And not being able to see them every day like I'm used to - if I had to move to the city I'd be heartbroken and sad not seeing all of their faces," Sinnok told the Telegraph.