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ClimateWise Team Assembles a Panel at the Alaska Forum on the Environment

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Tonya Graham, Executive Director

As one of the regions experiencing severe impacts in terms of coastal flooding, permafrost melt, and shifts in species needed for subsistence lifestyles, Alaska is on the front lines of climate change.  It is because of these intense impacts that Alaska is a high priority region for our ClimateWise team. Dr. Marni Koopman and I attended the Alaska Forum on the Environment and moderated a panel titled: “Climate Change Adaptation: Linking Alaskan Communities with Resources to Help Meet Challenges.”

The panel was designed to help local leaders access the various resources available to them in Alaska. What we discovered in the course of developing the panel is that there is a capacity gap between the local leaders who need help and the agencies that provide adaptation tools.;

Rural Alaska is dotted with small tribal villages and hub communities that often do not have the technological or staffing capacity to be able to take advantage of the tools available to them. We believe ClimateWise can be of service, so we are working with Michael Brubaker of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to determine how we can help these communities adapt to the reality of climate change in Alaska.

The Village of Shaktoolik Faces Climate Change

One session I attended shared the story of Shaktoolik, a coastal village that is in severe danger of inundation due to sea level rise and coastal erosion because the winter ice is melting sooner now and leaving the coast vulnerable to spring storms. In the past, the ice buffered the coastlines until later in the season. The people of Shaktoolik have suffered unprecedented flooding and coastal erosion and have considered relocating their village. As one of several vulnerable villages to receive federal aid to address their risk, Shaktoolik completed a planning process and decided on a construction fix rather than moving their community.

But the fix needs to come before the spring storms next year. The presentation ended with a plea from one of the village elders asking for help getting heavy equipment out to the village this summer so they could be reasonably safe when the storms hit next spring. When he ended his presentation, a woman stood up in the audience and told all of us that in her village, further inland from Shaktoolik, they had been hit with the most severe fall flooding they had ever experienced because the ice took too long to set up. She said that she was not sure her village would make it through another flood like that and she asked where she could go for help.

Too often, climate change and the impacts it creates are bandied around like a political football. But in places like Shaktoolik, and increasingly in communities in every region of the US, climate change is real world and it is right now. ClimateWise is working with other adaptation practitioners and service providers to offer concerned community leaders a clear path to address the impacts of climate change. It is our hope that by assisting with this effort, communities will not only work effectively to adapt to the changes, but will also be motivated to support the strong pollution reduction measures that are necessary if we are to limit the extent of climate change.

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