05 July 2007

The casualties of global warming

I was in Kotzebue last week for the meeting of the Alaska Climate Impact Assessment Commission. One thing that is great about big meetings like this one is that it generally brings together a lot of important players on a particular topic which gives me an opportunity to speak to them in person (rather than over the phone).

I was really impressed by the people who are community leaders in villages facing coastal erosion, like Kivalina and Newtok. (The folks from Shishmaref didn't show.) You can just hear the frustration in their voice at the red-tape that is tying them up and see the weariness on their faces at having worked for so long on a problem they really have no control over.

I interviewed Stanley Tom, the tribal administrator in Newtok, and was just overwhelmed at what that community is going through. If you want to hear my whole interview with him, you'll just have to move to KNOM country but here's a couple of highlights.

He told me the barge landing there has been eroded so fuel has to be flown in. I asked what fuel costs now:

Our unleaded gas is at $11.87 a gallon. That's way - three times, four times - much more than what the United States is crying over $3.59 a gallon. And now we're paying $11.87 a gallon. These families cannot afford to pay $11.87 a gallon.
He's been on the job for at least a decade and I asked about the personal toll:
I'm tired of fighting this erosion problem. It's really stressful work. It's like every day, five days a week, I have to do lots of e-mailing with federal and state agencies. There's competition, you know, with other villages. We need to move and we're completing the deadlines and that's a very stressful part.
We talked about global warming and he said he thought increased emissions were causing their problems. He acknowledged Newtok was a tiny fraction of overall emissions but said the community is doing its part anyway:
We all did quit using trash bags already in the stores. We're using shopping bags. And we're trying to help the problem that they are telling us, you know, and I don't think we're the big impact. We're just a small amount and we're trying to help the problem right now.
Maybe calling Tom a "casualty of global warming" is going a little too far but at the very least his life has been completely and utterly changed by what we are doing to the world. How come that never figures into the debate about global warming?

1 comment:

Ishmael said...

Back in the day we used to take junk cars and build a breakwater where the bluff was eroding. We did in in Dillingham when I was a kid, and they did it in Bethel around the same time. If they can turn half-buried Cadillacs into art (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadillac_Ranch) we can still darn well turn them into breakwaters. But there is too much political incorrectness to do that today, isn't there? But wouldn't it be poetic justice to use the vehicle of our atmospheric destruction to mitigate the side effects?