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[greenyes] Climate Disruption - New Series in the New Yorker

[DISCLAIMER. In anticipation of yet more strawmen in reply, and in defense
of The New Yorker, as if they needed it: newspapers and magazines do not
print general treateses. They start with a particular that is currently in
the NEWS, and build out from there. This does not mean, nor should it be
interpreted to imply, that Elizabeth Kolbert or The New Yorker's editors, or
anyone else seeking to elicit public concern over global warming in order to
build a political base for constructive action, are intending to suggest in
any way that the likelihood of climate disruption can be determined from an
isolated case. - p]

THE NEW YORKER - 4/25/05

Disappearing islands, thawing permafrost, melting polar ice. How the earth
is changing.

The Alaskan village of Shishmaref sits on an island known as Sarichef, five
miles off the coast of the Seward Peninsula. Sarichef is a small island-no
more than a quarter of a mile across and two and a half miles long-and
Shishmaref is basically the only thing on it. To the north is the Chukchi
Sea, and in every other direction lies the Bering Land Bridge National
Preserve, which probably ranks as one of the least visited national parks in
the country. During the last ice age, the land bridge-exposed by a drop in
sea levels of more than three hundred feet-grew to be nearly a thousand
miles wide. The preserve occupies that part of it which, after more than ten
thousand years of warmth, still remains above water.

Shishmaref (pop. 591) is an Inupiat village, and it has been inhabited, at
least on a seasonal basis, for several centuries. As in many native villages
in Alaska, life there combines-often disconcertingly-the very ancient and
the totally modern. Almost everyone in Shishmaref still lives off
subsistence hunting, primarily for bearded seals but also for walrus, moose,
rabbit, and migrating birds. When I visited the village one day last April,
the spring thaw was under way, and the seal-hunting season was about to
begin. (Wandering around, I almost tripped over the remnants of the previous
year's catch emerging from storage under the snow.) At noon, the village's
transportation planner, Tony Weyiouanna, invited me to his house for lunch.
In the living room, an enormous television set tuned to the local
public-access station was playing a rock soundtrack. Messages like "Happy
Birthday to the following elders . . ." kept scrolling across the screen.

Traditionally, the men in Shishmaref hunted for seals by driving out over
the sea ice with dogsleds or, more recently, on snowmobiles. After they
hauled the seals back to the village, the women would skin and cure them, a
process that takes several weeks. In the early nineteen-nineties, the
hunters began to notice that the sea ice was changing. (Although the claim
that the Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow is an exaggeration, the
Inupiat make distinctions among many different types of ice, including
sikuliaq, "young ice," sarri, "pack ice," and tuvaq, "landlocked ice.") The
ice was starting to form later in the fall, and also to break up earlier in
the spring. Once, it had been possible to drive out twenty miles; now, by
the time the seals arrived, the ice was mushy half that distance from shore.
Weyiouanna described it as having the consistency of a "slush puppy." When
you encounter it, he said, "your hair starts sticking up. Your eyes are wide
open. You can't even blink." It became too dangerous to hunt using
snowmobiles, and the men switched to boats.

Soon, the changes in the sea ice brought other problems. At its highest
point, Shishmaref is only twenty-two feet above sea level, and the houses,
many built by the U.S. government, are small, boxy, and not particularly
sturdy-looking. When the Chukchi Sea froze early, the layer of ice protected
the village, the way a tarp prevents a swimming pool from getting roiled by
the wind. When the sea started to freeze later, Shishmaref became more
vulnerable to storm surges. A storm in October, 1997, scoured away a
hundred-and-twenty-five-foot-wide strip from the town's northern edge;
several houses were destroyed, and more than a dozen had to be relocated.
During another storm, in October, 2001, the village was threatened by
twelve-foot waves. In the summer of 2002, residents of Shishmaref voted, a
hundred and sixty-one to twenty, to move the entire village to the mainland.
Last year, the federal government completed a survey of possible sites for a
new village. Most of the spots that are being considered are in areas nearly
as remote as Sarichef, with no roads or nearby cities, or even settlements.
It is estimated that a full relocation will cost at least a hundred and
eighty million dollars.



Peter Anderson, President
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Ph: (608) 231-1100
Fax: (608) 233-0011
Cell: (608) 698-1314
eMail: anderson@no.address

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