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A Wrenching Choice for Alaska Towns in the Path of Climate Change

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http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/29/science/alaska-global-warming.html

By Erika Goode November 29, 2016 NY Times

SHAKTOOLIK, Alaska — In the dream, a storm came and Betsy Bekoalok watched the river rise on one side of the village and the ocean on the other, the water swallowing up the brightly colored houses, the fishing boats and the four-wheelers, the school and the clinic.

She dived into the floodwaters, frantically searching for her son. Bodies drifted past her in the half-darkness. When she finally found the boy, he, too, was lifeless. “I picked him up and brought him back from the ocean’s bottom,” Ms. Bekoalok remembered.

The Inupiat people who for centuries have hunted and fished on Alaska’s western coast believe that some dreams are portents of things to come. But here in Shaktoolik, one need not be a prophet to predict flooding, especially during the fall storms. Laid out on a narrow spit of sand between the Tagoomenik River and the Bering Sea, the village of 250 or so people is facing an imminent threat from increased flooding and erosion, signs of a changing climate.

With its proximity to the Arctic, Alaska is warming about twice as fast as the rest of the United States and the state is heading for the warmest year on record. The government has identified at least 31 Alaskan towns and cities at imminent risk of destruction, with Shaktoolik ranking among the top four. Some villages, climate change experts predict, will be uninhabitable by 2050, their residents joining a flow of climate refugees around the globe, in Bolivia, China, Niger and other countries.

These endangered Alaskan communities face a choice. They could move to higher ground, a wrenching prospect that for a small village could cost as much as $200 million. Or they could stand their ground and hope to find money to fortify their buildings and shore up their coastline

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