In the small town of Newtok, Alaska, a Yupik village of about 350 people, children once played on endless fields of frozen permafrost. Now, they splash in salt water pools and teeter on boardwalks as the permafrost below thaws and the Ninglick River chips away at the community. Soon even the boards will be swallowed by the rising tides.
In 2017, it is projected that the highest point in Newtok — the school building — will be underwater. For these Alaskans, climate change is not just a global temperature trend; it is happening under their feet. Shoreline erosion is forcing residents to abandon their community as rising water inundates the lives they once lived. Twenty years ago, the signs were already in place and Newtok made the difficult decision to relocate. Since then, it has been slowly rebuilding its school, homes, and lives inland to escape the ever-encroaching waters.
Newtok residents will be among our country’s first climate refugees — but not our last.