Coastal Tribes Face Many Existential Threats Due to Climate Change

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A feature article by Luna Reyna, published by Crosscut, delves into the serious threats faced by indigenous tribes in the Pacific Northwest – from Alaska to Washington – due to climate change and other environmental degradation.

Included in the feature, Reyna shares news of a new documentary that highlights Alaska’s Yup’ik people as they relocate due to rising seas.

Earth Day, the documentary film NOTewtokpremiered to the public, raising awareness of potential climate refugees, the Yup’ik of an Alaskan village called Newtok.

The Yup’ik are far from alone in being forced to relocate and facing an increasing number of environmental risks due to global climate change.

Crosscut’s 2019 documentary, The climbhighlighted efforts by Quinault leaders to relocate the villages of Taholah and Queets from their homelands, where more than a thousand people face heightened tsunami risk as sea levels rise year after year .

Other tribes face other threats from climate change and other environmental impacts of society, such as wildfires, melting permafrost and dwindling salmon stocks. As the article documents, these indigenous peoples have lived in harmony with their environment since time immemorial and share no responsibility for their fate.

Meanwhile, the country and the world have been slow to respond, despite what the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes as an incredibly short timeframe for effective climate action. The Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), approved in November 2021, allocated $46 million in funding to tribal communities to address the impacts of climate change as part of $466 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This figure pales in comparison to the total of $500 billion in new spending enacted by the IIJA, or the enormous need to eliminate carbon emissions needed to ward off the catastrophic effects of climate change.

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