Threatened by Rising Seas, Alaskans Ponder Where to Move

Winning their landmark climate suit against energy companies is just one challenge

Following their appearance in a San Francisco Federal Appeals Court this week, Climate Watch contributor Amy Standen was the only journalist to sit down with members of the Kivalina delegation before their return home.

As a group of nine Alaskan natives returns to their coastal village after their day in court, it seems that their plight is about more than getting money to pay for a move to higher ground. It’s an interesting microcosm of the climate conundrum: The past isn’t prologue anymore. History is a faulty crystal ball. How climate change will affect a specific place is anyone’s best guess. And in the case of Kivalina — and likely, many other places — residents’ visions of the future may not line up with those of scientists.

In the past, Kivalina– which lies at the tip of a narrow barrier island off the coast of Alaska – was buffered from storms by a thick layer of ice around its perimeter. But now the ice is melting. Every time a storm hits, many of Kivalina’s 400 residents take shelter in a local elementary school, hoping the waves will spare them. Everyone agrees: The village must relocate. Continue reading

Sea Level Suit Returns to San Francisco Courtroom

Alaskan village blames oil & power companies for rising seas

The coastal hamlet of Kivalina, Alaska, is already known for literally making a federal case out of rising sea levels.

The village of about 400 residents sits exposed on a barrier island in the Chukchi Sea. In 2008, local officials filed a federal lawsuit against about two dozen corporate entities, including ExxonMobil, BP and San Ramon-based Chevron Corp., claiming that coastal erosion was forcing the town to relocate.

Kivalina appears in the distance, on the tip of this barrier island in the Chukchi Sea.

The original case was dismissed — but on Monday, the case lands in San Francisco’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the town’s lawyers will again argue that major oil and power companies are responsible for the threatening rise in sea level, as the result of their collective greenhouse gas emissions. The appearance is timely, as only a week ago a major Arctic storm reportedly caused some damage to the settlement. Continue reading