Tuesday, December 13, 2016

North to Alaska, where 'climate refugees' will flock in the future

by staff writer, with agencies

In an article in the New York Times in 2014 headlined, "On a Warmer Planet, Which Cities Will Be Safest?" the subheadline read: "Portland Will Still Be Cool, but Anchorage May Be the Place to Be."

When interviewed for the Times piece, Camilo Mora, a geography professor
​in Hawaii, said: "The best place really is Alaska. Alaska is going to be the next Florida by the end of the century."

​Novelists have taken on the theme, too. ​One of the first of ​dozens of climate-themed novels that have sprung up in the last ten years,

​"Polar City Red," by Tulsa writer Jim ​L​aughter​,​ was ​released in 2012 ​and set in a ​dystopian ​near​-​future Alaska in 2075. Margaret Atwood tweeted its upcoming publication in ​late ​2011,

a few months before the book hit bookstores. Some 6 months after publication, a Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reviewer put it this way:

"Up in the North, in Canada and Alaska, the frozen wonderland had become tropical rainforest, and a few hardy survivors built cities; cities which, with clever prescience, were stocked with the most current technology and machinery, stockpiled with years of food and populated with the most brilliant minds available. These cities became the Shangri-la of the downtrodden, mirages of survival and peace, a nurturing oasis in the desert humanity had come to inhabit. One such city is Polar City Red."

If a parched West has been the location of
​well-received ​novels by ​Paolo Bacigalupi and Claire Vaye Watkins -- ''The Water Knife'' and ''Gold Fame Citrus" -- a climate​-​senstive Alaska will be featured in future Western novels as well.

​Although the 1960 Hitchcock movie "North To Alaska" starring John Wayne wasn't about climate change​,​ its title may prove to be part of a new chapter in American migration inwhen thousands​, even​ millions of ​"climate migrants" flood the 49th state fleeing the largely uninhabitable lower 48 states. North to Alaska might become a re​-​occuring
 headline trope in  the next ​few centuries, and not for trendy, touristy reasons but for reasons of national security. The ​W​hite house and Congress could be moved to Juneau or Fairbanks by the year 2217. If there's a real nightmare coming to the ​W​est in the future, it could very well center on Alaska​'​s ​massive climate refugee problem.

​Okay, that's just fiction: Novels, movies.
 Novelists often like to imagine things ​i​n order to push our buttons. But already there are ​climate refugees in several northern Alaskan c​o​astal villages , from ​S​hismaref to ​S​haktoolik.

Alaskan immigration expert ​R​obin ​B​ronen ​recetly spoke at Harvard about her state​'​s "climate immigrants, " a term she ​said she ​prefers over ​''​climate refugees.​''​ A Harvard magazine piece about her quoted her as saying: "My profound concern is that when it comes to the forced movement of people caused by climate change, we have no models.''
An immigration attorney and a longtime Alaskan resident, Bronen went back to graduate in mid-life to research the question of whether political refugees, with whom she had previously worked, had any similarities to the population displacement that she saw happening in Alaska.
"There are no similarities between them because the full legal concept of a refugee means that the person cannot depend on their national government to protect them,"  Bronen said on her visit to Boston. "The government is either persecuting them or failing to address the persecution they're experiencing. When we talk about climate change and its impact on people, most people expect that their government is going to want to protect them, and most national governments do. In the early part of my work, I created the word 'climigration'' to describe the population displacement that was happening in Alaska. It means that people are being forced to leave their homes, but they're staying within their country of origin, they're not crossing international borders.​''
Bronen said that this isn't an issue that only impacts Alaska.

"It's going to be an issue for the [East Coast], for certain. There is no protection in place for Miami or southeast Florida," she said.


When Americans think of the West they often limit their defintion​s​
to places like Montana​,​ Wyoming​,​ Colorado​,​ and ​California. But Alaska is part of the West​,​ too​,​ and we had better get used to it. Novelists are already going there. National ​p​oliticians and ​W​ashin​gton ​policy ​wonks need to revisit  the ​L​ast ​F​rontier as well.

Trump, too.

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