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Shishmaref, before warming began the loss of permafrost into the ocean.  (Source: NOAA)

Shishmaref, after warming began the loss of permafrost into the ocean.  (Source: NOAA)

Shelton and Clara Kokeok fear every day that their home may soon slip into the ocean.  (Source: CNN.com)
One house falls into sea, others on verge of collapse, some choose to make the painful move inland

When the citizens of Shishmaref, Alaska, a tiny Inupiat Eskimo village, talk about global warming there's little doubt in their minds that it is occurring.  After all, the changing climate is threatening to permanently destroy their community.

Coastal erosion has long been an issue in the town, which is composed of homes built atop permafrost.  However, with the onset of rising temperatures, the anchoring permafrost has begun to melt and fall into the ocean in snowmobile-sized chunks, accelerating the loss of land to a pace unprecedented in recorded history.

The destructive trend caused one of the homes, built by-hand by the villagers, to plunge into the cool ocean waters.  Of the remaining homes, 13 were moved inland, with only a single home, built and owned by Shelton and Clara Kokeok, native residents, remaining.  Their home is on a tip of a bluff and may soon become the latest casualty.  Describes Shelton Kokeok, 65, "The land is going away.  I think it's going to vanish one of these days."

The loss of the village threatens to wipe out the Kokeoks' centuries-old culture, their unique language and the town's unique economy.  And they aren't the only one -- 11 other Alaskan villages are experiencing similar collapses due to warming.  For these people moving is no simple matter -- their homes and culture are built on an intimate time-honored relationship with the ocean that dates back to long before the days of white settlers on Alaskan soils.

Those losses are just the precursors to a worldwide disaster, claims the Environmental Justice Foundation in a new report.  The organization, among those calling for quick action to reduce emissions, says that rising sea levels may eventually make as many as 150 million people "climate refugees".

Three students from the village of Shishmaref will travel to Copenhagen to attend the UN climate talks and serve as first hand witnesses, trying to convince the international community to act. 

Moving the town hasn't been cheap.  It is estimated that the move will cost $200M USD to complete.  And there's reportedly a cost in human life.  Shelton's son Norman died while hunting on the ice in the first week in June.  The ice broke and he drowned.  Shelton blames warming, as the ice has traditionally been frozen at that time.




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