Alaska’s Big Thaw

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2013
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You could be forgiven for thinking that the freezing wilderness of Alaska would be one of the last places on earth to feel the impacts of global warming.

Instead, climate change scientists say that Alaska is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet. Erosion, flooding, and a drastically changing landscape are putting locals at the forefront of a crisis.

“It’s changing. The ice is getting thinner. Warming up early. Getting cold late. Summer is snowing; winter is raining.”

The native Alaskan community of Newtok is predicted to be underwater by 2017 and locals like Reppi Swan say it’s getting harder and harder to hunt because of the rapidly disappearing ice. There are 23,000 glaciers in Alaska, and glaciologist Tad Pfeffer believes they are all shrinking.

“Every day I wake up and look out my window and think, ‘wow this is scary’,” says Robin Bronen, a local of 25 years.

As the imperative to relocate whole communities grows stronger, anxieties over the lack of government funds or action are causing growing anger. In response locals have started filing lawsuits against the oil companies they hold responsible for the rising temperatures.

“The government aren’t dealing with the problem. Our lawsuit is going to the source”, argues resident Colleen Swan.

Has Alaska already reached the tipping point? Aaron Thomas investigates the consequences of Alaska’s big thaw.

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