Yale F&ES Visits Kivalina: Climate Change at the Tipping Point

Yale F&ES Visits Kivalina: Climate Change at the Tipping Point

Tomorrow, members of the class of F&ES851 Environmental Diplomacy Practicum will depart on a week-long research trip to the ultimate frontier: the Arctic. We will explore the social, economic, cultural and political implications of recent environmental changes for indigenous Inuit communities and their subsistence lifestyles.

Why the Arctic?

The Arctic is at several critical environmental, political, and social justice tipping points. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recognized the Arctic as a region of particular vulnerability to climatic changes. This summer, a NASA report found that the extent of Arctic sea ice dropped to 4.1 million square kilometers, a new record, with an additional decline in sea ice volume by 72 percent from the 1979-2010 mean. At the same time, the U.S. government’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement granted Royal Dutch Shell permission to begin drilling preparations in the Chukchi Sea in August 2012.

What implications do these particular vulnerabilities and potential for economic exploitation of Arctic resources have for the nations and communities of the North Pole in terms of economic, environmental, and social development?

In a landmark lawsuit, the native village of Kivalina filed suit against two dozen oil, coal, and power companies for their contributions of greenhouse gases to global warming, seeking monetary damages to assist in their removal from a barrier island on the Chukchi Sea. The prospect of permanent displacement due to climate change and the potential loss of an indigenous way of life are gradually displacing the polar bear and making the native villagers of Kivalina the new face of climate change in the Arctic.

The variety of economic, environmental, political, and human rights implications of decreasing Arctic sea ice will impact international environmental diplomacy in terms of access and ownership to Arctic sea routes and resources; responsibility for potential harms to the environment and wildlife; the acceleration of global warming through decreased albedo and the potential release of seabed methane; and the displacement of native peoples and the subsequent disappearance of their indigenous livelihoods.

Who Will We Meet?

To further explore these impacts, the Environmental Diplomacy Practicum class will travel to the village of Kivalina on the Chukchi Sea to see the immediate physical and human impacts of climate change-related displacement, find out how the village is adapting for both the short- and long-term, and what they hope to achieve from the lawsuit. We will be staying in the village school and meeting with local community groups including youth groups, fishermen, women, the elderly, teachers, miners, city council members, and legal representatives.

On the way to Kivalina, the class will first visit Anchorage, Alaska, where we plan to meet, question, and discuss the controversial implications of decreasing Arctic sea ice with parties holding differing perspectives, including NGO’s, research institutions, academic institutions, legal groups, and indigenous community networks. Specifically, these parties will include:
– Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL)
– Earth Justice
– Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Alaska Anchorage
– Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL)
– US Arctic Research Commission
– Center for Water Advocacy
– Alaska Big Village Network
– Alaska Community Action on Toxics
– World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Arctic Program

How Can You Stay Up-to-Date?

We recognize the importance of sharing our findings and experiences with members of the F&ES community and all of those interested. As part of our commitment to comply with this responsibility, we offer to communicate in real time via social media updates, written blogs, and video blogs. Upon our return from the trip, we will write and publish an article for Sage Magazine, as well as hold a public presentation/panel discussion, in addition to a screening of the documentary Kivalina v. Exxon

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