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Episode 30: Climate change, uncertain future

By KTVA Alaska 6:23 PM November 22, 2015

The impact of climate change on Alaska can be an overwhelming subject. But this week on Frontiers, we take a few bites out of it.

KTVA anchor Emily Carlson and photojournalist Carolyn Hall spent a week in the Northwest Arctic community of Kivalina, where rapid erosion threatens its very existence.

They heard about changes in seal migration patterns caused by declining ice, which, in turn, threatens the culture of the people. Without the animals, elders say, how will they pass on their traditions to the younger generation?

Emily and Carolyn also captured what it’s like to be a community in limbo, where there’s no appetite to invest in deteriorating infrastructure, but also no funding to move to a new location.

Or when there is funding, there’s always a Catch-22. Kivalina, for example, has money for a new school to be built on higher ground but none for a road to get there. Another paradox: federal assistance is available after a disaster has occurred but not necessarily to prevent it — which might save money in the long run.

One of our guests this week is Michael Black, director of rural utility management for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. He gives us an overview of some of the growing costs of climate change elsewhere in Alaska — such as river erosion, which degrades water supplies, and shifting permafrost, which causes water and sewer systems to fail.

Black has the unique perspective of having headed up former Gov. Sarah Palin’s sub-cabinet on climate change. The group prioritized communities for relocation and began the process of identifying the consequences of warming temperatures in the Arctic. They also developed plans to mitigate the impacts. The sub-cabinet went dormant during former Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration.

Also joining us on Frontiers is Robin Bronen, director of the Alaska Institute for Justice, which has been looking at the human rights issues that may arise in some of the proposed relocations. Bronen would like to see more coordination of agency responses to climate change.

In a Web Extra interview, Black and Bronen go into more depth about the consequences of climate change and how we might respond.

We talk a lot about frontiers on this show. Adapting to climate change may well be one of the biggest and most challenging frontiers our state has ever faced.

This program only looks at the tip of the iceberg. The underlying issues are huge and make for an uncertain future for many communities across the state. We hope we can revisit this issue in the future.

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