Special Section: Eric Wolf Prize papers 2011, edited by Joe Heyman

The political ecology of climate adaptation assistance: Alaska Natives, displacement, and relocation



Although much research on climate change has focused on its disproportionate effects on the Global South, communities—particularly indigenous populations—within "developed" nations in the Global North can also face significant effects and inadequate assistance. One example is the native village and city of Kivalina in northwest Alaska. Through a case study of Kivalina, this article explores the gaps in U.S. policy for relocating Alaska Natives due to the effects of climate change. There is currently no policy in place—within the United States or internationally—for the resettlement of communities displaced by climate change. And in the United States there is no lead agency in charge of relocating displaced communities, despite several U.S. government reports stating that at least four Alaska Native villages, including Kivalina, must be resettled due to warming Arctic temperatures and erosion. This leaves government agencies in charge of assisting villages like Kivalina, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, who are responsible for helping ensure Kivalina's safety but are not empowered to innovate new procedures and holistically address what is an unprecedented problem: climate change. This has left Kivalina in what is termed here an administrative orbit, with residents made to work their way through a patchwork of various government programs and procedures that are time-consuming and often insufficient. In exploring these intra-national inequities, this article examines how a protocol specifically designed for those displaced by climate change, such as "climigration," could be merged with existing government efforts around emergency management to help prevent disasters before they occur, and to protect at-risk communities like Kivalina.

Keywords: Disaster management, Alaska, environmentally induced migration, indigenous studies, resilience, displacement, relocation

How to Cite:

Shearer C., (2012) “The political ecology of climate adaptation assistance: Alaska Natives, displacement, and relocation”, Journal of Political Ecology 19(1). p.174-183. doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/v19i1.21725