The Real-Life Engees: Alaskan Communities On The Edge

Blue Karma keeps coming true. Last week’s an Alaskan company announced plans to ship water to California’s drought zones; now this evening, I watched an NBC Nightly News feature about Alaskan communities poised to become America’s first climate change refugees.

Rising seas and shrinking coastlines mean flood and erosion, which may drive residents inland. Government estimates place the cost of relocation at $300,000 per villager, but the price is not only financial; it’s cultural as well. These towns are home to many Inuit families who rely on access to marine resources. Moving would disrupt the way of life they’ve maintained for generations.

Residents of Kotzebue, Alaska, and other towns like it may become America’s first climate change refugees.

In Blue Karma I envisioned a near future where this plight was so common, people had developed a vocabulary shortcut for the issue. Thus I coined the term “engee”, a portmanteau of “environmental refugee”. I never imagined applying the term in a real-life context so soon after dreaming it up, but that’s exactly what’s happening. One good storm and inhabitants of places like Kotzebue and Shishmaref will have the dubious distinction of being America’s first engees.

I don’t say this out of narcissism, or to claim some badge of clever prognostication. I say it to raise awareness about a nascent crisis threatening to alter lives and reshape geography across the US and the world. Entire towns–their history, their architecture, their people, their culture–might simply disappear from the map. It’s painful to imagine a place effaced like that. We can hope that a plight of this magnitude might urge action on climate change, but even that may be too late to make the waves recede.

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