Disappearing Alaska village takes climate suit to Ninth Circuit

The Native Alaskan coastal village of Kivalina, its lands rapidly eroding, is appealing a lawsuit against oil, power and coal companies, charging that climate change endangers their community. The town of Kivalina and a federally recognized tribe, the Alaska Native village of Kivalina, filed the case in federal court in San Francisco in 2008, but it was dismissed in October. The appeal has been filed with the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals. ExxonMobil and BP are among two dozen defendants named in the suit.

Kivalina’s attorney, Matt Pawa, said the plaintiffs want monetary damages to help with the estimated $400 million cost to relocate the northwest Alaska village. Residents have chosen a relocation site, an area known as Kiniktuuraq, about two miles southeast of the current location.

Kivalina is a traditional Inupiat Eskimo community of some 390 people about 625 miles northwest of Anchorage. It is built on an 8-mile barrier reef between the Kivalina River and Chukchi Sea. Sea ice has historically protected the village, whose economy is based on salmon fishing with subsistence hunting of whale, seal, walrus and caribou. But the ice is now forming later and melting sooner, leaving the village unprotected from fall and winter storm waves and surges.

“The village is being wiped out by global warming and needs to move urgently before it is destroyed and the residents become global warming refugees,” Pawa said. “It’s battered by winter storms and if residents don’t get some money to move, the village will cease to exist.”

In dismissing the case, the district court cited the question of whether “causal effect” of global warming could be demonstrated. “We’re appealing on the grounds the district court was incorrect,” Pawa said. Damage to Kivalina from climate change has been documented in official reports by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the General Accounting Office, he added. The suit accuses some defendants of a conspiracy to mislead the public regarding the causes and consequences of climate change. (Indian Country Today, Feb. 5)

See our last posts on the climate crisis and the struggle in Alaska.

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