The Trump administration’s moves to dismantle climate adaptation programs could have concrete effects on Alaskan towns already facing rising sea levels and other problems resulting from climate change. With plans to dismantle programs such as the Denali Commission, an agency that works to protect or relocate towns before they are lost to rising sea levels, storms, and melting sea ice, the administration has left Alaskan communities with no clear path forward.
Already, federal assistance has been slow to arrive for these communities, but now the administration appears to me halting these efforts completely. Interior department official Joel Clement, who worked towards climate adaptation for Alaskans, said he was transferred into an unrelated post as a result of the administration’s climate change skepticism.
“We were getting down to the brass tacks of relocation [of towns at risk] and now work has just stopped,” he said, speaking to the Guardian.
“Without federal coordination from Washington DC, there isn’t much hope. This will take millions of dollars and will take years, and these people don’t have years. I think it’s clear I was moved because of my climate work. It feels like a complete abdication of responsibility on climate change.”
Clement has also filed an official complaint in response to the reassignment.
The Army Corps of Engineers has said 31 Alaskan towns are facing “imminent” and existential threats as a result of coastline erosion and flooding, with temperatures there rising twice as fast as the global average. Several towns, including Kivalina, Newtok, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik are said to be particularly vulnerable, and in need of relocation. Shishmaref, which is located on a barrier island, voted to relocate to the mainland, but found no source of funding to do so. In January, Newtok, which loses 70 feet of land to erosion each year, requested disaster funding to relocate.
The Denali Commission is still working on plans to save communities like these, but has been earmarked for elimination by the administration.
Joel Neimeyer, federal co-chair of the commission, said they would continue their work until Congress made a final decision, adding:
“This is about how to put a blueprint in place to fund [re]location when disaster hits. If Hurricane Katrina was going to hit you and you had a year to prepare, could you come up with a plan that would shorten the pain and suffering? I believe the answer is yes.”