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With three roads and a population of
just over five hundred people, Shishmaref,
Alaska, seems like an unlikely
center of the climate change debate.
But the island, home to Inupiaq Eskimos
who still live off subsistence harvesting, is
falling into the sea, and climate change
is, at least in part, to blame. While countries sputter and
stall over taking environmental action,
Shishmaref is out of time.
Publications from the New York
Times to Esquire have covered this disappearing
village, yet few have taken the
time to truly show the community and
the two millennia of traditions at risk.
In Fierce Climate, Sacred Ground, Elizabeth
Marino brings Shishmaref into
sharp focus as a place where people in
a close-knit, determined community
are confronting the realities of our
changing planet every day. She shows
how physical dangers challenge lives,
while the stress and uncertainty challenge
culture and identity. Marino also
draws on Shishmaref’s experiences to
show how disasters and the outcomes
of climate change often fall heaviest on
those already burdened with other social
risks and to communities that have
contributed least to the problem. Stirring
and sobering, Fierce Climate, Sacred
Ground proves that the consequences
of unchecked climate change are anything
A concise, powerful, and illuminating description of Shishmaref’s experience as a community, as a media magnet, as the object of extensive planning and discussion, and as an exemplar of climate change.
Six hundred people in the Inuit village of Shishmaref, on a barrier island just north of the Bering Strait about 60 miles north of Nome, have been watching their village slide into the sea. Increasing storm surges have been eroding more than 23 feet from the island's shoreline each year. With a warming climate, ice no longer holds back the increasingly turbulent sea that threatens the village with destruction. Several other Native Alaskan coastal villages face the same fate. . . . This is a story worth telling and reading. Recommended.
While journalists have publicized a great deal about Alaska Native communities, describing them with the now routine phrase, as ‘miners’ canaries’ of climate change, there have been few ethnographic accounts that capture the on-the-ground complexity of how communities in the north are responding to climate change. Elizabeth Marino’s pithy ethnography is a welcome addition to this body of literature.