Climate Change in Nuiqsut, Alaska Strategies for Community Health
Climate change refers to change over time due to natural variability or as a result of human activity (IPCC, 2008). Today the term is mostly used to describe global changes caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the warming effect caused by the transfer of enormous quantities of carbon dioxide from the earth to the air. But climate change also has local implications and communities seek adaptive strategies that encourage wellness and sustainability. The North Slope of Alaska is characterized by permafrost and ice. The wildlife, vegetation and people have specially adapted to live in an environment that is mostly cold and frozen. But because of warming, the environment is rapidly changing and a new Arctic is emerging, characterized by thawing land, open water and a longer warm season. For residents of the North Slope this means new challenges in building and maintaining infrastructure, for providing local services, collecting food and water, and safely navigating the land and seascape. It also means new opportunities for subsistence, land use, transportation, commerce and development. Understanding local effects is the rst step in nding a healthy course through the changes and challenges ahead.
Nuiqsut residents recalled the lessons of their elders, who told them about a time to come that would bring warming and hardship (Annie Lampe; Archie Ahkiviana). Similar premonitions have been reported in other villages across the North Slope. Climate change is occurring now and is certainly bringing new challenges to traditional ways of life. But in some ways and in some places, it is also bringing new opportunity. Understanding local impact of climate change is important for assessing both the negative and positive effects, and for developing appropriate adaptation strategies. Residents report unprecedented changes to the weather, seasons, land and seascape, plants, wildlife and infrastructure with important implications for public health. These change raise new concerns about food and water security, safety and mental health related to the stress of adapting to a new climate and changing environment.