Skip to main content

tv   Fault Lines  Al Jazeera  December 31, 2015 6:00pm-6:31pm EST

6:00 pm
>> i want the ballet world to be given the respect that it deserves. >> and global activists. >> i feel compelled to do it, because if i don't do it, who's going to do it. >> revealing conversations you won't find anywhere else. >> when i became aware of my surroundings, there was no electricity. it was quiet then. >> the land was wide. no dust. nothing but green grass, tall green grass, so pretty. it used to start freezing,
6:01 pm
beginning last part of october, from the edges. and then by january, the ocean ice is thick. >> those were the days when the ice formed to 30 feet thick, solid ice. and you trust that you're safe on the ice. and that it provided for you. things aren't the same anymore. >> when the big waves are coming in. i always watch those dogs down there. when they're scared. they always sense the bad weather. >> the temperatures in the arctic are rising faster than anywhere else in the world and that swift rise has brought dramatic changes to dozens of small alaska native villages along the coast. the thick ice that once
6:02 pm
protected them from storms is gone and as the earth warms, so does the land, now so soft that it crumbles into the water with each wave that hits the shore. >> last night i saw homes being thrashed in my mind's eye, falling into the land failure. that's why i couldn't fall asleep. >> the changes have pushed communities in alaska to face an impossible question - where do you go when forces beyond your control take your home? >> when it gets bad here, you can hear it and i know it's going to erode somewhere out there. the ocean gets rough. the ice really crumbles together and if you get stuck out there, then that's it. there's nothing you can do but find god.
6:03 pm
>> kivalina, alaska - 80 miles north of the arctic circle. we arrived during one of the busiest times of the year - the beginning of the fall storm season. >> so you guys have been working 12 hours days this past week? >> close to 12 hours. 10, 11 hours. >> a storm surge had hit just a few days before, and the village's emergency crew - all volunteers - had been working for days and nights, trying to make sure the waves didn't compromise the town's lifeline - the airport. >> every 5 minutes, we're losing half an inch, the bags were dropping half an inch. within the hour, we'd have to be setting a new bag on top because they were dropping so fast. we were losing ground over there.
6:04 pm
>> if the sandbags don't work, people here will lose their main way in and out of the village. >> we used to have slush out there in the ocean to break the waves before they come in but we don't have any cold weather for our fall storm right now. >> ice used to protect the shore, but it's forming later every year. and as temperatures rise, the layer of frozen soil underground permafrost is melting, and it's becoming easier for the waves to erode the land. >> i'm still looking at water, i'm still looking at rain. >> for rep, the receding ice has also meant challenges in his other job as a whaling captain. >> every spring time, we prepare to go out on the ice, try to get
6:05 pm
the bowhead whale. and the past maybe 5 years, the ice has been receding so bad that we've been only out there for a week or two. twenty years ago we were out there at least a month, month and a half. >> this is one of our daily lifestyles - frozen fish, uncooked, untouched. >> remeber you guys, pray. >> jesus...bless my food, amen. >> we've always lived on the land, the sea and the air. it's what we grew up on. >> do you think your kids will have the same experiences you have with being able to hunt and fish, and will that be a big part of their lives? >> i want them to learn now but the weather it's not how it used to be long ago. >> it's too warm,
6:06 pm
just too warm now. maybe we'll have to take them to new york to go hunting. they get lots of snow over there. go ride snow machines in new york (laughs). >> what does that mean for your culture? >> it's changing. it's really changing. >> when fall comes, yeah. it's hard for me to sleep. it's hard to sleep night-time when you can hear the waves, have a lot of kids that we have to evacuate. >> in the middle of a storm, there was 8-10 foot waves hitting that wall. my dad sat down me and my brother and he told us, 'you cannot leave this village.
6:07 pm
you have to save it. so no matter what, you cannot leave.' >> but saving the village is becoming harder, especially because the erosion is encroaching on kivalina from both sides of the island. sandbags only last for so long, so in 2008 a rock wall was built along the ocean's edge, to shield the village from storms. >> it's just that this island can't take anymore. can't take any more of the thrashing of the waves. >> kivalina is run by its city council, as well as its tribal government. millie hawley is the tribe's president. >> people say -- just move to anchorage or why can't you combine with another village >> that's like asking us to quit being a people. if we try to commingle or move, we will lose our identity, our culture.
6:08 pm
>> millie told us that the rock wall is just buying them time until they can figure out how to accomplish their real goal - relocating the entire village. but the question is where? across the lagoon on the mainland, there is a site the government says is safe, but it's miles away from the ocean. >> it would be difficult to harvest our marine mammals, mostly because it would cost more...burn more fuel to get out to the ocean. >> the village has found a site they want to move to, but the army corps of engineers says, it's prone to flooding-- meaning government agencies won't help fund the move. >> so the village is on their own to move to that site. (sighs) we don't have the resources to move the whole village to that site by ourselves. they would have to do it without any support. and that's where the divide is--
6:09 pm
western science and the traditional ecological knowledge. somewhere along the lines both sides have to compromise at some point. otherwise, you will lose 450 people. >> until they can find somewhere to move to, the focus is fighting to keep the sea from taking what land they have left. the crew was able to stop the erosion from reaching the airport. but that means state officials didn't declare a disaster and the city couldn't receive funds for help. >> if we didn't do anything the airport would've been gone now. and right now, we're preparing for the next storm. whether we get paid or not. we just can't sit and wait. we gotta save what we got left.
6:10 pm
6:11 pm
6:12 pm
>> mertarvik - meaning where we fetch water from. >> it's not just kivalina-- dozens of villages across alaska are threatened by shoreline erosion. we traveled 470 miles south to newtok--a yupik community off the coast of the bering sea. tom john is the tribal administrator for the village. >> where did this bank used to be? >> probably 2 miles out >> with erosion moving so quickly, newtok took a step no
6:13 pm
other village has been able to do--start relocating the entire community. tom and his grandson aidan took us to see the new site, 9 miles away. after evaluating a number of options and working to secure land from the federal government, this is where they voted to move to. >> so this is it? >> yeah, this is the new site called mertarvik. this is a safe place, away from nature's fury. >> the new village is situated on bedrock and high above sea level, but it's also close to hunting grounds the community knows and needs. piece by piece, it's being put together, but building this site is going to cost millions of dollars, and tom told us that finding money has been difficult
6:14 pm
and slow. >> that's the mec-- mertarvik evacuation center. foundation is only done so far. >> so they'll just sit unopened until construction is ready to start. >> yeah. >> when do you think that'll be? >> hopefully by a year or two. we have to find funding for it. >> so this is your grandson? >> do you think he'll go to high school here or will he go to high school in newtok? >> hopefully here. >> there's kids running around but they're just visiting because no kids live here yet cause there's no school. >> no, they're just visiting for now until the school opens. >> but until a school does open, it'll be hard for families with kids to move, and until there's 25 families, they won't even have mail service. and in order to have enough
6:15 pm
people here, they need funding for more houses. >> how long do you think it will take for this to be a fully functioning village? >> probably in 15 years. if superman was here, we could have a city by tomorrow. (laughs) >> if newtok can find the money to build enough homes and move families over, it could unlock the door to building other infrastructure the community needs. but until then, mertarvik feels far in the future. and for newtok, it needs to happen now. the erosion is encroaching on the village at an average of 72 feet a year. the school's 10th
6:16 pm
grade science class took us with them to see how much land they lost after a recent storm. it's part of their ongoing project to keep track of the erosion. >> 55 feet, 8 inches. >> so when were these measurements taken? >> these measurements were taken in september, probably about mid-way through. >> so just a month later, you've gone from 83 feet to 55 feet? >> yeah. >> alright, let's head back. >> the big issue is that we don't have any governance capacity to relocate populations within a country because of environmental change. relocation is not part of our disaster framework.
6:17 pm
so, our disaster framework right now is pretty much based on a concept of repairing and rebuilding in the place where that disaster occurs which, with climate change, is completely unrealistic. >> no one agency has the funding available for a relocation, so state officials have been trying to find money where they can. in anchorage, we went to talk to sally cox, who's been working with newtok to secure funding for new homes through a federal grant. >> floor 50, going down. >> the community had to have had damages during presidentially declared disasters between 2011 and 2013. >> newtok is part of that, but not kivalina isn't. >> exactly. so even though they were a communitty that could certainly have benefitted from this funding, we couldn't get them to qualify.
6:18 pm
>> a disaster has to happen before any help kicks in. what the community is trying to do is prevent a disaster. >> well that's another policy issue i think that we're contending with is that all of our funding right now goes to communities for these types of issues is really based on response and it's not proactive. you go out for grants to trigger those funding streams that take place and that's basically what we've done with newtok. >> so you're finding pots of money here and there, through grants, it's very piecemeal. >> right, it's very piecemeal and you have to be very opportunistic about it. >> in an effort to streamline things, the white house recently named a federal agency--the denali commission--to help communities in alaska deal with climate change. but the head of commission told us they won't be relocating villages like newtok - or even provide the direct funding for relocations. their role is to coordinate between the different agencies involved.
6:19 pm
>> when you look at the coastal villages that are in danger right now, do you see a clear order or priority and need? >> no. i do not. but if funds are going to be appropriated for this purpose, there needs to be a methodology that defines who should go first. >> is it by necessity a competition? >> yes. it is by necessity a competition. i don't believe that there will be funds available all at one time, so it will have to be successive in order to accomplish this. and it could well be that the mixture between safety and risk of infrastructure and cost analysis may end up with some communities with very challenging relocation or adaptation strategies being hard to serve. >> and what do you do for those communities then? >> that's the question. that's a tough question to answer. i think what we do is we just
6:20 pm
continue seeing how far the need is and how far the funding will take us. this may take decades. >> do communities have that much time? >> i don't know. >> right now, the army corps of engineers predicts the erosion in newtok will reach the school, the highest point in the village by 2017. >> the erosion is accelerating and the funding is really slow. seems like nature and the land is not waiting for the funds. >> you have all these different government agencies from the
6:21 pm
tribe, to the state to the federal government saying, 'yes the relocation needs to happen,' but no government agency actually has the responsibility to do it. we're getting these warning signs that we really need to figure this out now and my concern is that we won't and that you know, what's happened with newtok, shishmaref and kivalina will be the fate of other communities on the coast in the us for certain, and the only question is 'when'.
6:22 pm
6:23 pm
>> whoever say that global
6:24 pm
warming does not exist-- that is not true. somebody must be living in a big city without walking out to tundra or going to small villages. >> even if kivalina could find a place to move with government support, that wouldn't stop the ice receding and the changes it's brought to their way of life. although goals have been set internationally to limit emissions, it's still unclear how or when those targets will actually be met, and if they'll be able to reverse the tide with so much opposition from congress. >> we simply disagree with the president on the urgency of the issue. >>the pseudoscience behind the man-made climate change threat... >> climate change has happened since god created our earth. >> it's hard to imagine a day when the erosion stops. >> they're the ones who put our people here. on this sand spit.
6:25 pm
the government came and built a school. and forced them to move. you can't adapt anymore, you just got to get out of the way. >> colleen swan has worked in kivalina's city government and also served as tribal administrator for many years. >> you can't expect to accomplish very much when somebody else is in control. you're very limited in what you can do. >> with so many hurdles to accessing government funding and constant inaction in congress, kivalina tried a different path to combat the island's erosion. in 2008, they sued the top oil, coal and utility companies for damages from emissions. >> why did you pursue a lawsuit against the oil companies? >> because they did all this damage to the planet they should probably pay for it. i mean, you go out there and you mess up something, you're expected to pay as an individual. >> a year later, the court
6:26 pm
dismissed the case saying it was a political, not legal matter, so the community appealed. lucy adams, an elder of kivalina, traveled to san francisco during the case and brought seal skins she worked on to show the changes she's seen from the rising temperatures. >> if the weather is warm, it won't turn out white. it has to be frozen from cold weather all the time. it won't turn out if it's warm weather, never. >> ultimately the appeals court, sitting thousands of miles away in california, threw out the case, saying it was a matter for congress, leaving the village basically back where they started. >> remember we always elect leaders. we always try to choose people who we think will help us when there's an election. but sometimes some of them, when they win, they change around,
6:27 pm
forget their promises to help people. >> what about holding the oil companies responsible and holding people who pollute responsible if it's causing global warming? >> whose job is that? sometimes i always think this way. i'm talking for nothing, nothing is changing. why talk... if they won't help? >> last fall we had a minor storm you know the fall storm. and i just stood on my porch and it was pitch black, listening to the roar of the ocean. and so i decided i'm just gonna
6:28 pm
go back to bed and sleep it out. and it felt good. it felt good to just for once not worry about being washed away or losing land. but the next morning i woke up and i went around to see what kind of damage was done. you know, i thought of the climate deniers. this is what they enjoy. go to sleep, believing that climate is not changing. >> we're people! we're human people! we need help.
6:29 pm
we're not animals. i always say that, when they can't hear what we're saying. we want our children to live. we don't want them to float around above the water with no help at all. why don't somebody think we're humans too? i wish somebody could think that way. >> elderly americans addicted to painkillers prescribed by doctors. >> have you ever thought about going off of your painkiller dosage? >> no. i don't know if i'd have the courage to stop it. >> but is it leading to abuse more than it's helping. >> he would prescribe what he felt was appropriate...
6:30 pm
the result, she died. >> faultlines checks into rehab to investigate who's responsible for the hidden epidemic. >> i was just doin' what the doctor's told me to do. but for the youngest drivers the digital natives who had a cell known in their hand since they were little, it heightens the elevated dangers for them and other motorists on the road with them. driven to distraction - it's tonight's "inside story". welcome to "inside story", i'm ray suarez.