Some head to higher ground within their own country; others try their luck in new lands. In Alaska, it’s the former. As temperatures there have risen twice as fast as the global average over the past half century, native coastal communities established decades ago on permafrost—a once permanently frozen layer of subsoil—are washing away as the land beneath them thaws and erodes into the sea. President Obama visited one of these towns, Kotzebue, earlier this month. For several areas, relocation is the only option remaining to protect residents as the ground beneath their homes crumbles. “This is a true example of running down the clock,” says Danielle Baussan, the Center for American Progress’ managing director of energy policy, who has looked into domestic impacts of climate displacement. “Some of these communities are predicted to be underwater by 2017.”
People move for many reasons: work, school, family, to seek out the bright lights of the big city or to escape them. But as temperatures rise and global warming continues to manifest itself in rising seas, coastal erosion, and more severe droughts, floods, and storms, climate change is becoming increasingly intertwined in the reasoning behind why people pick up and leave.