Marissa Knodel


Due to climate change, indigenous communities in Alaska are forced to develop in ways that adversely affect their livelihoods and culture. For example, decreases in sea ice, increases in the frequency of sea storms, and melting permafrost have so accelerated the erosion of one barrier island that an entire village faces relocation. These indigenous communities, which have contributed little to causing climate change, are limited in their ability to adapt. After examining three broad questions about the effects of climate change on indigenous communities, this Article reaches four preliminary conclusion about relocation as a climate adaptation strategy and its relations to climate justice. First, climate-induced impacts are symptomatic of ongoing social-historical processes that produce vulnerability and limit adaptive capacity. Second, by taking these processes into account, climate-induced relocation can benefit from utilizing local, indigenous knowledge and increasing community participation in relocation planning. Third, if relocation is viewed as contributing to community resilience, new opportunities to empower communities and collaborate with state and federal agencies are possible. Finally, reframing relocation as a climate justice issue broadens the discussion to include both its environmental and social-historical drivers.