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Sierra Club

It was 2002 when the residents of Shishmaref, Alaska, voted to move their entire town.

The writing was on the wall — or, perhaps more accurately, the water was splashing up between their toes.

The shores of their small island home off the western coast of Alaska had been eroding for decades, with anywhere between three and nine feet of shoreline being swallowed up by the Chukchi Sea on a good year.


In a bad year, it was closer to 23 feet.


Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

While their island status posed its own unique issues, Shishmaref was just one of the 31 Alaskan towns facing this exact same problem.

They put together an action plan for relocation and submitted it to the federal government.

It would be another two years until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed their own assessment of the situation. Based on their findings, it would cost an estimated $179 million dollars and between five and 15 years to move the 600 residents of Shishmaref to a new location on the Alaskan mainland. 11 potential new locations were then identified — but of course, that took some time as well.

Meanwhile, the town constructed a 200-foot long seawall to protect the northern coast of the island, a temporary solution to slow the effects of erosion while they awaited the bureaucratic process.


Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

By late 2006, they had settled on a new place to call home, Tin Creek, with a plan to move in April 2009.

The Tin Creek relocation area was just 12 miles across the inlet from Shishmaref, which meant that residents who relied on hunting and fishing would still have access to their same game spots.

While they waited for plans to fall into place, the residents of Shishmaref had to build two additional extensions to their protective seawall, bringing it all the way to 2,800 feet in length.


Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Sure, it sapped some of their already-limited resources to keep adding on to this temporary barrier in a place they wouldn't be for very much longer. But it was all worth it because the threat of rising sea-levels caused by melting polar ice caps in the increasingly-warmer Arctic climate would soon be a distant memory.

Or a 12-mile-away memory, anyway.

OK, well, technically it would still be all around them, but at least their homes wouldn't actually be falling into the water anymore ... right?


Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images.

It's 2015, and Shishmaref is still exactly where it's always been — only now it's an even smaller sliver of land.

It's not because they're stubborn or beholden to their homes. Frankly, there's no good reason for it at all, and there's no one thing to blame.

It could have something to do with the fact that the Tin Creek relocation area turned out to be a melting plot of permafrost that's facing the exact same problems as modern-day Shishmaref. Or it might have to do with the the cost of living in Alaska, which is already too high — especially in a place like Shishmaref, where 30% of people already live in poverty and a roundtrip ticket off the island costs nearly $400 per person.


Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Maybe they're still stuck there waiting for help that might never come because the funding for the relocation project all fell through — which in turn might have something to do with the fact that their only champion in Washington, D.C., was arrested.

Or it could be because federal relief funds are reserved for sudden natural disasters such as hurricanes, and rising water levels aren't considered an emergency because we've known about the disastrous effects of climate change for so long but have never done anything about it.

Personally, I think Occam's Razor makes the most sense and that the federal government simply can't be bothered to spend millions of dollars on a handful of poverty-stricken Inupiat in a remote corner of the country.

Whatever the reasoning, one thing is sure: We have left our fellow U.S. citizens to drown in the wake of a manmade disaster.


Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

It's only a matter of time before what happened to Shishmaref happens to the mainland United States.

That's not hyperbole. At the rate we're going, the coastal parts of the country, including California and New Jersey, are headed toward their own watery graves. Even if you feel safe in landlocked state, it'll still have disastrous results for the economy (and of course, the effects of climate change won't stop there).

So maybe, just maybe, it's time we do something about it?

Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images.

We can start by demanding that President Obama protect the Arctic Circle, which will maybe give our Alaskan neighbors a fighting chance before they're totally devoured by the Chukchi Sea. In turn, that might help slow the effects of climate change for the rest of us as well.

You can also support the Alaska Coastal Villages Relief Fund for the Support of Children and Families or give directly to any of the other Alaskan towns that could use your help to fund their relocation efforts.

Here's a trailer for a full-length documentary film titled "The Last Days of Shishmaref," in case you haven't seen enough:

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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Naturally, people are weighing in on the crisis, with some throwing out simplistic advice like, "Why don't you just do what people did before baby formula was invented and just breastfeed?"

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