This American town is being swallowed by the sea, and there's no one stepping up to save the people.
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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:

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less