I must have had 50 people mail me various versions of the NY Times story on the citizens of Newtok, Alaska who had to abandon their homes due to melting permafrost that made their structures unstable. Most of the emails came with a message such as “explain this away, skeptic boy.”
Generally I had two answers:
- Uh, it is kind of hard to deny that the Artic has warmed over the last 30 years, though that has leveled off in the last 10. Climate changed naturally long before man began burning hydrocarbons. One only has to consider the great cities of North Africa that have disappeared over the centuries as the area dried up to give the lie to the statement that “climate refugees” are a modern phenomenon. Anyone ever hear about the Norsemen abandoning Greenland?
- I have been to the North Slope, and my dad was heavily involved in the planning for the Alaskan oil fields and pipeline. And I can say with confidence that modern human habitations have to be very, very, very careful not to melt the permafrost both with their waste heat as well as by actions that strip insulating cover off the permafrost.
Greg Schiller covers this ground, and more, as he reveals that the real culprit in Newtok appears to be normal everyday riverbank erosion, and a state government that insisted on building a town in this particular location.