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Watch President Obama Spotlight Alaska’s Sinking Island

Meet some of the residents of Kivalina, the 400-person Alaskan island town that’s receding into the ocean

As part of President Obama’s recent trip to Alaska to advocate for action against global climate change, he visited Kotzebue, a town of 3,200 in the Alaskan Arctic that, as Jeff Goodell reports for Rolling Stone, “is suffering from a climate-disaster trifecta of melting permafrost, rising seas and bigger storm surges.”

“One of the reasons I came up here is to really focus on what is probably the biggest challenge our planet faces. If there’s one thing that threatens opportunity and prosperity for everybody, wherever we live, it’s the threat of a changing climate,” the president said during a speech in the western Alaskan town. “I met Alaska Natives whose way of life, that they’ve practiced for centuries, is in danger of slipping away.”

“On my way here, I flew over the island of Kivalina, which is already receding into the ocean,” Obama continued. (He couldn’t actually visit Kivalina because the island’s only runway isn’t long enough to accommodate the president’s plane.) “Waves sweep across the island at times. And for many of those Alaskans, it’s no longer a question of if they’re gonna relocate, but when.”

In this exclusive video, meet some of the residents of Kivalina, the tiny island that’s sinking before their eyes, threatening their way of life. “We are people that are subsistence. We live off the land. We live off the ocean,” said Richard Sage, a member of the Kivalina IRA Council.

“This village is a barrier island – it’s ready to fall into the ocean,” said Jeremiah Kayoulik, a young Kivalina resident. “I heard ‘We need to move’ about 14 years [ago], ‘We need to move, we need to move.’ They never make it happen.”

As some of the island town’s leaders point out, moving Kivalina’s 400 residents to the mainland is no simple task; it’s expected to cost some $100 million.

“We need to change now, because the planet is changing,” said Sage,”and [you] never know how much longer before the planet is destroyed.”

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