This article compares migration options in Shishmaref, Alaska and Nanumea, Tuvalu as responses to increasing risk of disaster. In both communities, increasing hazards and risks are associated with climate change—making the communities some of the first to be identified as environmental migrants or “climate refugees.” In both cases, what residents, researchers, and other stakeholders fear is that a large disaster will take lives and destroy critical infrastructure, causing communities to be displaced. However, we argue that migration pressures as a result of habitual disasters and increasing hazards interact with other migration pressures on the ground. In the lived experiences of residents, forced displacements and voluntary migrations are not so easily separated but are complex decisions made by individuals, families, and communities in response to discourses of risk, deteriorating infrastructure, and other economic and social pressures. Ultimately, residents make choices under constrained inventories of possibility and climate change adaptation and disaster mitigation strategies must consider these complex lived experiences in order to be successful.

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