Freedom in the world by aggregate score, 2018. Graphic: Freedom House

By Michael J. Abramowitz
18 January 2018

(Freedom House) – Political rights and civil liberties around the world deteriorated to their lowest point in more than a decade in 2017, extending a period characterized by emboldened autocrats, beleaguered democracies, and the United States’ withdrawal from its leadership role in the global struggle for human freedom.

Democracy is in crisis. The values it embodies—particularly the right to choose leaders in free and fair elections, freedom of the press, and the rule of law—are under assault and in retreat globally.

A quarter-century ago, at the end of the Cold War, it appeared that totalitarianism had at last been vanquished and liberal democracy had won the great ideological battle of the 20th century.

Today, it is democracy that finds itself battered and weakened. For the 12th consecutive year, according to Freedom in the World, countries that suffered democratic setbacks outnumbered those that registered gains. States that a decade ago seemed like promising success stories—Turkey and Hungary, for example—are sliding into authoritarian rule. The military in Myanmar, which began a limited democratic opening in 2010, executed a shocking campaign of ethnic cleansing in 2017 and rebuffed international criticism of its actions. Meanwhile, the world’s most powerful democracies are mired in seemingly intractable problems at home, including social and economic disparities, partisan fragmentation, terrorist attacks, and an influx of refugees that has strained alliances and increased fears of the “other.”

Twelve years of decline in world freedom: number of countries that declined and improved, 2006-2017. Graphic: Freedom House

The challenges within democratic states have fueled the rise of populist leaders who appeal to anti-immigrant sentiment and give short shrift to fundamental civil and political liberties. Right-wing populists gained votes and parliamentary seats in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria during 2017. While they were kept out of government in all but Austria, their success at the polls helped to weaken established parties on both the right and left. Centrist newcomer Emmanuel Macron handily won the French presidency, but in Germany and the Netherlands, mainstream parties struggled to create stable governing coalitions.

Perhaps worst of all, and most worrisome for the future, young people, who have little memory of the long struggles against fascism and communism, may be losing faith and interest in the democratic project. The very idea of democracy and its promotion has been tarnished among many, contributing to a dangerous apathy.

The retreat of democracies is troubling enough. Yet at the same time, the world’s leading autocracies, China and Russia, have seized the opportunity not only to step up internal repression but also to export their malign influence to other countries, which are increasingly copying their behavior and adopting their disdain for democracy. A confident Chinese president Xi Jinping recently proclaimed that China is “blazing a new trail” for developing countries to follow. It is a path that includes politicized courts, intolerance for dissent, and predetermined elections.

The spread of antidemocratic practices around the world is not merely a setback for fundamental freedoms. It poses economic and security risks. When more countries are free, all countries—including the United States—are safer and more prosperous. When more countries are autocratic and repressive, treaties and alliances crumble, nations and entire regions become unstable, and violent extremists have greater room to operate.

Democratic governments allow people to help set the rules to which all must adhere, and have a say in the direction of their lives and work. This fosters a broader respect for peace, fair play, and compromise. Autocrats impose arbitrary rules on their citizens while ignoring all constraints themselves, spurring a vicious circle of abuse and radicalization.

A decade of of declines in world freedom: countries in which freedom declined, 2006-2017. Graphic: Freedom House

Percentage of Free, Partly Free, and Not Free countries, 1987-2017. After years of major gains, the share of Free countries has declined over the past decade, while the share of Not Free countries has risen. Graphic: Freedom House

The United States accelerates its withdrawal from the democracy struggle

A long list of troubling developments around the world contributed to the global decline in 2017, but perhaps most striking was the accelerating withdrawal of the United States from its historical commitment to promoting and supporting democracy. The potent challenge from authoritarian regimes made the United States’ abdication of its traditional role all the more important.

Despite the U.S. government’s mistakes—and there have been many—the American people and their leaders have generally understood that standing up for the rights of others is both a moral imperative and beneficial to themselves. But two long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and a global recession soured the public on extensive international engagement, and the perceived link between democracy promotion on the one hand and military interventions and financial costs on the other has had a lasting impact.

The Obama administration continued to defend democratic ideals in its foreign policy statements, but its actions often fell short, reflecting a reduced estimation of the United States’ ability to influence world events and of the American public’s willingness to back such efforts.

In 2017, however, the Trump administration made explicit—in both words and actions—its intention to cast off principles that have guided U.S. policy and formed the basis for American leadership over the past seven decades.

President Trump’s “America First” slogan, originally coined by isolationists seeking to block U.S. involvement in the war against fascism, targeted traditional notions of collective global security and mutually beneficial trade. The administration’s hostility and skepticism toward binding international agreements on the environment, arms control, and other topics confirmed that a reorientation was taking shape.

Even when he chose to acknowledge America’s treaty alliances with fellow democracies, the president spoke of cultural or civilizational ties rather than shared recognition of universal rights; his trips abroad rarely featured any mention of the word “democracy.” Indeed, the American leader expressed feelings of admiration and even personal friendship for some of the world’s most loathsome strongmen and dictators.

This marks a sharp break from other U.S. presidents in the postwar period, who cooperated with certain authoritarian regimes for strategic reasons but never wavered from a commitment to democracy as the best form of government and the animating force behind American foreign policy. It also reflects an inability—or unwillingness—by the United States to lead democracies in effectively confronting the growing threat from Russia and China, and from the other states that have come to emulate their authoritarian approach.

Democratic norms erode within the United States

The past year brought further, faster erosion of America’s own democratic standards than at any other time in memory, damaging its international credibility as a champion of good governance and human rights.

The United States has experienced a series of setbacks in the conduct of elections and criminal justice over the past decade—under leadership from both major political parties—but in 2017 its core institutions were attacked by an administration that rejects established norms of ethical conduct across many fields of activity. President Trump himself has mingled the concerns of his business empire with his role as president, appointed family members to his senior staff, filled other high positions with lobbyists and representatives of special interests, and refused to abide by disclosure and transparency practices observed by his predecessors.

Freedom score of the U.S., 2008-2017. The year 2017 brought further, faster erosion of America's own democratic standards, damaging its credibility as a champion of good governance and human rights. Graphic: Freedom House

The president has also lambasted and threatened the media—including sharp jabs at individual journalists—for challenging his routinely false statements, spoken disdainfully of judges who blocked his decisions, and attacked the professional staff of law enforcement and intelligence agencies. He signals contempt for Muslims and Latin American immigrants and singles out some African Americans for vitriolic criticism. He pardoned a sheriff convicted of ignoring federal court orders to halt racially discriminatory policies and issued an executive order restricting travel to the United States from a group of Muslim-majority countries after making a campaign promise to ban all foreign Muslims from the United States. And at a time when millions around the world have been forced to flee war, terrorism, and ethnic cleansing, President Trump moved to implement major reductions in the number of legal immigrants and refugees that the United States would accept.

The president’s behavior stems in part from a frustration with the country’s democratic checks and balances, including the independent courts, a coequal legislative branch, the free press, and an active civil society. These institutions remained fairly resilient in 2017, but the administration’s statements and actions could ultimately leave them weakened, with serious consequences for the health of U.S. democracy and America’s role in the world.

China and Russia expand their antidemocratic influence

While the United States and other democratic powers grappled with domestic problems and argued about foreign policy priorities, the world’s leading autocracies—Russia and China—continued to make headway. Moscow and Beijing are single-minded in their identification of democracy as a threat to their oppressive regimes, and they work relentlessly, with increasing sophistication, to undermine its institutions and cripple its principal advocates.

The eventual outcome of these trends, if unchecked, is obvious. The replacement of global democratic norms with authoritarian practices will mean more elections in which the incumbent’s victory is a foregone conclusion. It will mean a media landscape dominated by propaganda mouthpieces that marginalize the opposition while presenting the leader as omniscient, strong, and devoted to national aggrandizement. It will mean state control over the internet and social media through both censorship and active manipulation that promotes the regime’s message while confusing users with lies and fakery. And it will mean more corruption, injustice, and impunity for state abuses.

Already, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has carried out disinformation campaigns before elections in countries including the United States, France, and Germany, cultivated ties to xenophobic political parties across Europe, threatened or invaded its closest neighbors, and served as an alternative source of military aid for Middle Eastern dictatorships. Its chief goal is to disrupt democratic states and fracture the institutions—such as the European Union—that bind them together.

Beijing has even greater ambitions—and the resources to achieve them. It has built up a propaganda and censorship apparatus with global reach, used economic and other ties to influence democracies like Australia and New Zealand, compelled various countries to repatriate Chinese citizens seeking refuge abroad, and provided diplomatic and material support to repressive governments from Southeast Asia to Africa. Moscow often plays the role of spoiler, bolstering its position by undercutting its adversaries, but the scope and depth of Beijing’s activities show that the Chinese regime aspires to truly global leadership.

Corrupt and repressive states threaten global stability

The past year provided ample evidence that undemocratic rule itself can be catastrophic for regional and global stability, with or without active interference from major powers like Russia and China.

In Myanmar, the politically dominant military conducted a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Muslim Rohingya minority, enabled by diplomatic cover from China and an impotent response from the rest of the international community. Some 600,000 people have been pushed out, while thousands of others are thought to have been killed. The refugees have strained the resources of an already fragile Bangladesh, and Islamist militants have sought to adopt the Rohingya cause as a new rallying point for violent struggle.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan broadened and intensified the crackdown on his perceived opponents that began after a failed 2016 coup attempt. In addition to its dire consequences for detained Turkish citizens, shuttered media outlets, and seized businesses, the chaotic purge has become intertwined with an offensive against the Kurdish minority, which in turn has fueled Turkey’s diplomatic and military interventions in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, authoritarian rulers in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt asserted their interests in reckless ways that perpetuated long-running conflicts in Libya and Yemen and initiated a sudden attempt to blockade Qatar, a hub of international trade and transportation. Their similarly repressive archrival, Iran, played its own part in the region’s conflicts, overseeing militia networks that stretched from Lebanon to Afghanistan. Promises of reform from a powerful new crown prince in Saudi Arabia added an unexpected variable in a region that has long resisted greater openness, though his nascent social and economic changes were accompanied by hundreds of arbitrary arrests and aggressive moves against potential rivals, and he showed no inclination to open the political system. [more]

Freedom in the World 2018: Democracy in Crisis

The National Park Service Advisory Board members who quit en masse on 16 January 2018 said they tried unsuccessfully to engage with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, seen here at an event in December 2017 in Salt Lake City. Photo: George Frey / Getty Images

By Juliet Eilperin
16 January 2018

(The Washington Post) – Three-quarters of the members of a federally chartered board advising the National Park Service abruptly quit Monday night out of frustration that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had refused to meet with them or convene a single meeting last year.

The resignation of nine out of 12 National Park System Advisory Board members leaves the federal government without a functioning body to designate national historic or natural landmarks. It also underscores the extent to which federal advisory bodies have become marginalized under the Trump administration. In May 2017, Zinke suspended all outside committees while his staff reviewed their composition and work.

In a letter to the secretary, departing board chairman Tony Knowles, a former Alaska governor, wrote that he and eight other members “have stood by waiting for the chance to meet and continue the partnership … as prescribed by law.” All of the signatories had terms set to expire in May.

“We understand the complexity of transition but our requests to engage have been ignored and the matters on which we wanted to brief the new Department team are clearly not part of its agenda,” Knowles wrote. “I wish the National Park System and Service well and will always be dedicated to their success.”

In an email earlier this month inquiring about the status of the more than 200 boards that had come under review, Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said, “Boards have restarted.” She did not provide any further details and did not respond to an inquiry Tuesday. […]

“It’s concerning that our advisory council has been unable to meet for over a year,” said Scott Braden, a member of the Rocky Mountain RAC who is a wilderness and public lands advocate at Conservation Colorado. “Secretary Zinke has said that local input is important for BLM to consider, and yet these councils, which provide just such input, have been sidelined.” […]

The National Park System Advisory Board, which was established in 1935, has typically included social and natural science academics as well as former elected officials from both parties. In recent years, it has advised Interior on how to address climate change, among other issues, and how to encourage younger visitors to frequent the parks. [more]

Nearly all members of National Park Service advisory panel resign in frustration

Morris Hylton III, director of the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Florida, is using 3-D scanning and computer modeling to illustrate what may happen to the state’s historic buildings as sea levels rise. Photo: Morris Hylton III / University of Florida

By Dale White and Dinah Voyles Pulver
7 January 2018

GAINESVILLE, Florida (The Gainesville Sun) – What do St. Augustine's Castillo de San Marcos and Egmont Key near Tampa have in common? They are two of thousands of Florida's heritage sites that are vulnerable to rising seas. "Jupiter Lighthouse, Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West, Fort Jefferson and Fort Pickens in Pensacola — all of these places are threatened," said Clay Henderson, executive director of Stetson University's Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience.

The Castillo de San Marcos withstood two sieges in 330 years and changed hands five times, but its latest invader — the rising Atlantic Ocean — threatens to erode the historic St. Augustine fortress.

The coquina shell walls of the oldest masonry fort in the United States once absorbed cannonballs but will be susceptible to the buffetings of the sea.

On the other side of the state, Egmont Key was named one of the state's 11 most endangered places this year by the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation because rising seas threaten to submerge the island. Just outside Tampa Bay in the Gulf of Mexico, the island holds sacred significance for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, as well as the ruins of another Spanish-American era fort, but its elevation is just six feet.

"It's the first project that we've placed on our annual endangered list because it's endangered by sea level rise," said Clay Henderson, who was president of the trust when the key was added to the list earlier this year.

Like the St. Augustine fort and Egmont Key, thousands of Florida's heritage sites are vulnerable to rising seas, said Henderson, executive director of Stetson University's Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience. "Jupiter Lighthouse, Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West, Fort Jefferson and Fort Pickens in Pensacola — all of these places are threatened."

"When you look at St. Augustine, the oldest city in existence in our country, and it's flooded twice in the last year, these are real threats," he said. "They're no longer academic and off in the future. They're in real time." […]

Federal scientists say seas in parts of Florida have risen at a rate of about a third of an inch a year over the past decade. Mid-range forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicate seas could rise anywhere from 13 to 39 inches in Florida by 2070 and as much as 72 inches by 2100.

Native American burial mounds, antebellum mansions, cemeteries, cracker-era cabins, and even examples of more contemporary but unique-to-Florida architecture could be submerged if they are not somehow salvaged.

Not everything will be saved, said Lorrie Muldowney, a trust board member and former head of Sarasota County's Historical Resources Department. "We're not going to move everything. We'll have to make choices." [more]

Coastal waters threaten Florida's historic resources

A mother turtle nests on a pile of trash on Greta Beach, Christmas Island. Photo: PTS Our Island

By Aleksandra Pajda
4 January 2018

(One Green Planet) – On Greta Beach, Christmas Island, a staggering sight was caught by an environmental scholar and shared by PTS Our Island. A mother turtle who returned to her place of birth to lay eggs found herself amongst a sea of garbage. Surrounded by the plastic trash and other items discarded by the human visitors of the beach, the animal had no chance of making a nest and laying eggs the way it should naturally happen for the species. Instead, she had to leave her eggs on a trash heap.

Once the baby turtles hatched, they were welcomed by the exact same landscape and had to struggle desperately to make it out to the ocean. These animals deserve better.

It is estimated that around 270,000 tons of plastic are now floating on the surface of the ocean. This overwhelming amount of pollution currently threatens 700 different marine species with extinction – and that number will only continue to grow over the years unless we ALL act!

To find out how to help the planet by cutting down on plastic, check out One Green Planet’s #CrushPlastic campaign!

Mother Turtle Forced to Nest on a Pile of Trash Highlights the Issue With Disposable Plastics

Low and declining oxygen levels in the open ocean and coastal waters affect processes ranging from biogeochemistry to food security. This global map indicates coastal sites where anthropogenic nutrients have exacerbated or caused O2 declines to <2 mg liter−1 (<63 μmol liter−1) (red dots), as well as ocean oxygen-minimum zones at 300 m of depth (blue shaded regions). Map created from data provided by R. Diaz, updated by members of the GO2NE network, and downloaded from the World Ocean Atlas 2009. Graphic: Breitburg, et al., 2018 / Science

4 January 2018 (SERC) – In the past 50 years, the amount of water in the open ocean with zero oxygen has gone up more than fourfold. In coastal water bodies, including estuaries and seas, low-oxygen sites have increased more than 10-fold since 1950. Scientists expect oxygen to continue dropping even outside these zones as Earth warms. To halt the decline, the world needs to rein in both climate change and nutrient pollution, an international team of scientists asserted in a new paper published 4 January 2018 in Science.

“Oxygen is fundamental to life in the oceans,” said Denise Breitburg, lead author and marine ecologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. “The decline in ocean oxygen ranks among the most serious effects of human activities on the Earth’s environment.”

The study came from a team of scientists from GO2NE (Global Ocean Oxygen Network), a new working group created in 2016 by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. The review paper is the first to take such a sweeping look at the causes, consequences and solutions to low oxygen worldwide, in both the open ocean and coastal waters. The article highlights the biggest dangers to the ocean and society, and what it will take to keep Earth’s waters healthy and productive.

The Stakes

“Approximately half of the oxygen on Earth comes from the ocean,” said Vladimir Ryabinin, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission that formed the GO2NE group. “However, combined effects of nutrient loading and climate change are greatly increasing the number and size of ‘dead zones’ in the open ocean and coastal waters, where oxygen is too low to support most marine life.”

In areas traditionally called “dead zones,” like those in Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, oxygen plummets to levels so low many animals suffocate and die. As fish avoid these zones, their habitats shrink and they become more vulnerable to predators or fishing. But the problem goes far beyond “dead zones,” the authors point out. Even smaller oxygen declines can stunt growth in animals, hinder reproduction and lead to disease or even death. Low oxygen also can trigger the release of dangerous chemicals such as nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas up to 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and toxic hydrogen sulfide. While some animals can thrive in dead zones, overall biodiversity falls.

Climate change is the key culprit in the open ocean. Warming surface waters make it harder for oxygen to reach the ocean interior. Furthermore, as the ocean as a whole gets warmer, it holds less oxygen. In coastal waters, excess nutrient pollution from land creates algal blooms, which drain oxygen as they die and decompose. In an unfortunate twist, animals also need more oxygen in warmer waters, even as it is disappearing.

People’s livelihoods are also on the line, the scientists reported, especially in developing nations. Smaller, artisanal fisheries may be unable to relocate when low oxygen destroys their harvests or forces fish to move elsewhere. In the Philippines, fish kills in a single town’s aquaculture pens cost more than $10 million. Coral reefs, a key tourism attraction in many countries, also can waste away without enough oxygen.

“It’s a tremendous loss to all the support services that rely on recreation and tourism, hotels and restaurants and taxi drivers and everything else,” said Lisa Levin, a co-author and marine biologist with the University of California, San Diego. “The reverberations of unhealthy ecosystems in the ocean can be extensive.”

Some popular fisheries could benefit, at least in the short term. Nutrient pollution can stimulate production of food for fish. In addition, when fish are forced to crowd to escape low oxygen, they can become easier to catch. But in the long run, this could result in overfishing and damage to the economy.

Winning the War: A Three-Pronged Approach

To keep low oxygen in check, the scientists said the world needs to take on the issue from three angles:

  • Address the causes: nutrient pollution and climate change. While neither issue is simple or easy, the steps needed to win can benefit people as well as the environment. Better septic systems and sanitation can protect human health and keep pollution out of the water. Cutting fossil fuel emissions not only cuts greenhouse gases and fights climate change, but also slashes dangerous air pollutants like mercury.
  • Protect vulnerable marine life. With some low oxygen unavoidable, it is crucial to protect at-risk fisheries from further stress. According to the GO2NE team, this could mean creating marine protected areas or no-catch zones in areas animals use to escape low oxygen, or switching to fish that are not as threatened by falling oxygen levels.
  • Improve low-oxygen tracking worldwide. Scientists have a decent grasp of how much oxygen the ocean could lose in the future, but they do not know exactly where those low-oxygen zones will be. Enhanced monitoring, especially in developing countries, and numerical models will help pinpoint which places are most at risk and determine the most effective solutions.

“This is a problem we can solve,” Breitburg said. “Halting climate change requires a global effort, but even local actions can help with nutrient-driven oxygen decline.” As proof Breitburg points to the ongoing recovery of Chesapeake Bay, where nitrogen pollution has dropped 24 percent since its peak thanks to better sewage treatment, better farming practices and successful laws like the Clean Air Act. While some low-oxygen zones persist, the area of the Chesapeake with zero oxygen has almost disappeared. “Tackling climate change may seem more daunting,” she added, “but doing it is critical for stemming the decline of oxygen in our oceans, and for nearly every aspect of life on our planet.”

Images are available after publication at the Smithsonian Newsdesk (http://newdesk.si.edu), and the abstract is available at http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6371/eaam7240. For a copy of the full paper, images or to speak with the authors, contact Kristen Minogue at (314) 605-4315 or minoguek@si.edu, or John Gibbons at (202) 633-5187 or gibbonsjp@si.edu.

Contact

Kristen Minogue

(443) 482-2325

minoguek@si.edu

The Ocean Is Losing Its Breath. Here's the Global Scope.


BACKGROUND

Oxygen concentrations in both the open ocean and coastal waters have been declining since at least the middle of the 20th century. This oxygen loss, or deoxygenation, is one of the most important changes occurring in an ocean increasingly modified by human activities that have raised temperatures, CO2 levels, and nutrient inputs and have altered the abundances and distributions of marine species. Oxygen is fundamental to biological and biogeochemical processes in the ocean. Its decline can cause major changes in ocean productivity, biodiversity, and biogeochemical cycles. Analyses of direct measurements at sites around the world indicate that oxygen-minimum zones in the open ocean have expanded by several million square kilometers and that hundreds of coastal sites now have oxygen concentrations low enough to limit the distribution and abundance of animal populations and alter the cycling of important nutrients.

ADVANCES

In the open ocean, global warming, which is primarily caused by increased greenhouse gas emissions, is considered the primary cause of ongoing deoxygenation. Numerical models project further oxygen declines during the 21st century, even with ambitious emission reductions. Rising global temperatures decrease oxygen solubility in water, increase the rate of oxygen consumption via respiration, and are predicted to reduce the introduction of oxygen from the atmosphere and surface waters into the ocean interior by increasing stratification and weakening ocean overturning circulation.

In estuaries and other coastal systems strongly influenced by their watershed, oxygen declines have been caused by increased loadings of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and organic matter, primarily from agriculture; sewage; and the combustion of fossil fuels. In many regions, further increases in nitrogen discharges to coastal waters are projected as human populations and agricultural production rise. Climate change exacerbates oxygen decline in coastal systems through similar mechanisms as those in the open ocean, as well as by increasing nutrient delivery from watersheds that will experience increased precipitation.

Expansion of low-oxygen zones can increase production of N2O, a potent greenhouse gas; reduce eukaryote biodiversity; alter the structure of food webs; and negatively affect food security and livelihoods. Both acidification and increasing temperature are mechanistically linked with the process of deoxygenation and combine with low-oxygen conditions to affect biogeochemical, physiological, and ecological processes. However, an important paradox to consider in predicting large-scale effects of future deoxygenation is that high levels of productivity in nutrient-enriched coastal systems and upwelling areas associated with oxygen-minimum zones also support some of the world’s most prolific fisheries.

OUTLOOK

Major advances have been made toward understanding patterns, drivers, and consequences of ocean deoxygenation, but there is a need to improve predictions at large spatial and temporal scales important to ecosystem services provided by the ocean. Improved numerical models of oceanographic processes that control oxygen depletion and the large-scale influence of altered biogeochemical cycles are needed to better predict the magnitude and spatial patterns of deoxygenation in the open ocean, as well as feedbacks to climate. Developing and verifying the next generation of these models will require increased in situ observations and improved mechanistic understanding on a variety of scales. Models useful for managing nutrient loads can simulate oxygen loss in coastal waters with some skill, but their ability to project future oxygen loss is often hampered by insufficient data and climate model projections on drivers at appropriate temporal and spatial scales. Predicting deoxygenation-induced changes in ecosystem services and human welfare requires scaling effects that are measured on individual organisms to populations, food webs, and fisheries stocks; considering combined effects of deoxygenation and other ocean stressors; and placing an increased research emphasis on developing nations. Reducing the impacts of other stressors may provide some protection to species negatively affected by low-oxygen conditions. Ultimately, though, limiting deoxygenation and its negative effects will necessitate a substantial global decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as reductions in nutrient discharges to coastal waters.

Declining oxygen in the global ocean and coastal waters

Firefighters search for trapped people in Montecito, California on 9 January 2018, after mud and debris destroyed buildings following heavy rains. Photo: Mike Eliason

By Max Golembo and Matt Gutman
9 January 2018

(ABC News) – At least six people are dead in California from weather-related incidents, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office said today. The southern part of the state has been drenched with severe rain just weeks after several fires tore through the area.

Flash flooding, debris flow and mudslides are punishing the communities hit hard by the Thomas and La Tuna fires.

Because hundreds of thousands of acres were charred in the fires, the influx of water has nowhere to go.

In the affluent community of Montecito, some homes have been ripped from their foundations as a result of the torrential conditions.

Local fire officials reported rescuing several people in the area, including a mother and her daughter who were caked in mud.

The Claffey family in Carpinteria was forced to evacuate its home last month. After moving back in, family members were told to evacuate again because of the rain.

"If our house was flooded it would be devastating. Absolutely devastating," Maureen Claffey told ABC News.

The record rains started coming down on Monday, soaking northern cities like San Francisco and Sacramento. First responders put on skies to help the stranded since many roads and thruways have become raging rivers.

A 14-year-old girl was "trapped for hours" in mud-soaked rubble on Hot Springs Road and then pulled to safety in a triumphant moment. […]

So far, rainfall totals Tuesday morning and early afternoon range from 2 to 4 inches in Ventura, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties. [more]

6 dead after flooding and mudslides force thousands to flee in California

Village chief Diplo Anacle stands in the doorway of an old prison, once one of dozens of stately seafront buildings erected by French colonialists on this sliver of sand between the Atlantic ocean and a giant lagoon. Today, the structure in the centuries-old village of Lahou-Kpanda is all that remains from that time. Photo: Samuel Ouedraogo / Al Jazeera

By Brietta Hague
8 January 2018

Lahou-Kpanda, Ivory Coast (Al Jazeera) – Diplo Anacle stands in the doorway of an old prison, once one of dozens of stately seafront buildings erected by French colonialists on this sliver of sand between the Atlantic ocean and a giant lagoon.

Today, the structure in the centuries-old village of Lahou-Kpanda is all that remains from that time.

"This is the last building that exists, but it will not be preserved," said Anacle, the 65-year-old village chief.

"There is no government funding for preservation. We will lose it and that hurts us, but there is nothing we can do," he told Al Jazeera.

Rising tides and more frequent, devastating storms are slowly destroying what is left of Lahou-Kpanda, the offshoot of what was once a major colonial town near the mouth of the Bandama River, the longest river in Ivory Coast.

Ocean inches closer

Then known as Grand Lahou, the town was first set up as a slave-trading post, but by the mid-19th century, it had become a thriving commercial centre. The French built grand homes along the beach and tourists later started coming here for the surf and nearby Assagny National Park.

But coastal erosion began taking its toll in the 1970s, and much of the population was settled 30km away in a newly built town by the same name. Two decades later, huge storms destroyed many of the old town's beachfront homes.

Today, the old Grand Lahou is largely abandoned. But 7,000 people still live in Lahou-Kpanda, the last habitable village.

The mouth of the Bandama River is moving closer, however, threatening to wash away what is left.

"If we release the figures, people will be scared," said Tagwa Eric Cavale, a marine and coastal scientist who heads the government's national programme for coastal environment management.

Warming waters have led to an increase in storm surges, and the ocean is swallowing one to two metres of land each year, Cavale said.

"If we do nothing for this village, it may disappear."

Fight over resources

As land diminishes, the fight for scarce resources is also intensifying.

Prominent local families own parcels of land west of the village and access to the crops has become a violent point of contention for many villagers.

Al Jazeera witnessed an angry group of youth hurling insults at Anacle, the chief, whom they accused of giving preferential treatment in land allocation to members of his family. Anacle was beaten by the youth and taken to Abidjan, the Ivory Coast's largest city, with head injuries.

Another resident, Beugre Besnard, 90, said neighbours are turning on each other.

"The sea is destroying everything," he told Al Jazeera. [more]

'It may disappear': Ocean threatens Ivory Coast village

Leonor Figueroa, 82, center, a survivor of Hurricane Maria, is surrounded by her daughters after arriving at the Orlando airport from Puerto Rico in September 2017. Photo: Joel Achenbach / The Washington Post

By Ed O'Keefe
8 January 2018

(The Washington Post) – A massive influx of Puerto Rico residents displaced by recent hurricanes is transforming communities in Florida and other states, and a conservative group is moving quickly to woo them ahead of the midterm elections.

The Libre Institute, an offshoot of the Libre Initiative, a group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, is launching new outreach programs this week in the Orlando area designed to provide English-language courses and civics lessons to thousands of Puerto Ricans living at least temporarily in Central Florida as the island continues rebuilding after deadly hurricanes Irma and Maria last fall.

Full power has not yet been restored on the island, and Florida officials say more than 300,000 people have at least passed through the Sunshine State from Puerto Rico in pursuit of new opportunities or temporary shelter. Thousands of young island residents have been enrolled in Florida schools while their parents seek work and housing.

Residents of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens who can participate in presidential primaries but cannot cast a vote for president — unless they move to the mainland and register to vote. With hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans leaving the island, they are poised to transform several communities in Florida and bolster fledgling island communities in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas while adding to their already large numbers in New Jersey, New York and parts of New England. The ongoing churn has the potential to transform the political dynamic ahead of November’s midterms, especially in down-ballot races, in which even a few hundred new voters could make a difference.

The Libre Institute’s “Welcome to Florida” classes will launch this week at the group’s offices in the Orlando area, part of an initial $100,000 commitment by the group that is set to grow in the coming weeks as the program expands to centers in Miami and Tampa, two other parts of the state attracting Puerto Ricans. […]

Democrats and progressive organizations have sounded the alarm about Libre’s work in the past, accusing the group of skirting nonprofit laws by handing out ideological material; collecting names, email addresses and phone numbers; and basically doing the early legwork that Republicans should otherwise be doing to win over new voters.

Doing anything to track down and even indirectly woo potential Latino Republican voters could be critical next year in Florida, which faces an open gubernatorial race, a competitive reelection fight for Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and a handful of congressional races that could tip the balance of power in the House of Representatives. [more]

As influx of Puerto Ricans continues, Koch-backed group starts seeking them out in Florida

The Thomas fire left behind vast swaths of charred landscape. On 7 January 2018, authorities ordered evacuations below burn areas in anticipation of a strong winter storm. Photo: Hal Wells / Los Angeles Times

By Alene Tchekmedyian
7 January 2018

(Los Angeles Times) – head of a strong winter storm that could trigger flash flooding and mudslides, authorities have ordered evacuations of Santa Barbara County neighborhoods that sit below areas recently burned by wildfires.

Residents who live in the following areas were told to evacuate by noon Monday: north of Highway 192, east of Cold Springs Road, and west of Highway 150/the county line, as well as along Tecolote Canyon, Eagle Canyon, Dos Pueblos Canyon, Gato Canyon and in the Whittier fire burn areas near Goleta.

A voluntary evacuation warning was issued for all areas south of Highway 192 to the ocean and east of Hot Springs Road/Olive Mill Road to Highway 150/county line, Santa Barbara County officials said.

“People in these areas should stay alert to changing conditions and be prepared to leave immediately at your own discretion if the situation worsens,” the county said in a statement.

Almost 4 inches of rain is expected in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties — where the massive Thomas fire has scorched more than 281,000 acres — from Monday evening through Tuesday morning. Authorities warned of the potential for heavy rain, strong winds and “extremely dangerous” flash flooding and debris flows.

The nearly extinguished wildfire, which erupted Dec. 4, is the largest fire on record in California. Residents who live in areas burned by the Whittier, Sherpa and Rey fires are also affected by the evacuations.

Evacuations ordered below Santa Barbara burn zones as area braces for rainstorm

 

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