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As Hurricane Florence Heads for US, the UN Chief Demands Urgent Action on Climate Change

C: National Hurricane Centre

C: National Hurricane Centre

Over a million people along the South Carolina and Virginia coastlines have been ordered to leave their homes today as what could be the most powerful storm ever to hit the region approaches.

Hurricane Florence, which is predicted to make landfall on Thursday, bringing with it devastating 150mph winds, extreme flooding and potentially a “life-threatening” storm surge.

Currently classified as a Category 4 storm, it would be, according to the Guardian, “the first storm of that magnitude in recorded history to strike the eastern coastline so far north if it remains on its most likely track.”

Yesterday, South Carolina Governor, Henry MacMaster, said that Florence “is particularly big, particularly strong and … there’s nothing stopping it. And when it hits the Gulf Stream in warmer water, it’s going to [intensify] even more.”

There is no doubt that warmer waters will fuel Florence’s intensity. Indeed, scientists have been warning about the link between climate change and the increasing intensity of hurricanes for years.  They are also increasingly concerned about storms stalling as they hit land, meaning that there is intense and life-threatening flooding.

One of those scientists is Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. Back in May, Trenberth and colleagues concluded that Hurricane Harvey, which deluged Texas last year, was turbo-charged by the highest temperatures ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico. It also stalled as it hit land, exacerbating the flooding.

Trenberth said, regarding Harvey, that: “Harvey could not have produced so much rain without human-induced climate change. Record high ocean heat values not only increased the fuel available to sustain and intensify Harvey, but also increased its flooding rains on land.”

He is also concerned about Hurricane Florence. Speaking to NPR he said: “The oceans are warmer now than they’ve ever been, and they’re going steadily upwards.” He adds that global warming “actually makes these storm bigger and more intense. Humans burn fossil fuels in our cars, our power plants and our airplanes, all of which release greenhouse gases which trap heat. Warmer oceans, especially, provide fuel for hurricanes in the form of evaporating moisture.”

After Florence approaches the US, the head of the UN has also warned about climate change, and castigated world leaders for failing to address the problem sooner.

António Guterres said: “Climate change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment. We face a direct existential threat. If we do not change course by 2020 we miss the point when we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us”.

Guterres added that scientists have been warning about global warming for decades, “over and over again” but “far too many leaders have refused to listen — far too few have acted with the vision the science demands.”

He continued that “Enormous benefits await humankind if we can rise to the climate challenge. A great many of these benefits are economic. I have heard the argument, using from vested interests, that tackling climate change is expensive and would harm economic growth. This is hogwash. In fact the opposite is true.”

Guturres added that “We are careering towards the edge of the abyss. Our fate is in our own hands.” And that the alternative to not moving to renewable energy as fast as possible was “a dark and dangerous future.”

Guturres is trying to convene a special heads of Government meeting in New York for a meeting on climate conference next September. Despite the urgency, it is unlikely that climate denier, and the single person most hurtling us all towards a dark and dangerous future, President Trump, would attend.

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