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Harvey, Irma: Mother Earth hitting back?

TWO very powerful hurricanes struck the United States (US) these last two weeks, one – Hurricane Harvey – lashing south Texas with winds that reached 209 kilometers per hour (kph), the other – Hurricane Irma – battering Florida with 219 kph winds after hitting Cuba and the Bahamas.

Harvey was the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years but even greater destruction was caused by the floods its rains caused, one river southwest of Houston rising 18 meters, a high not seen in the last 800 years.

Irma is now moving slowly up the west coast of Florida, forcing thousands of people into fallout shelters while thousands of others fled northward to Georgia and other states, due to warnings of ocean surges that could reach as high as four and a half meters.

The two hurricanes are the latest example of extreme weather around the world. In the middle of last month, extreme heat caused wildfires and damaged crops all over southern Europe. The heat wave swept over France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Switzerland, on to Eastern Europe.

A recent study said the destructive power of typhoons that regularly hit China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines has intensified in the last 40 years due to warming seas. Super-typhoon Yolanda which hit us in 2013 had winds that reached 315 kph, killing over 6,000 people here, while also devastating Guam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam.

Scientists have now generally agreed that the extreme weather is being caused by rising world temperatures caused, in turn, by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the pollution spewed out by industries and vehicles worldwide, mostly in the United States and China.

China has decided to take direct action on this issue by planning to ban the sale and production of fossil fuel-powered vehicles and encouraging local automakers to develop electric cars. Germany and the United Kingdom are also planning to ban sales of fossil fuel powered vehicles by 2040. Many automakers – Volvo, Jaguar, Aston Martin – will soon produce only electric or electric-hybrid vehicles.

In contrast, President Trump pulled out the US from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, rejecting its goal of slowing the rise in global temperatures, because he was more concerned about the interests of the US coal industry. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, climate change activists hope, will make him change his mind and bring the US back into the worldwide movement to cut down on man-made activities that are causing extreme weather all over the globe.

One other natural disaster – a magnitude-8.2 earthquake hit Mexico just below western United States at about the same time as Harvey was lashing Texas. It may not have been directly related to climate change, but it is seen by some as Mother Earth hitting back at abuses of mankind toward nature and the environment.

On the first day of this month, both the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches observed World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. Pope Francis, speaking at his general audience in St. Peter’s Square, appealed to mankind to “listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, who suffer most because of the unbalanced ecology.”

It is an appeal that is most directly aimed at the world’s top industrial nations but it is also aimed at us and the rest of the world, calling on us to consider how we have been contributing to the suffering mankind is inflicting on our Mother Earth.

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