In one of the most powerful and hard-hitting documents of his pontificate, Pope Francis has challenged humanity to address the “indubitable impact of climate change” on “our suffering planet” that he fears will devastate the lives of people around the world, and particularly the poorest.
From Laudato Si’ to Laudate Deum
Entitled Laudate Deum, which means “Praise God,” the pope’s new apostolic exhortation comes on the eighth anniversary of his groundbreaking 2015 environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’, which he fears has not had the impact he desired.
“With the passage of time,” Francis laments, “I have realised that our responses have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point.”
“Some effects of the climate crisis are already irreversible,” he says, repeating that there is a “real possibility that we are approaching a critical point.”
COP28 climate change conference
Hence the timing of Laudate Deum, which appears on the eve of COP28, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change that will take place in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December 2023.
For this reason, whereas Francis’ wrote his earlier documents primarily for the People of God, i.e. a Catholic or Christian audience, Laudate Deum is addressed directly to “all people of good will,” in other words those of all faiths or even none.
While insisting that everyone must contribute to solving the “climate crisis,” Pope Francis clearly hopes to make his message heard by the world leaders who will gather at COP28.
Doubt no longer possible
“It is no longer possible to doubt the human – ‘anthropic’ – origin of climate change,” he states.
“Once and for all, let us put an end to the irresponsible derision that would present this issue as something purely ecological, ‘green,’ romantic, frequently subject to ridicule by economic interests,” Pope Francis urges. “Let us finally admit that it is a human and social problem on any number of levels.”
Change now requires “involvement on the part of all” and “not just those who are often negatively portrayed as ‘radicalised’,” he says. Moreover, “every family ought to realise that the future of their children is at stake.”
An urgent appeal
Hence, the urgency of Pope Francis’ appeal to world leaders who must act decisively because “the most effective solutions will not come from individual efforts alone, but above all from major political decisions on the national and international level.”
Climate change is “a global social issue and one intimately related to the dignity of human life,” he explains. “Attacks on nature have consequences for people’s lives,” he observes. Vulnerable people will feel their effects “in the areas of healthcare, sources of employment, access to resources, housing, forced migrations, etc.”
As a result, climate change “is no longer a secondary or ideological question, but a drama that harms us all,” he states bluntly.
Don’t blame the poor
Nor is there any excuse for blaming the poor, who have many children, Pope Francis says. “The reality is that a low, richer percentage of the planet contaminates more than the poorest 50% of the total world population,” he notes.
Moreover, in a phrase that applies particularly to Australia, he adds that “per capita emissions of the richer countries are much greater than those of the poorer ones.”
Here he points again to the “technocratic paradigm” that underlies “the current process of environmental decay.” This, he explains citing Laudato Si’, is “a certain way of understanding human life and activity [that] has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us.”
At its root, it consists in thinking “as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such,” and hence the acceptance by economists, financiers and technologists of “the idea of infinite or unlimited growth.”
This is an ideology, Pope Francis says, that has become an obsession “to increase human power beyond anything imaginable.”
“Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used,” he warns.
“In whose hands does all this power lie, or will it eventually end up?” he asks. It is “extremely risky for a small part of humanity” to have this power, he answers. Consequently, we must rethink “the question of human power, its meaning and its limits.”
Towards a new paradigm
A new paradigm is necessary in which we will see that “the world that surrounds us is not an object of exploitation, unbridled use and unlimited ambition” nor even “a mere ‘setting’ in which we develop our lives and our projects.”
Instead, we must understand that “we are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.” And so we need to look at the world not from without “but from within.” Human beings must be “recognised as a part of nature.”
“Human life, intelligence and freedom are elements of the nature that enriches our planet, part of its internal workings and its equilibrium,” Pope Francis points out. Here he cites the example of Indigenous cultures which enable us to comprehend that “a healthy ecology is also the result of interaction between human beings and the environment.
Postmodern culture is also of assistance in this context, he says, since it has generated “a new sensitivity towards the more vulnerable and less powerful. This he argues is connected to “the primacy of the human person and the defence of his or her dignity beyond every circumstance.”
International action needed
Political action is also needed, especially at international level, he says. More precisely, what is needed is a new form of “multilateralism” based on cooperation with the many groups and organisations of civil society, which can “help to compensate for the shortcomings of the international community, its lack of coordination in complex situations, and its lack of attention to fundamental human rights.”
Consequently, citizens must “control political power” at every level, national, regional and municipal. Otherwise, “it will not be possible to control damage to the environment.”
Despite the magnitude of all these challenges, Francis concludes on an encouraging note. Thus, the forthcoming COP28 Conference “can represent a change of direction, showing that everything done since 1992 was in fact serious and worth the effort.” If not, “it will be a great disappointment and jeopardise whatever good has been achieved thus far.”
Confidence in human capacity
On the other hand, “if we are confident in the capacity of human beings to transcend their petty interests and to think in bigger terms, we can keep hoping that COP28 will allow for a decisive acceleration of energy transition,” he concludes.