On October 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis issued a new apostolic exhortation entitled Laudate Deum (“Praise God”), a follow up to his encyclical Laudato si’, On Care for our Common Home, issued 8 years ago. The Pope issued a dire warning to Catholics and to all people of good will that our planet is approaching a “point of no return” as global warming hurtled toward the maximum recommended limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than the pre-industrial average. “Even if we do not reach this point of no return, it is certain that the consequences would be disastrous and precipitous measures would have to be taken, at enormous cost and with grave and intolerable economic and social effects,” the Pope writes. “Although the measures that we can take now are costly, the cost will be all the more burdensome the longer we wait.”
The exhortation is around 8,000 words, compared to the 40,000 words of Laudato si’. I read it in about half an hour. I encourage you to go to the Vatican website – www.vatican.va – to read Laudate Deum.
In Laudate Deum, Pope Francis takes people to task who he believes downplay or deny outright the severity of the threat posed by climate change. He devotes 10 paragraphs to rebutting common objections, such as that the world has historically experienced periods of cooling and warming, and that steps to protect the environment will destroy jobs. “I feel obliged to make these clarifications, which may appear obvious, because of certain dismissive and scarcely reasonable opinions that I encounter, even within the Catholic Church,” he notes. “Yet we can no longer doubt that the reason for the unusual rapidity of these dangerous changes is a fact that cannot be concealed: the enormous novelties that have to do with unchecked human intervention on nature in the past two centuries.”
There’s a notably urgent tone throughout Laudate Deum. Eight years on from the publication of Laudato si’, Francis believes that the world has largely failed to rise to the challenges he outlined in the encyclical. He writes that “with the passage of time, I have realized that our responses have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point.”
Francis believes that the international consensus needed to combat climate change remains weak. He offers a detailed critique of recent United Nations climate change conferences, seeing them broadly as failures, with the possible exception of the 2015 edition in Paris, which produced an agreement that observers believe was influenced by the publication of of Laudato si’. The pope looks ahead to the next conference, which will be held November 30 – December 12 in the United Arab Emirates. He seems unenthusiastic about the venue, noting that the UAE is “known as a great exporter of fossil fuels,” and oil and gas companies are planning new projects in the country.
But despite his sadness at the ineffectiveness of global institutions, he insists that “to say that there is nothing to hope for would be suicidal, for it would mean exposing all humanity, especially the poorest, to the worst impacts of climate change.”
Pope Francis suggests that the U.S. is one the main culprits of the climate crisis. “If we consider that emissions per individual in the United States are about two times greater than those of individuals living in China, and about seven times greater than the average of the poorest countries, we can state that a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact,” he writes.
So, the Holy Father reminds us once again that urgent action is needed to combat climate change and secure the future of our common home. I am grateful that our Living Justice Ministry has a Care of Creation team. Might now be the time to strengthen that team, to support Pope Francis’ call to action, and to come up with some real solutions that we can help to implement locally?
(Much of this article was taken from an article in “The Pillar” by Luke Coppen.)