Land devastated by drought. (Source: Vatican News)
Pope Francis has published an Apostolic Exhortation building on his 2015 encyclical. We’re not reacting enough, he says, we’re close to breaking point. He criticises climate change deniers, saying that the human origin of global warming is now beyond doubt. And he describes how care for our common home flows from the Christian faith.
Vatican News —
(‘Praise God’) is the title of this letter. For when human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies.”
That’s how Pope Francis ends his new Apostolic Exhortation
, published on the 4th October, the Feast of St Francis of Assisi.
It’s a text in continuity with his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’
, which is broader in scope. In six chapters and 73 paragraphs, the Successor of Peter tries to clarify and bring to completion that previous text on integral ecology, while at the same time sounding an alarm, and a call for co-responsibility, in the face of the climate emergency.
In particular, the Exhortation looks ahead to COP28, which will be held in Dubai between the end of November and beginning of December.
The Holy Father writes: “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. In addition to this possibility, it is indubitable that the impact of climate change will increasingly prejudice the lives and families of many persons” (§2).
It’s “one of the principal challenges facing society and the global community” and “the effects of climate change are borne by the most vulnerable people, whether at home or around the world” (§3).
WATCH: Laudate Deum [YouTube: 1 min]
Pope Francis releases Laudate Deum, his new Apostolic Exhortation on climate change and care for our common home.
Signs of climate change increasingly evident
The first chapter
is dedicated to the global climate crisis.
“Despite all attempts to deny, conceal, gloss over or relativize the issue, the signs of climate change are here and increasingly evident,” says the Pope.
☟(click for more)
Not the fault of the poor
“In an attempt to simplify reality,” Pope Francis writes, “there are those who would place responsibility on the poor, since they have many children, and even attempt to resolve the problem by mutilating women in less developed countries.”
“As usual, it would seem that everything is the fault of the poor. Yet the reality is that a low, richer percentage of the planet contaminates more than the poorest 50% of the total world population, and that per capita emissions of the richer countries are much greater than those of the poorer ones.”
“How can we forget that Africa, home to more than half of the world’s poorest people, is responsible for a minimal portion of historic emissions?” (§9).
The Pope also challenges of those who say efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuels “will lead to a reduction in the number of jobs.”
Indubitable human origins
“It is no longer possible to doubt the human — ‘anthropic’ — origin of climate change,” the Pope says.
“The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere … was stable until the nineteenth century … In the past fifty years, this increase has accelerated significantly” (§11).
At the same time, global temperature “has risen at an unprecedented speed, greater than any time over the past two thousand years. In this period, the trend was a warming of 0.15° C per decade, double that of the last 150 years … At this rate, it is possible that in just ten years we will reach the recommended maximum global ceiling of 1.5° C” (§12).
This has resulted in acidification of the seas and the melting of glaciers.
“It is not possible to conceal” the correlation between these events and the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, the Holy Father bitterly observes, “the climate crisis is not exactly a matter that interests the great economic powers, whose concern is with the greatest profit possible at minimal cost and in the shortest amount of time” (§13).
Barely in time to avoid more terrible damage
“I feel obliged,” continues Pope Francis, “to make these clarifications, which may appear obvious, because of certain dismissive and scarcely reasonable opinions that I encounter, even within the Catholic Church.”
The technocratic paradigm: the idea of a human being without limits
In the second chapter, the Pope speaks of the technocratic paradigm which consists in thinking that “reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such” (§20) and “monstrously feeds upon itself” (§21), taking its inspiration from the idea of a human being without limitations.
“Never has humanity had such power over itself,” the Holy Father continues, “yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used … It is extremely risky for a small part of humanity to have it” (§23).
The ethical decadence of power: marketing and fake news
“The ethical decadence of real power is disguised thanks to marketing and false information, useful tools in the hands of those with greater resources to employ them to shape public opinion.”
Through these mechanisms, people in areas where polluting projects are to be implemented are deceived, convinced that economic and employment opportunities will be generated, but “they are not clearly told that the project will result in … a desolate and less habitable landscape” (§29) and a clear decline in quality of life.
“The mentality of maximum gain at minimal cost, disguised in terms of reasonableness, progress and illusory promises, makes impossible any sincere concern for our common home and any real preoccupation about assisting the poor and the needy discarded by our society … astounded and excited by the promises of any number of false prophets, the poor themselves at times fall prey to the illusion of a world that is not being built for them” (§31).
Weak international politics
In the next chapter of the Exhortation, the pope addresses the weakness of international politics, insisting on the need to foster “multilateral agreements between States” (§34).
He explains that “when we talk about the possibility of some form of world authority regulated by law, we need not necessarily think of a personal authority” but of “more effective world organizations, equipped with the power to provide for the global common good, the elimination of hunger and poverty and the sure defence of fundamental human rights”.
These, he says, “must be endowed with real authority, in such a way as to provide for the attainment of certain essential goals” (§35).
Pope Francis deplores that “global crises are being squandered when they could be the occasions to bring about beneficial changes. This is what happened in the 2007–2008 financial crisis and again in the Covid-19 crisis”, which led to “greater individualism, less integration and increased freedom for the truly powerful, who always find a way to escape unscathed” (§36).
“More than saving the old multilateralism, it appears that the current challenge is to reconfigure and recreate it, taking into account the new world situation” (§37), recognising that many civil society aggregations and organizations help compensate for the weaknesses of the international community. The Pope cites the Ottawa process on landmines, which, he says, shows how civil society creates efficient dynamics that the UN does not achieve.
Useless institutions that preserve the strongest
What Pope Francis is proposing is a “multilateralism ‘from below’ and not simply one determined by the elites of power … It is to be hoped that this will happen with respect to the climate crisis. For this reason, I reiterate that “unless citizens control political power — national, regional and municipal — it will not be possible to control damage to the environment” (§38).
After reaffirming the primacy of the human person, Pope Francis explains — speaking of the defense of human dignity in all circumstances — that “It is not a matter of replacing politics, but of recognizing that the emerging forces are becoming increasingly relevant”.
“All this presupposes the development of a new procedure for decision-making”; what is required are “spaces for conversation, consultation, arbitration, conflict resolution and supervision, and, in the end, a sort of increased “democratization” in the global context, so that the various situations can be expressed and included. It is no longer helpful for us to support institutions in order to preserve the rights of the more powerful without caring for those of all” (§43).
What to expect from the Dubai COP?
No more ridiculing of environmental questions
Pope Francis asks us to 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.”
“Let us finally admit that it is a human and social problem on any number of levels. For this reason, it calls for involvement on the part of all.”
On the subject of protests by groups “negatively portrayed as radicalized”, Pope Francis affirms that “in reality they are filling a space left empty by society as a whole, which ought to exercise a healthy “pressure”, since every family ought to realize that the future of their children is at stake” (§58).
“May those taking part in the Conference be strategists capable of considering the common good and the future of their children, more than the short-term interests of certain countries or businesses. In this way, may they demonstrate the nobility of politics and not its shame. To the powerful, I can only repeat this question: “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power, only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?” (§60).
A commitment that flows from the Christian faith
Finally, the Pope reminds his readers that the motivations for this commitment flow from the Christian faith, encouraging “my brothers and sisters of other religions to do the same” (§61).
“The Judaeo–Christian vision of the cosmos defends the unique and central value of the human being amid the marvellous concert of all God’s creatures,” but “as part of the universe, all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect” (§67).
“This is not a product of our own will; its origin lies elsewhere, in the depths of our being, since God has joined us so closely to the world around us” (§68).
The Holy Father ends his Exhortation with a reminder 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.”
He goes on to affirm that “a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact. As a result, along with indispensable political decisions, we would be making progress along the way to genuine care for one another” (§72).