“‘Laudate Deum’ draws its title from the lifelong message of St. Francis of Assisi: “Praise God for all his creatures”. At the conclusion of this address Pope Francis writes: “Praise God” is the title of this letter. For when human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies”.
This ‘exhortation’, written in such a way as to be in continuity with Laudato Si’, has six chapters and 73 paragraphs. It sets out 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. An ‘exhortation’ is not just any ordinary communication, but rather one which emphatically urges us to do something.
In particular, Laudate Deum looks ahead to COP28, which will be held in Dubai between the end of November and beginning of December.
“With the passage of time, 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. 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 – L. Deum, Pope Francis)
Climate change increasingly evident
The first chapter is dedicated to the global climate crisis. Pope Francis says, “it is verifiable that specific climate changes provoked by humanity are notably heightening the probability of extreme phenomena that are increasingly frequent and intense.” He goes on to cite the evidence – extreme weather phenomena, acceleration of warming, at such a speed that it will take only one generation – not centuries or millennia – in order to verify it, alongside extreme cold etc. He affirms that it is no longer possible to doubt the human – ‘anthropic’ – origin of climate change, and he challenges those who say that the efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuels “will lead to a reduction in the number of jobs.” What is happening, in fact, is that “millions of people are losing their jobs due to different effects of climate change: rising sea levels, droughts and other phenomena affecting the planet have left many people adrift.”
At the same time, “the transition to renewable forms of energy, properly managed” is capable of “generating countless jobs in different sectors. This demands that politicians and business leaders should even now be concerning themselves with it” (#10).
“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.”
We are barely in time to avoid even more terrible damage. Therefore, “a broader perspective is urgently needed … What is being asked of us is nothing other than a certain responsibility for the legacy we will leave behind, once we pass from this world” (#18).
Recalling the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, Pope Francis repeats that “Everything is connected and no one is saved alone” (#19).
The ethical decadence of real power is disguised
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. As demonstrated, too, by the atomic bomb – “our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience” (#24).
We have made impressive and awesome technological advances, and yet we have not realised that at the same time we have turned into highly dangerous beings, capable of threatening the lives of many beings and our own survival. (#28).
“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 chapter three 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”.
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).
He proposes that 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).
In chapter four Pope Francis describes the various climate conferences held to date. He points to the fact that there are no sanctions for failure to meet obligations, and there is a lack of effective tools to enforce the agreement, as well as no real sanctions, and no effective tools to ensure compliance.
International negotiations, the Pope concludes, “cannot make significant progress due to positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good. Those who will have to suffer the consequences of what we are trying to hide will not forget this failure of conscience and responsibility” (#52).
Dubai – COP28
Looking ahead to COP, Pope Francis writes 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” (#53).
We must, says the Pope, “keep hoping that COP28 will allow for a decisive acceleration of energy transition, with effective commitments subject to ongoing monitoring. This Conference can represent a change of direction” (#54).
The Holy Father observes that “the necessary transition towards clean energy sources such as wind and solar energy, and the abandonment of fossil fuels, is not progressing at the necessary speed. Consequently, whatever is being done risks being seen only as a ploy to distract attention” (#55).
If we search merely for a technological solution to our problems: “we risk remaining trapped in the mindset of pasting and papering over cracks, while beneath the surface there is a continuing deterioration to which we continue to contribute” (#57).
“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 Christian Faith
“ … 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).
What is important, Pope Francis writes, is to remember that “there are no lasting changes without cultural changes, without a maturing of lifestyles and convictions within societies, and there are no cultural changes without personal changes” (#70).
“Efforts by households to reduce pollution and waste, and to consume with prudence, are creating a new culture. The mere fact that personal, family and community habits are changing is … helping to bring about large processes of transformation rising from deep within society” (#71).
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).
You can access the full text of ‘Laudate Deum: to all people of goodwill on the climate crisis’ 20231004-laudate-deum