Pope Francis and “Laudate Deum”

By: Jo Doumbia

This month, I want to refer to the most recent pronouncement of Pope Francis, who on early October emphasized about his earlier call for urgent action to tackle climate change, while highlighting a failing global response to the crisis on his papal exhortation named “Laudate Deum” or Praise God. This follows up his earlier paper from eight years ago, “Laudato Si: On Care or our Common Home”.

Specifically on climate crisis, the Pope stays that “our responses have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point.” 

About technology, he says that technology alone won’t solve a climate crisis that’s only getting worse. He specifically mentions “technological advances that make it possible to absorb or capture (heat-trapping) gas emissions,” writing that they have “proved promising.”  However, he adds: “We risk remaining trapped in the mindset of pasting and papering over cracks,” and that “to suppose that all problems in the future will be able to be solved by new technical interventions is a form of homicidal pragmatism, like pushing a snowball down a hill.”

Furthermore, he writes, “people have turned into highly dangerous beings, capable of threatening the lives of many beings and our own survival. We need lucidity and honesty in order to recognize in time that our power and the progress we are producing are turning against us.”

He also called out Americans for their significant influence on the climate by stating “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 adds, “As a result, along with indispensable political decisions, we would be making progress along the way to genuine care for one another.”

Laudate Deum also affirms principles championed by the so-called “rights of nature” movement that recognizes nature and all its constituent parts—forests, rivers, wildlife and soil among other elements—possess inherent rights to life and regeneration.

The Pope writes, “we are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it,’”echoing Laudato Si’. Advocating for the rights of nature and the idea that humans are part of nature, he writes, “Human beings must be recognized as a part of nature,”. Also stating that, “Human life, intelligence and freedom are elements of the nature that enriches our planet, part of its internal workings and its equilibrium.” Moreover, it highlights that Indigenous cultures have, over centuries, interacted with their environment “without destroying or endangering it.”

Even though his exhortation is mainly aimed at the world’s more than 1 billion Catholics, calling them to take into account human-driven global warming that puts so many of the poorest people on the planet at the greatest risk, his words also resonate with the many people who share his concerns.

“Laudate Deum” is being published prior to the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 in the United Arab Emirates. 

There have been numerous reactions to “Laudate Deum”. For instance, Climate scientist and evangelical Christian Katherine Hayhoe, author of the book “Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World,” stated: “He does not shy away from calling out the power structures and the anthropocentric and technocratic mindsets that are the root causes of the situation we find ourselves in today,” 

Author and environmental activist Bill McKibben also reacted by saying that the Pope’s words speak to the need to reach people’s hearts. “Yes, the engineers have done their job,” McKibben said. “Yes, the scientists have done their job. But it’s high time for the human heart to do its job. And that’s what we need this leadership for so, so badly.”

Alberto Pallecchi, acting director of the World Resources Institute’s Faith and Sustainability Initiative, said the Vatican’s publication of the document before the climate conference “may be the signal needed for countries to transform economies and improves people’s lives and livelihoods, with climate justice at the center.”  The document “reads like a last call for the world to act on climate and protect our common home, not just as an environmental issue but a global social issue deeply intertwined with the dignity of human life,” he said. 

Also, Rev. Leah D. Schade, associate professor of preaching and worship at the Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky, said the pope has spoken “the painful, unavoidable truth of the catastrophe we have created. He does not mince words and speaks to the frustration and anger many of us in the faith and climate movement have experienced as our words and warnings have fallen on deaf ears.”

Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and professor in earth system science at the University of Potsdam in Germany said that the Pope’s concerns are backed by science, and he got the science right in Laudate Deum. He also said that the Earth is facing several key climate tipping points as it approaches a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius. “We have had the warmest temperature this year over the past 100,000 years,” he added.