In anticipation of the liturgical feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis released an Apostolic Exhortation titled Laudate Deum (“Praise God”) in which he criticized the negative climate consequences of the Western lifestyle and called for stronger, enforceable global agreements.
“Eight years have passed since I published the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, when I wanted to share with all of you, my brothers and sisters of our suffering planet, my heartfelt concerns about the care of our common home,” Francis wrote. “Yet, 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.”
The pontiff cited sources such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to make the case that global warming could soon have “catastrophic” effects.
It “is verifiable,” he claimed, “that specific climate changes provoked by humanity are notably heightening the probability of extreme phenomena that are increasingly frequent and intense.”
The pope then criticized those who “have chosen to deride these facts,” citing “allegedly solid scientific data, like the fact that the planet has always had, and will have, periods of cooling and warming.”
He also criticized those who, “in an attempt to simplify reality,” 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.”
“It is no longer possible to doubt the human – ‘anthropic’ – origin of climate change,” Francis wrote. “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.”
Pope Francis then denounced what he called “the Technocratic Paradigm,” which, “deep down, consists in thinking ‘as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such.’”
He added that under such a paradigm
everything that exists ceases to be a gift for which we should be thankful, esteem and cherish, and instead becomes a slave, prey to any whim of the human mind and its capacities.
This situation has to do not only with physics or biology, but also with the economy and the way we conceive it. 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.
To confront the threat of climate change, multilateral world organizations “must be endowed with real authority, in such a way as to ‘provide for’ the attainment of certain essential goals,” he argued.
He then proposed that “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.”
“In the medium-term,” globalization “favors spontaneous cultural interchanges, greater mutual knowledge and processes of integration of peoples, which end up provoking a multilateralism ‘from below’ and not simply one determined by the elites of power,” he wrote.
In the fourth chapter of his Apostolic Exhortation, Francis evaluated what he considered a lack of progress as well as significant failures following international climate summits.
From the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Conference that led to the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to the 2022 climate conference in Sharm El Sheikh, “many points remained imprecise, above all the concrete responsibility of the countries that have to contribute,” he wrote.
Looking into the upcoming United Arab Emirates climate conference scheduled for November this year, the pontiff wrote that
one can only hope for binding forms of energy transition that meet three conditions: that they be efficient, obligatory and readily monitored. This, in order to achieve the beginning of a new process marked by three requirements: that it be drastic, intense and count on the commitment of all.
In a later attempt to appeal to critics of climate change policies, Francis wrote that “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.”
In Chapter 6, Francis argued that Catholics ought to embrace his policy prescriptions because of their faith. “I cannot fail in this regard to remind the Catholic faithful of the motivations born of their faith,” he wrote:
I encourage my brothers and sisters of other religions to do the same, since we know that authentic faith not only gives strength to the human heart, but also transforms life, transfigures our goals and sheds light on our relationship to others and with creation as a whole.
The “Judaeo-Christian vision of the cosmos defends the unique and central value of the human being amid the marvelous concert of all God’s creatures,” he added, but “human life is incomprehensible and unsustainable without other creatures.”
The pope argued that a dramatic cultural change is needed and that “efforts by households to reduce pollution and waste, and to consume with prudence” may not immediately produce a notable effect from the quantitative standpoint but “are helping to bring about large processes of transformation rising from deep within society.”
In driving home his point, Francis singled out the citizens of the United States:
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.
Again, the pope’s letter is titled “Praise God.” He ended it with the statement: “For when human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies.”