Integral ecology

Laudate Deum. A "prophetic" text to combat climate change.

Although the issue of climate change may seem far removed from faith, the Pope reminds us that it is at its core, insofar as it encourages us to care for our brothers and sisters, but also to guard Creation, following the original mandate of Genesis.

Emilio Chuvieco-October 5, 2023-Reading time: 5 minutes
laudate deum

In colloquial language, to be a prophet implies, in some way, predicting the future, but that was not the main mission of the prophets we find in the Old Testament. They tried to remind the people of Israel of Yahweh's commands, which they had abandoned following the mirages of a more comfortable life. That is why the prophets were almost always uncomfortable, because we human beings so often prefer to hide our drift in skepticism or indolence.

In this sense, Laudate Deum is a prophetic text. Not because Pope Francis is predicting better than the climate shapers what is foreseeable to happen if we maintain our idleness in the face of climate change, but because he is reminding us of a truth that we do not want to face: better to bury our heads in the ground, pass the responsibility to those who come after us and continue living as if nothing happened.

This new apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis recalls the substance of the message he sent us 8 years ago with the encyclical Laudato sí. It is now focusing more on the climate issue, in the hope that it will serve as a spur to the next meeting of the United Nations climate change treaty (UNFCC), to be held in Dubai next November, to take the measures required by the seriousness of the problem.

The poor, the most affected by climate change

"No matter how much we try to deny, hide, dissimulate or relativize it, the signs of climate change are there, ever more evident," the Pope affirms. It makes no sense to continue to deny the evidence that climate change is behind many of the anomalies we have observed in the last decade. There is no scientific doubt about the increase in global temperatures, nor about the impacts it is having on the Earth system; nor about the increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, nor about the leading role these emissions are playing in this warming.

Pope Francis gives a scientific summary of the issue, in reasonable, if surprising terms in a Vatican document, which has rarely been supported by scientific citations. It is good that he does so, for climate change is a scientific problem.

It is ridiculous to continue insisting that it is the result of a certain lobby or ideological position (there is no Meteorological Agency or Academy of Sciences that denies the scientific basis of climate change).

Regardless of who promotes it or who benefits from it, it is a scientific issue that is now mature enough to allow much more ambitious decisions to be taken to mitigate it. I will not deny that there are scientists -some of them prestigious- who continue to deny the evidence that many of us observe.

Perhaps it is worth remembering here the role that some scientists -also prestigious- played in the 70's in sowing doubts about the impact of tobacco on health, or in the 80's about the gases that affected the ozone layer. Different studies have shown that many premature deaths and enormous health and labor costs would have been saved if the restrictive measures on tobacco that we all now see as reasonable had been taken (in this regard there are multiple data in this report of the US government: US Department of Health Human Services (2014). The health consequences of smoking-50 years of progress: a report of the Surgeon General.).

Returning to Pope Francis' text, in the same vein as Laudato si, he insists on the importance of connecting environmental and social problems. It is the world's poor who are most affected by climate change, and it is the world's richest people who are primarily responsible for its occurrence. Or perhaps it would be better to say we are, since the developed countries have been the main historical emitters, and it is worth remembering that CO2 has been in the atmosphere for several decades.

We too must be the first to take more ambitious measures to curb the impact of global warming, avoiding consequences that could be catastrophic for the habitability of the planet. Also in line with the encyclical, Francis' new text insists on linking the lack of effective decisions to mitigate climate change to our tendency to entrust everything to technological development, maintaining a haughty attitude, as if the planet were a storehouse of resources that belong to us, as if we had no relationship with other creatures.

The Pope does not forget to mention the demographic question, which is generally controversial, both among supporters and opponents of environmental issues: "In an attempt to simplify reality, there is no lack of those who blame the poor because they have many children and even try to solve it by mutilating women in less developed countries. As always, it seems that the poor are to blame".

It is not the responsibility of these countries, obviously, but of those with consumption rates that would be impossible to generalize. We need to change our way of life towards simpler, less consumerist lifestyles, while maintaining reasonable living conditions. The Pope recalls the enormous diversity in the rates of GHG emissions, not only between the poorest and most industrialized countries, but also between them, with states that have half the emissions of the poorest countries and the most industrialized ones. per capita (Europe) than others with the same or worse human development index (Russia or the United States).

Lessons from the pandemic

The Covid-19 crisis has taught us that we can face global challenges, but that international collaboration is needed to take measures with a global impact. Even now, climate summits can be a fundamental instrument for significantly reducing emissions, although so far the agreements have been unambitious and often non-binding.

The pandemic has also shown us that we depend on healthy ecosystems, that we are not alone on this planet and that other creatures should be "fellow travelers" instead of "becoming our victims". We need to be convinced that taking care of one's own home is the most obvious of decisions: we have no other, and there are many human and non-human beings who depend on it.

Appreciate and care for creation as a gift.

Moreover, as believers, we should admire and be grateful for the Creation we received as a gift, to care for it responsibly and pass it on to future generations, even restoring the damage we have already done to it.

The Church cannot and does not look the other way in a matter of planetary impact. Together with other great religious traditions, to which the Pope also calls in this text, he reminds us that care for the environment is care for the people who live in it, because everything is connected. "To the Catholic faithful, I do not want to fail to remind them of the motivations that spring from their own faith. I encourage brothers and sisters of other religions to do the same, because we know that authentic faith not only gives strength to the human heart, but transforms the whole of life, transfigures one's goals, illuminates one's relationship with others and the bonds with all of creation."

And to those who are still skeptical or ignorant, the Pope reminds them that it makes no sense to continue to delay decisions.

As did the prophets of the Old Testament, Pope Francis knocks on the door of our conscience to get out of those positions that hide perhaps indifference or selfishness in order not to change: "Let us put an end once and for all to the irresponsible mockery that presents this issue as something only environmental, "green", romantic, often ridiculed by economic interests. Let us finally accept that it is a human and social problem in a variety of senses".

This is not the first time that a contemporary pope has exercised this prophetic function. St. Paul VI did it with the Humanae vitaeThe familiar consequences of not listening to his message are now sadly evident; St. John Paul II already did so, denouncing the invasion of Iraq that ended with the collapse of a country where Muslims and Christians used to live together in reasonable peace, and who have now practically disappeared, emigrating - voluntarily or forcibly - to other lands.

Now Pope Francis does so with a theme that to some may seem far removed from the faith, but which is at its core, insofar as it encourages us to care for our brothers, but also to guard Creation, following the original mandate of Genesis (2:15), while admiring its beauty, because if "the world sings of an infinite Love, how can we not care for it?"

The authorEmilio Chuvieco

Professor of Geography at the University of Alcalá.

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