By Elise Ann Allen and John Lavenburg
ROME — Climate activists across the globe have thanked Pope Francis for his new exhortation on the environment titled “Laudate Deum,” published ahead of a major U.N. climate summit, calling the text “prophetic” and saying action is needed now more than ever.
Benoit Halgand, co-founder of the French youth organizations For an Ecological Awakening and Struggle and Contemplation, during an Oct. 5 press conference at the Vatican warned that “mankind is on the verge of destroying its very conditions of existence.”
Amid what he said is “all the skeptical, relativistic, and techno-solutionist rhetoric” about the climate issue, Halgand voiced gratitude for “Pope Francis’ clear-sighted and firm reminder of the urgency of climate and social issues.”
He highlighted what he said were three “prophetic” aspects of the pope’s new apostolic exhortation on the environment, which includes a strong rejection of skepticism about global warming and the consequences of human intervention in the environment, including those within the Church.
Pope Francis also criticized wealthy nations, especially the United States, for disproportionately causing the emissions that scientists believe drive global warming.
In his remarks, Halgand praised the exhortation’s call for “a strong civil society and a political response to the ecological crisis,” as well as its insistence on the urgency of continuing to move away from fossil fuels.
“Coal is a 20th-century energy. There is no such thing as green oil, and gas is not a transitional energy. We now have to fight against every new fossil fuel project,” he said.
Halgand also applauded the document’s insistence that climate action “does not only stem from a sense of moral duty or fear for the future, but mainly from a place of love and our faith in a merciful God.
“Today, technology enslaves our souls, the advertising system corrupts our minds, and the idolatry of the market alienates us from God,” he said, adding, “We cannot hope to serenely grow in our relationship with Christ, with our brothers and sisters, and with creation, if we continue to suffer the consumerist injunctions of the economic system.”
Pope Francis’ new document was published on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, his papal namesake, and it comes eight years after the publication of his landmark encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’,” in 2015.
It also comes ahead of the COP28 climate summit set to open in Dubai next month and which is expected to draw representatives from 197 countries.
Among the speakers at Thursday’s Vatican press conference were Giorgio Leonardo Renato Parisi, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2021, activist and environmentalist Vandana Shiva, and activist and sociologist Carlo Petrini, who condemned the current political approach to the climate issue, saying it “requires decisive interventions.”
Several young climate activists were also on hand for Thursday’s press conference, with one young activist with the Fridays for Future climate initiative from Hamburg, Germany, Luisa-Marie Neubauer, saying she is afraid of the climate crisis, but “what scares me is our leaders’ way of responding.
“Pope Francis is right in his deep worry,” she said, cautioning that governments across the world are acting in a counterproductive way, and that “in recent years, the vast majority of them have turned around and started doing everything they can to please fossil fuel interests and prevent real change.
“‘Laudate Deum’ points out just how detrimental the current path is,” calling it “suicidal,” Neubauer said, pointing to what she said is a “multilateral crisis of trust emerging, as the so-called global north and the emerging economies fail to deliver on both climate and funding.”
She called on individuals of all ages and institutions to become activists, saying, “We need you to no longer wait for hope, but become it. Pope Francis has shown how this is done.”
Similarly, a 28-year-old from Libya who came to Italy in 2020 said he left not only to escape war, but also increased climate instability, and pointed to Cyclone Daniel which hit Libya this year, killing more than 11,000 people and leaving some 30,000 people homeless.
“This happened not only because of the changing climate, but also because the houses were built under the dam and there was never any control or maintenance,” he said, calling for more attention to be paid to living conditions, and thanking Pope Francis for “always having words of affection” for migrants and refugees.
American climate advocate Jonathan Safran Foer, who among other things has stressed the need to develop more sustainable eating habits, also spoke Thursday, saying he also struggles to maintain good eating habits, but that the struggle is worth it.
Foer said countries “such as my own” with a disproportionate contribution to carbon emissions must take responsibility, and he spoke of the importance of taking action now for the sake of future generations, using the image of a man who eats the fruit from a tree planted by his ancestors, and who wants to plant more trees for the generations to come.
Indian activist Ridhima Pandey, who is the protagonist of the film, “The Letter: A Message for Our Land” based on “Laudato Si’,” spoke through a video connection, saying she was inspired by the pope’s 2015 encyclical and believes his emphasis on the term climate crisis “is really important,” because the term climate change in itself “implies something that doesn’t really need attention.
“We cannot undo what’s been done already, but we can still save what’s left with us” she said, and praised Pope Francis’ contributions in “Laudato Deum,” saying the text “gives alarming overview that this crisis is impacting a lot of people and it’s not just something that Pope Francis is saying or that he feels.”
Science itself shows the risk of doing nothing, and “people have to realize that it’s now that they have to take action,” Pandey said.
Italian activist Alessandra Sarmentino, who is from Sicily and works with the Laudato Si’ Movement, spoke of the wildfires that have been devastating much of Sicily over the past few summers.
The message that Pope Francis sends in both “Laudato Si’ ” and “Laudate Deum” is “beautiful,” she said, and insisted on the need to “collaborate, work with the other and for the other.”
“This world needs everyone. Are we really doing everything we can?” she asked.
In a statement following the publication of “Laudate Deum,” Catholic Relief Services called the text “a rallying cry for the crucial policy work needed to change paths,” and insisted that “with COP28 on the horizon, world leaders must heed this call.”
The Catholic Climate Covenant organization also issued a statement, saying Pope Francis’ words will “move world leaders to act collaboratively as they have been called to do so for decades, and enact the urgent climate solutions that may not be easy, but are undoubtedly needed, especially a real, rapid, and just energy transition away from fossil fuels.
“All must commit to rapid development and deployment of renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, and other sources. Adding more greenhouse gas emissions to our warming climate will only lead to greater disaster,” the statement said.
Similarly, Daniel Miller, an associate professor of environmental policy at the University of Notre Dame, said the timing of the publication of “Laudate Deum” ahead of the Dubai climate summit is no accident.
“Time will tell if world leaders are in this way able to, as Pope Francis puts it, ‘demonstrate the nobility of politics and not its shame,’ ” Miller said, adding, “It will be up to us — all of us, but especially those privileged by living in wealthy, industrialized countries that have done the most to cause the problem — to hold our leaders to account.”
“Laudate Deum,” he said, “provides inspiration to do so while also changing our own practices so that we are part of the solution.”