The proposal for a Christian ecology for the 21st century, in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Laudate Deum.

The Holy See published on October 4, the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis’ new Apostolic Exhortation Laudate Deum on the climate crisis, addressed to all people of good will. The reflection stems from the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, held on September 1st, which had the motto: “May justice and peace flow”. This day marked the beginning of the ecumenical time of creation, which concluded on October 4, the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi and the beginning of the Synodal Assembly on Synodality.

In six chapters, Francis calls for co-responsibility in the face of the emergence of climate change, updating the theme proposed by the Encyclical Laudato Si. The Pontiff states that the world “is falling apart and perhaps approaching a breaking point”. The Pope carefully states that the effects of climate change affect all of us, but especially the most vulnerable people. He also states that the ambition of human beings is what puts everything to lose. In his message, Pope Francis invites people to hear “the call to stand alongside the victims of environmental and climate injustice, putting an end to this senseless war against creation.” The Holy Father addresses the situation of climate change in Laudate Deum (“Praise God”) because “the human being, who seeks to take the place of God, becomes the worst danger to himself” (LD 73), after the Encyclical Letter Laudato si‘ promulgated on the Solemnity of Pentecost in 2015.

The Apostolic Exhortation Laudato Deum is made up of six chapters: Firstly, “the global climate crisis”, Pope Francis warns that climate change is undeniable and its effects are becoming increasingly evident, “despite some attempts to minimize or ridicule them” (LD 6) . He also regrets that the main cause of this problem is human activity and adds that, although it is no longer possible to repair certain damages, we can still take measures to prevent even more serious future damages.

In the second chapter, the Holy Father addresses the “technocratic paradigm” and emphasizes that nature is not a resource to be exploited without measure, and urges us to recognize that unbridled ambition is not ethically sustainable (LD 28).

In the third chapter, Pope Francis draws attention to “the weakness of international politics” and emphasizes the urgent need for global cooperation through new multilateral agreements between States, because current and previous approaches are insufficient (LD 43).

In the fourth chapter, the Pope reflects on “climate conferences: progress and failures” and encourages overcoming the selfish positions of countries for the benefit of the global common good (LD 44, 52) and, in the fifth chapter, he reflects on “the expected from COP28 in Dubai”, if we do not want to condemn humanity.

In the last chapter, “Spiritual Motivations”, the Holy Father calls on people of all religious denominations to react. He also reminds Catholics that, in the light of faith, there is a responsibility to care for God’s creation and that this implies respect for the laws of nature and recognition of the beauty and richness of God’s creation.

Finally, the Holy Father highlighted the importance of synodality and wished “that in this Time of Creation, as followers of Christ on our common synodal journey, we live, work and pray so that our common home is once again filled with life and we engage in “reconciliation with the world in which we live” (LD 69).

Causes underlying environmental degradation and consequent climate change

  1. Human action

In the first chapter of Laudate Deum, the Holy Father highlights that the causes of environmental impacts are explicitly related to human action in geographic space, with emphasis on the development of productive activities in economic sectors. Therefore, the following are important causes of environmental impacts:

  • Removal of vegetation caused by activities such as farming;
  • Atmospheric pollution caused by different sectors of global industry;
  • Change in natural resources, such as water, air, vegetation and soil;
  • Incorrect deposition of garbage and solid waste on the planet’s surface;
  • Modification of the relief resulting from the extraction of mineral resources;
  • Contamination of water sources due to various productive activities;
  • Expansion of phenomena such as urbanization and global industrialization.
  • Burning and indiscriminate felling of trees and even forests.

The human origin of these changes “can no longer be doubted”, points out Francisco, who also touches on the issue of greenhouse gas emissions. He correlates the greater concentration of these gases in the atmosphere with the increase in the planet’s temperature and the consequent acidification of the seas and the melting of glaciers. For the Pontiff, this coincidence is impossible to hide. “The overwhelming majority of climate scholars defend this correlation, with the percentage of those who try to deny this evidence being minimal. Unfortunately, the climate crisis is not exactly an issue that interests the great economic powers, concerned with obtaining the greatest profit at the lowest cost and in the shortest possible time” (n. 13). The Holy Father, given this correlation between enormous progress and unrestrained human intervention on nature, declares the urgency of a broader vision, since some of the manifestations of this climate crisis are irreversible for a few hundred years. “All that is asked of us is a certain responsibility for the legacy that we will leave behind us, after our passage through this world”, he exhorts.

  1. The power of technology

Continuing, the Pope talks about the “technocratic paradigm”, which “consists, substantially, in thinking as if reality, good and truth blossomed spontaneously from the very power of technology and the economy”. The Pontiff points out that “humanity has never had so much power over itself, and there is no guarantee that it will use it well, especially if we consider the way in which it is doing so”, also warning about the risk of concentrating this power in just a small part of humanity. To save the planet, urgent and fair laws are needed, says the Pope. He also reiterates that “the world around us is not an object of exploration, unbridled use, limitless ambition” and that man is included in nature, which “excludes the idea that the human being is a stranger, a factor external capable only of damaging the environment”. “We have made impressive and surprising technological progress, without realizing, at the same time, that we have become highly dangerous, capable of endangering the lives of many beings and our own survival”, reflects Francisco. Francois Rabellais rightly said: “Science without conscience is the ruin of the soul”.

  1. Weak international policies

Next, he denounces the weakness of international policies and calls for favoring multilateral agreements between States. The Pontiff calls for “more effective global organizations, endowed with authority to ensure the global common good” and “a real authority that can ‘ensure’ the achievement of some irrevocable objectives”. Thus, the Holy Father proposes multilateralism “from below”, and not “decided by power structures”, identifying the need for a “different framework for effective cooperation” and “a kind of greater ‘democratization’ in the global sphere ” so that everyone’s rights are taken care of.

Regarding COP28, Francisco talks about the “dream” that this conference “will lead to a decisive acceleration of the energy transition, with effective commitments that can be monitored permanently”, since, for him, the transition to energy clean, currently not progressing quickly enough. The Pope also calls for an end to the “irresponsible attitude” of those who “ridicule” the environmental issue for economic interests. He expresses his desire that COP28 can lead to strategies capable of “thinking more about the common good and the future of their children, than about the contingent interests of any country or company”, showing the nobility of politics, not its shame. And he also asks the powerful: “why would you want to preserve today a power that will be remembered for its inability to intervene when it was urgent and necessary to do so”? “We must transform the public policies that govern our societies and shape the lives of young people today and tomorrow”, encourages Pope Francis.

  1. Cultural change

Finally, Francis recalls how the Christian faith gives rise to these commitments, and encourages “brothers and sisters of other religions to do the same”. He also mentions how a cultural change is necessary – which starts with changing people – to reduce waste, consume sensibly and create a new culture. “In this way, together with the indispensable political decisions, we would be on the path of mutual care”, he concludes.

 Relationship of climate change with justice

Although we are talking about environmental disasters, these phenomena are also related to issues of justice. This is because they reveal a blatant disregard for human rights, especially human dignity, since those most affected by these climate events have regularly been the most socially vulnerable, such as riverside dwellers and residents of risk areas. Cases like this can be classified as environmental injustice or even environmental racism, as one author dared to call it. The new study points out that tragedies like these will become increasingly frequent. With all these warnings, it is necessary to prevent populations that are often “invisible” by public authorities and the model of life we ​​live, from suffering once again in history from neglect and becoming victims of environmental injustices.

The message is clear: half of the world’s population already lives at climate risk and, unfortunately, we will no longer be able to stop some of the serious impacts and effects of climate change, but we need to think about how the world, and, in particular, the populations who live in more vulnerable territories, will adapt to them. Holding decision makers accountable, demanding planning and mobilizing the population for climate justice is an urgent step in combating socio-environmental inequalities.

Main consequences and environmental impacts caused by man

The environmental impacts are quite comprehensive as a result of artificial modifications to the Earth’s surface and are very evident. Thus, these are examples of the main ones generated by human beings:

  • Frequent periods of abnormal heat and drought – and their consequences – such as population displacement.
  • Catastrophic rains, among other “groans of the earth”.
  • Unusual acceleration of heating”
  • Loss of biodiversity and soils;
  • Pollution and contamination of air, soil and water;
  • Reduction in the volume of water sources;
  • Increase in more frequent and more intense adverse weather events.
  • Extinction of native species of animals and plants;
  • Change in global and regional climate patterns;
  • Loss of quality of life in human societies;
  • Increased registration of various diseases and epidemics;
  • Decrease in vegetation cover and water sources;
  • Change in the production of food and raw materials.
  • Increased erosion, hurricanes, sea level rises and forest fires, storms, cyclones, floods, among others. We can talk about Brazil, North America, Indonesia or much of Asia and even Africa. Let’s look at the recent case that occurred in Mozambique and beyond… Intense rains and floods; In February this year Maputo was affected by cyclones, particularly the district of Boane, resulting in flooded and submerged houses and crop losses. Many people were left without shelter, drinking water or food. They were housed in schools. Cyclone Freddy hit the country twice: first, on February 24, it hit the southern province of Inhambane, causing extensive damage; second on the 11th, 12th and 13th of March, it hit the city of Quelimane and the province of Zambézia, causing 143 deaths; it damaged homes and institutions, including the bishop’s residence and churches, and rendered many farm fields unusable.

Based on data, Pedro’s successor reflects that, contrary to what many claim, global warming is not to blame for the poor. He also talks about the responsibility of politicians and businesspeople to think about effective decisions and measures to address this problem.

Objectives of Laudato Si/Laudate Deum

These seven goals provide guidance on urgent and immediate actions that each of us can take in caring for our common home. “We can all cooperate as God’s instruments in the care of creation, each according to our own culture, experience, involvement, and talents” (Laudato Si’ 14).

  • Response to the cry of the earth
  • Response to the cry of the poor
  • Ecological economy
  • Adoption of sustainable lifestyles
  • Ecological education
  • Ecological spirituality
  • Community resilience and empowerment

 Perspectives and solutions that the Pope presents

Ecological commitment to comprehensive care of the environment. Pope Francis urges an environmental pastoral alongside ecological conversion, which he talks about in Laudato Si. May we remain alongside the victims of environmental and climate injustice by listening to “the heartbeat: ours, that of our mothers and our grandparents, the beating of the heart of creation and the heart of God”. 

a. Responsibility to avoid further damage

Francisco reinforces the Earth’s request for help, and explains that he understands his responsibility in drawing attention to these problems and that repeating these requests may seem exaggerated, but it is extremely necessary. “I am forced to make these specifications, which may seem obvious, because of certain ridiculous and unreasonable opinions that I encounter, even within the Catholic Church. But we cannot continue to doubt that the reason for the unusual speed of such dangerous changes lies this undeniable fact: the enormous progress linked to the unrestrained human intervention in nature”.

He also says that some damage is irreversible or may take years to be minimized again, but that our actions must be urgent. “A broader vision is urgently needed… all that is asked of us is a certain responsibility for the legacy that we will leave behind us, after our passage through this world.” of the Christian faith, encouraging “brothers and sisters of other religions to do the same”. “This is not a product of our will… for God has joined us so closely to the world around us.” And he further reinforces: “There are no lasting changes without cultural changes… and there are no cultural changes without changes in people.” In this sense, the Holy Father proposes “to transform our hearts, our lifestyles and the public policies that govern our society and shape the lives of young people today and tomorrow.” To this end, he recalled that Saint John Paul II urged “ecological conversion”, which consists of renewing “our relationship with creation, so that we no longer consider it as an object to be explored, but, on the contrary, guard it as a sacred gift of the Creator.”

 b. For an ecological conversion

Francisco puts himself in the wake of Francis of Assisi and is inspired by the Canticle of the Creatures to remember that the earth “can be compared sometimes to a sister, with whom we share our existence, sometimes to a mother, who welcomes us in her arms” . This land is now abused and plundered and we can hear the groans of the abandoned people of the world. An “ecological conversion” is needed, a “change of course”, so that man assumes the responsibility of a commitment to care for the common home, which is “integral ecology”. A commitment to eradicate poverty and promote equal access for all to the planet’s resources.

No to throwaway culture

The Encyclical thus makes a detailed diagnosis of the planet’s ills: pollution, climate change, disappearance of biodiversity, ecological debt between the North and South of the world, anthropocentrism, the predominance of technocracy and finance that leads to saving banks to the detriment of the population, private property not subordinated to the universal destination of goods. Over all of this, a throwaway, use-and-throw-away culture seems to prevail, something that leads to exploiting children, abandoning the elderly, reducing others to slavery, and engaging in the blood diamond trade. It’s the same logic as many mafias – writes Francisco.

New economy needed, more attentive to ethics

In view of this, we can read in the Encyclical that a “courageous cultural revolution” is necessary that keeps the value and protection of every human life at the forefront, because the defence of nature “is not compatible with the justification of abortion” and “every evil treatment of a creature is contrary to human dignity.” The Holy Father calls for dialogue between politics and economics and at an international level he does not spare a harsh judgment on world leaders regarding the lack of political decisions at an environmental level and proposes a new economy that is more attentive to ethics.

Invest in training for an integral ecology

Francis’ Encyclical emphasizes that we must invest in training for an integral ecology, to understand that the environment is a gift from God, a common inheritance that must be managed and not destroyed. And small, everyday gestures are enough: Need for general and school education for comprehensive care of the environment; It was even urgent that in Catholic schools we had specific subjects based on this document, to be taught from primary schools to universities and expressed in concrete works. For example, each year, each course that ends should leave a field planted with trees, similar to the Laudato si forest in Namibe promoted by CEAST and with its extension now in Kuito Bié. All Dioceses and Archdioceses, Catholic schools, Institutes, Universities, could have a forest entitled Laudato Si or Laudate Deum.

Education within the family for comprehensive care of the environment, promoting information from parents to their children or from children to their parents; School education for comprehensive care of the environment; Education in the Church for comprehensive care of the environment; Social education for comprehensive care of the environment; carry out differentiated waste collection, do not waste water and food, turn off useless lights, reuse grass for manure, instead of burning, control poaching, set aside land used for agriculture, to avoid soil depletion, replace soils after the industrial extraction of minerals, treatment of solid waste, through recycling, , wrapping up a little more warmly instead of turning on the heating. In this way, we will be able to feel that “we have a responsibility towards others and the world and that it is worth being good and honest” – writes the Pope.