Fordham experts weigh in on Laudate Deum, a new apostolic exhortation on climate change.
Increasing extreme weather conditions like record-high temperatures and devastating droughts are undoubtedly the result of “unchecked human intervention on nature,” Pope Francis declared in a letter published today expanding on his 2015 Laudato Si’ encyclical.
Since that publication, he said, “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.”
Pope Francis called out the United States, specifically, in this new apostolic exhortation, titled Laudate Deum, issued on the first day of the Synod on Synodality.
“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 said.
“The ethical decadence of real power is disguised thanks to marketing and false information, useful tools in the hands of those with greater resources to employ them to shape public opinion,” he wrote.
Pope Francis’s Specificity Is ‘Not Accidental’
Christiana Zenner, an associate professor of theology, science, and ethics at Fordham, said, “This is a document that doubles down morally on the centrality of climate crises and the immediate responsibility of ‘all people of good will’ to address them.”
“Pope Francis first dismantles climate denialism by careful arguments, data, precision of terms, and strategic citation of the climate-recidivistic U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,” Zenner said. “And the penultimate paragraph of the exhortation likewise identifies the ways that U.S.-based climate exceptionalism is problematic. This is as specific about national responsibilities as a pope ever gets, and it is definitely not accidental here.”
The publication coincides with the upcoming U.N. climate change conference that will convene in Dubai in November, much like the release of the 2015 encyclical ahead of the Paris climate conference. The pontiff laments that the Paris Agreement has been poorly implemented, lacking effective tools to force compliance.
“International negotiations cannot make significant progress due to positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good,” he wrote.
Never Mind the Bedroom, ‘the Entire House Will Burn Down’
David Gibson, director of Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture, said the new publication shifts the controversy among American Catholics from sex to climate change—which has the potential to be even more contentious.
“The focus and controversy in the church that Pope Francis leads has lately been directed toward issues of sex and sexuality and his efforts to make Catholicism more inclusive. The irony is that this papal exhortation will likely be even more controversial for Americans than any issue of sexuality because it demands fundamental changes in our consumerist lifestyles.”
Gibson added, “Many American Catholics want the church to focus on what people do in the bedroom. Pope Francis is saying the entire house will burn down if we don’t change our behavior in every other aspect of our lives.”