climate change

[OPINION] Pope Francis’ ‘Laudate Deum’: Inspiring climate action

John Leo C. Algo

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[OPINION] Pope Francis’ ‘Laudate Deum’: Inspiring climate action

David Castuciano/Rappler

The 'Laudate Deum' has the potential to fuel accelerated climate solutions worldwide, especially in a predominantly Catholic country like the Philippines

On October 4, Pope Francis released his Apostolic Exhortation, Laudate Deum (Latin: Praise God), which presents his reflections regarding the climate crisis. It is a follow-up to his landmark encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, published eight years ago. 

According to the leader of the Catholic Church, the Laudate Deum takes “a look at what has happened and say what needs to be done.” It has the potential to fuel accelerated climate solutions worldwide, especially in a predominantly Catholic country like the Philippines.

‘What has happened’

In the Laudato Si’, Pope Francis lamented on the climate crisis, environmental degradation, and resulting social and economic injustices. He called on all peoples, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to take “swift and unified global action,” recognizing that we are all interconnected and have the capacity to address this worldwide threat.

Yet in the eight years that have passed, the narrative has remained largely the same: climate action is nowhere near enough to keep up with the rapidly-changing climate. Look no further than the Philippines, which experienced 5 of the 10 most destructive storms in its history during that span, along with the El Niño-enhanced drought in 2015-16, and rising sea levels up to three times faster than the global average.

In the Laudate Deum, the Pope criticized the apathy and disinformation that have hindered global efforts, including those within the Church. Behind such actions are many policymakers and business leaders, those with the highest individual capacities to implement adaptation and mitigation solutions, some of whom claim themselves as devout Catholics. 

This has led to cries of the earth and the poor that are getting louder with each passing extreme weather event. Half of the world’s population is highly vulnerable to impacts ranging from strong typhoons and high flooding to scorching heat waves and intense droughts. Each time, his words in the Laudato Si’ rings true: “the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest.”

It has also resulted in the prevalence of the “technocratic paradigm,” the thought of viewing our reality as just a set of problems to be solved purely through scientific and technological power. It also involves looking at our environment, including other people, for what they can do for us instead of respecting what or who they are. It essentially undermines the “human” dimensions of this crisis and can pave way to more harmful impacts of what are intended as solutions to our problems.

Adding to these worrying realities are communities being discouraged to participate in decision-making processes or fed false information, both of which slows down the conduct of much-needed interventions. For instance, 54% of Filipinos believe that the use of fossil fuels like coal and gas should be expanded, despite being the very cause of the climate crisis; this is made worse by the continued preference by many policymakers for fossil fuels, essentially swapping coal for gas.

‘What needs to be done’

Pope Francis emphasized in the Laudate Deum the need to restore a healthy ecology, wherein we recognize and respect the inherent dignity of our environment, including other people. He highlighted the need to eradicate the mindset of infinite growth in a finite reality, and that we should aim to sustain a “situated anthropocentrism.” This means that “human life is incomprehensible and unsustainable without other creatures,” that we are part of nature and not its owners.

The twisted perspective on “meritocracy” was also tackled in this document, specifically as a backdrop for the apathy of those with the power and resources to initiate action. The mentality of not caring about taking care of our common home, born from the belief of being shielded by wealth accumulated over time, and furthering injustices and inequalities must be addressed, per the Pope. 

On the upcoming Dubai climate summit (COP28), he called on negotiators to stop using the approach of “papering and pasting over cracks,” or choosing to wait for unproven technological interventions that favor big businesses to become viable in the future at the expense of everyone else. He especially highlighted the urgency of a just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, a necessity to avoid further loss and damage to highly-vulnerable countries like the Philippines. 

Also emphasized in the Laudate Deum is the need for redefining the structures that define and guide multilateral interactions, which is essential for dealing with a global threat like the climate crisis. He emphasized a stronger presence of “bottom-up” approaches in such structures, in recognition of the capacity of local actors such as civil society organizations to assist frontline communities. 

Part of this also involves the democratization of multilateral decision-making processes, where countries and international bodies create more inclusive spaces for dialogues, consultations, and monitoring. This is an important statement considering prominent issues on inclusivity and transparency across different levels of policymaking, from previous COPs to some of the climate and energy governance processes in the Philippines in recent years. 

All of these build to a key call in this document: that the “little things” are just as important as large-scale solutions. Related to the “bold cultural revolution” that was mentioned in the Laudato Si’, he emphasized that every action still counts, and encourages everyone to be initiators of climate solutions.

Every effort from conserving energy at the household level to avoiding using single-use plastics not only benefits individuals and communities on that level; these also contribute to building pressure on policymakers and businesses to stop being apathetic and usher in the transformation of our economies and societies towards climate-aligned models. 

The Laudate Deum is a timely reflection on the reality in which we find ourselves, a reminder that what has happened will happen again without a paradigm-shifting cultural and behavioral change, and a renewed call for transformative solutions. There is a lot more that still needs to be done, and it all starts on our willingness to recognize and live by a simple principle: everything and everyone is interconnected. – Rappler.com

John Leo Algo is the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines, a member of the interim Secretariat of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas, and a member of the Youth Advisory Group for Environmental and Climate Justice under the UNDP in Asia and the Pacific. He has been a climate and environment journalist since 2016.

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