(RNS) — Catholic organizations and other faith-based groups pushing for global action on climate change are celebrating Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation on the environment, a sequel of sorts to his 2015 encyclical that some said “highlights the stark realities” of a climate crisis that only gets graver in the pontiff’s view.
Unlike the pope’s earlier encyclical, which offered a sweeping overview of various scientific and economic causes of climate change, the new, 12-page “Laudate Deum,” unveiled on Wednesday (Oct. 4) to coincide with the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, focuses on what Francis argues are the persistent failures of global governments to respond to global warming over the past eight years.
“With the passage of time, I have realized our responses have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point,” Francis writes, later noting that the world’s poor are most likely to be impacted by the ravages of climate change.
The Catholic Climate Covenant, a group dedicated to helping people “care for creation and care for the poor,” lauded Francis’ newest writing as timely, pointing to hurricanes and wildfires that ravaged the U.S. and other parts of the globe this summer — natural disasters scientists believe are made worse by climate change.
“Eight years ago, Pope Francis rang a clear alarm bell for humanity to wake up and protect our common home. Instead, many of us pushed the snooze button. As this summer has shown, and as Laudate Deum emphasizes, we no longer have time to spare,” Jose Aguto, executive director of Catholic Climate Covenant, said.
“Either we wake up now, or we will doom our Common Home, our Earth, its most vulnerable inhabitants, and all future generations. For people of faith, this apostolic exhortation reminds us that to praise God we must honor his creation and give hope to the future.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was more subdued, noting in a statement that the group’s president, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, is currently participating in the Synod on Synodality at the Vatican. The statement added that Broglio and other bishops “look forward to spending time with the exhortation in prayer and identifying ways to continue their shared witness on behalf of God’s creation.”
But in the introduction to “Laudate Deum,” Francis made sure to refer to a 2019 USCCB declaration on climate change, commending the American bishops for having “expressed very well” the “social meaning of our concern about climate change.” The USCCB has also issued statements in support of climate-focused legislation, such as President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, and criticized Supreme Court decisions that limited the power of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
But at the individual level, U.S. bishops are better known for activism that focuses on voicing opposition to abortion and LGBTQ rights efforts, sometimes drawing fire for ignoring Francis’ push for action on climate change. According to the National Catholic Reporter, when Catholic Climate Covenant organized a letter to Congress in support of the Inflation Reduction Act — widely seen as the most significant climate-related legislation in U.S. history — more than 250 Catholic institutions and organizations signed on, but only nine of 176 U.S. dioceses added their name.
Although China remains the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide by a significant margin, Francis singled out the U.S. in “Laudate Deum,” arguing Western nations need to do more to reduce their emissions.
“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,” Francis writes.
Meanwhile, U.S. Catholics overall appear to support aspects of Francis’ message. A new PRRI poll released on Wednesday found that, among major religious subgroups, Hispanic Catholics are tied for first with the religiously unaffiliated in their willingness to say climate change is caused mostly by human activity (75% for both). White Catholics are further down the list, but a majority — 56% — still cite humans as the chief cause of climate change.