Climate crisis: The world is in a catastrophe now

A citizen’s view—


November 22, 2023

With a degree of urgency appropriate for the planetary catastrophe we face today, Pope Francis’ latest exhortation, Laudate Deum, “to all people of good will on the climate crisis,” builds on his 2015 encyclical letter, Laudato Si’, “On Care for our Common Home.” That the pope has explicitly described the current state of the climate as a “crisis” could be viewed as affirming what climate activist Greta Thunberg said in her 2019 address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: “Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire.” 

Later in the same address, Thunberg pleaded to all who would listen: “We are now at a time in history where everyone with any insight of the climate crisis that threatens our civilization – and the entire biosphere – must speak out in clear language, no matter how uncomfortable and unprofitable that may be. We must change almost everything in our current societies.” Laudate Deum is, in a sense, Pope Francis’s response to Thunberg’s own exhortation. The pope presents his text as an update to his earlier encyclical. 

He writes: “with the passage of time, 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. In addition to this possibility, it is indubitable that the impact of climate change will increasingly prejudice the lives and families of many persons. We will feel its effects in the areas of healthcare, sources of employment, access to resources, housing, forced migration, even war between peoples.” 

Pope Francis draws on clear, intelligent, scientific data from sources that include the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Chante, the United Nations Environment Program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He also draws on many great resources from within the Christian Church, including previous encyclicals, Scripture and spiritual writings like that of St. Francis of Assisi. The pope does not shy away from addressing climate change deniers head-on, including those within his own faith community. 

Francis says that he is writing again because “our responses have not been adequate,” and with a particular eye toward the upcoming 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, better known as COP28, which will take place Nov.30-Dec.12 in Dubai. While the pope addresses the letter to all people of goodwill and calls for concrete individual actions in response to the climate crisis, he says that “above all” urgent political decisions must be made at both the national and international levels to stave off impending environmental catastrophe. 

Fr. Paul Magnano is parish priest for the Skagit Valley Catholic Churches. Pope Francis will attend the Dubai climate conference.


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