Experts from a wide range of fields and from different parts of the world gathered on Thursday, 5 October, in the Vatican Gardens to comment on Pope Francis’ newly released Apostolic Exhortation, Laudate Deum. The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Mr Matteo Bruni, moderated.
The Laudate Deum Document is dedicated not only to “people of goodwill” but to all the men and women and government leaders who care about climate change. This was emphasized by Mr Giorgio Leonardo Parisi, 2021 Nobel Prize winner in Physics. It may seem strange, Parisi highlighted, to see how much scientific evidence there is in the Exhortation, but that, he explained, serves to oppose unreasonable opinions. That is why Laudate Deum uses language that is “clear, simple and readable by all”. Parisi also noted that no matter how much we try to hide them, the signs of change are increasingly evident. The problem with “denialism”, he explained, is that there are so many people, especially politicians, who try to hide these events that are there for everyone to see.
Published on Wednesday 4 October, the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Exhortation calls for immediate action on climate change, warning that we are “barely in time” to avoid catastrophic damage. In this respect, Parisi said it is also significant that Pope Francis begins the Exhortation with “a striking list of scientific facts”, since “science is universal knowledge, a treasure of all humanity”.
Via video linkup from Asia, well aware of the consequences of climate change, Ms Vandana Shiva, an Indian scientist and environmental activist, stressed that the Pope reminds us that “we are all connected, that God has united us to all creatures, and nevertheless the technocratic paradigm will separate us and create a deeper arrogance, an arrogance of destructive power”. She highlighted the importance of biodiversity, vegetation and healthy soil enriched not with petrochemicals, but by a symbiotic network between fungi and plant roots. “The same system that is leading to greenhouse gas emissions is also leading to hunger and chronic diseases because we are connected, and the health of the planet and our health is one health”. Fifty percent of greenhouse gasses come from an industrial food and farming system, she said. We need to remember “with humility” she said, “that we are part of the earth, not separate from her”. We need to work with the “beautiful universe” of which we are a part. The solutions, she concluded, are “caring for the earth and caring for each other”.
American writer Jonathan Safran Foer, meanwhile, picked up on Laudate Deum’s urgent call for personal responsibility in the face of the crisis. He stressed that the new Apostolic Exhortation is moving and inspiring even for those who have read countless texts on the climate crisis. Foer shared that he was “so profoundly moved by the wisdom, courage and moral urgency” of the Pope’s words, that he made the last-minute decision to bring his 1-year-old daughter to the conference, so that she could be present as a “representative” of the future.
“If we accept the factual reality that we are destroying the planet and dooming future generations”, he said, “but are unable to believe it and change our behaviours in meaningful ways, we reveal ourselves to be just another variety of denier”.
He then posed a question: “When the future distinguishes between these two kinds of denial, which will appear to be a grave error, and which a sin?”.
The American author then wondered, “What is ecological grace if not the sum of daily, hourly decisions, to take a bit less than our hands can hold, to eat other than what we might crave in any given moment, to create limits for ourselves so that we might be able to share in this bounty?”. The sum of these daily changes, he added, “will not be the deprivation some have told us to fear, but the overcoming of a global catastrophe and our most valuable gift to the future”.
Ms Luisa-Marie Neubauer, a youth climate activist from Germany, followed Foer’s intervention. “Just as my parents took care of me”, she said, “I thought our governments would take care of the big problems in the world”. She shared that she grew up believing “that if the economy grew, step by step everyone around the world would benefit and prosper. Today”, she said, “I call it a fairy tale”. That realization pushed her to take action, and she saw that she was not alone. Millions of activists started to flood the streets “Friday after Friday” and for a brief moment, Neubauer said, “it seemed that things would work out. Yet here we are”, she said, “in 2023, witnessing how childhoods are flooded and burned and dried out across the globe. What scares me”, she explained, “isn’t the crisis alone. What scares me is our leaders’ way of responding to that very crisis”. Some people talk about government inaction, Neubauer said, but “governments everywhere are acting”; it’s just that too many of them promote projects and investments in expanded fossil fuel exploration and extraction. She also warned against an “escalating climate of repression and criminalization” of non-violent actions or initiatives by activists. Meanwhile, she praised Pope Francis for his words in Laudate Deum, but emphasised the Church’s need to continue down the road of ecological conversion and stressed that “we need institutions, leaders, faith communities, people of all ages” — everyone — to become true activists.