More people need to commit to the fight against climate change. CNS photo/Jim West

No burying our heads to Laudate Deum’s truth

  • November 9, 2023

This morning I filled the hatch of my car with donations of winter clothing from parishioners to be distributed to homeless people in Edmonton’s inner city. It’s the start of a Christmas collection by the ecumenical Inner City Pastoral Ministry, and this is early November. The donations will likely swell in the weeks ahead.

This is worth mentioning because, in the face of problems in our city and the world, people are generous and are striving to make life better for the poor during a harsh winter.

Such generosity will not eliminate the problems homeless people encounter, but it is a step. Not only are government programs essential, charitable hearts are necessary too. Personal generosity contributes to a culture of solidarity which nourishes the will for political change.

Pope Francis makes the same point in relation to climate change in his apostolic exhortation Laudate Deum (Praise God). Released Oct. 4, the day on which the Synod on Synodality began, and three days prior to the beginning of conflict in Israel and Gaza, Laudate Deum was buried amidst other news.

The 7,100-word message was truly an exhortation of the apostolic variety. It exhorts political leaders and ordinary people to find new ways for cooperation and decision-making about the climate crisis. Not surprisingly, Pope Francis analyzes what has gone wrong and offers suggestions for a path to confront what is perhaps the greatest existential crisis to ever face humanity.

The underlying issue is the so-called technocratic paradigm, which the Pope identified in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’. This paradigm, he says, “consists in thinking as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such.” It assumes the human person and the Earth’s resources are inexhaustible if technology continues to develop.

Powerful economic interests are dependent upon and foster the notion of ever-increasing human power. One must add that this view is embedded in Western culture to the extent that leaders and ordinary people find it difficult to imagine an alternative. Our way of life hangs on an obsession with ever-increasing growth and prosperity. No clear alternatives are available, and if there were some, their implementation would face implacable resistance.

So we are left with what the Pope calls “homicidal pragmatism.” He doesn’t spell out the meaning of that term, but it is easy to see what he is getting at. Political parties will not rock the boat for fear of upsetting entrenched interests or getting constituents uneasy about their future.

All we need to look at is the recent flap over the federal government’s elimination of the tax on home heating oil. When the governing Liberals saw their support dwindle in Atlantic Canada, they announced a three-year tax break on the fuel used far more in that region than elsewhere. In doing so, they sparked demands for similar tax breaks from Western premiers and undermined the credibility of the federal carbon tax.

Government fear of taking consistent and decisive action on global warming is supported by the “resistance and confusion,” which Pope Francis sees among climate change deniers. In response, he carefully outlines the broad strokes of why human-caused climate change is a reality to counter these “dismissive and scarcely reasonable opinions.”

He also devotes much of his exhortation to the sad story of the annual COP get-togethers and their failure to produce concerted action to reduce the causes of climate change. At the same time, he warns that it is suicidal to think these conferences will accomplish nothing. The Pope lauds climate activists and encourages civil society to create effective dynamics unavailable to global bodies such as the United Nations.

Conversely, personal efforts to protect the planet will not be effective on their own. But real change requires cultural changes which often grow out of personal decisions.

This is where I began. Authentic faith is the opposite of the ever-spiraling quest for power over nature which the technological paradigm fosters. “Let us stop thinking of human beings as autonomous, omnipotent and limitless, and begin to think of ourselves differently, in a humbler but more fruitful way,” Pope Francis writes. That is the culture change which is needed — from an image of humanity as autonomous and omnipotent to humble and self-giving.

Hope is real, but only if we change our self-image. The word “we” refers not just to you and me but also to the governments which have authority but more often follow our lead. Many want to do their part. The commitment of more is needed.

(Glen Argan writes his online column Epiphany at

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