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The Pope’s Latest Climate Banger

Before getting on the plane for COP28 next week, Pope Francis had some words for Western Society.

Pope Francis.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Pope Francis is heading to this year’s COP summit in Dubai next week, fresh off releasing an encyclical, Laudate Deum, that takes wealthy countries to task for their failure to curb greenhouse gas emissions. NPR dedicated its Sunday cover story on All Things Considered to the new document, and I highly recommend you listen to the whole segment. Christiana Zenner, a Fordham University professor who’s studied the pope’s writings on climate change, described the publication as a follow-up to Laudato Si, his 2015 encyclical that first mentioned climate change. But whereas Laudato Si was, in Zenner’s words, “reflective, rhapsodic and almost devotional,” this year’s is focused solely on climate change — and far more critical. This quote in particular stood out:

The [Pope] in this document thinks that almost everything hinges on the success of the upcoming COP meeting, which is partly why he’s going there. It's partly why he released this document, and it’s partly why, in this document, he is hypercritical of Western developed — hyperdeveloped — nations in particular, who, in his view, have become complacent and not lived up to the responsibility that is properly theirs on the world stage for leading on climate remediation and all sorts of related questions.

You know, it is no accident how this document is constructed. He starts out by citing the U.S. bishops on climate change. And that’s a brilliantly underhanded move in some ways, brilliantly rhetorical move, because he then turns back at the end of the encyclical to say, you know, consumption, overconsumption in particular, is most pronounced in the United States. And so in paragraph 72, he says, “If we consider that emissions per individual in the United States are about two times greater than those of individuals living in China, and seven times greater than the average of the poorest countries, we can see [sic]...” and he goes on to talk about critiques of Western consuming lifestyles. So there's this kind of parabolic beginning and return to the question of how climate change is framed in the West and the failure of leadership to really address these questions.

Francis will address world leaders on Dec. 2. In the meantime, you can listen to the full recording on NPR’s website, or below.

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Neel Dhanesha

Neel is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Prior to Heatmap, he was a science and climate reporter at Vox, an editorial fellow at Audubon magazine, and an assistant producer at Radiolab, where he helped produce The Other Latif, a series about one detainee's journey to Guantanamo Bay. He is a graduate of the Literary Reportage program at NYU, which helped him turn incoherent scribbles into readable stories, and he grew up (mostly) in Bangalore. He tweets sporadically at @neel_dhan. Read More

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