Catholic Concern for Animals (CCA) welcomes Pope Francis’ latest publication, Laudate Deum. The Apostolic Exhortation clarifies and completes the spiritual, scientific, and pragmatic information originating from Laudato Si’ in 2015. Pope Francis reaffirms the significance of Saint Francis’ life for a social approach to the imperative burden of climate change, as he did in Laudato Si’. The intentional publication upon The Feast of Saint Francis and the immediate praise of God for all creatures must not be underestimated: God has united us to all His creatures (Laudate Deum §66). Pope Francis draws attention to the drastic, undeniable consequences of climate change. The thematic critique of a technological paradigm reminds us that the greatest danger is “the ideology underlying an obsession: to increase human power beyond anything imaginable, before which nonhuman reality is a mere resource at its disposal” (Laudate Deum §22). This ideology threatens to damage human and nonhuman relationships; it denies the value of all creatures. Nonhuman creation is not the backdrop of a divine drama in which human development unravels: we co-exist as unique instances of God’s love (Laudate Deum §25). Pope Francis therefore reminds Catholics of the intrinsic value of all creatures, and the value of healthy and harmonious relationships which give praise to God (Laudate Deum §27).
Laudate Deum restates the necessity to approach climate change as an integrally social issue: approaching each aspect of the ecological crisis as a singular problem requiring an individual remedy contradicts our interconnected reality and masks “the true and deepest problems of the global system” (Laudato Si’ §111, Laudate Deum §57). The Exhortation is therefore lacking in concrete, practical solutions which can mitigate the consequences of specific contributors to the ecological crisis. Still, in the relatively short document, Pope Francis remains concerned with the problem of energy in its contributions to anthropogenic climate change. The global energy crisis is having a devastating impact on human dignity. It is a necessary reminder that we must not be deceived by appearances and distractions on the issue of energy sources. Divestment from fossil fuels is a priority, yet the meeting of COP28 in the United Arab Emirates must not come as a smokescreen that all is well and shall be well: “whatever is being done risks being seen only as a ploy to distract attention” from the fact the global emissions continue to rise well beyond what we would deem “reversible” levels (Laudate Deum §55). Laudate Deum is an urgent cry for humanity to take the responsibility that was asked of us in Laudato Si’. A final call, if you will.
CCA bears in mind the integrated reality of the ecological crisis and agrees that all responses be multi-faceted, interlinked, and recognise the intricacies of dealing with the complex effects of climate change across the world, many of which are already threatening to destroy human and nonhuman life. Laudato Si’ instigated an era of ecological concern in Catholic Social Teaching by laying the foundations to approach difficult conversations which include everyone (Laudato Si’ §14), yet the reality is that the specific climate changes provoked by humanity are mostly the responsibility of a “a low, richer percentage of the planet” who contaminate “more than the poorest 50% of the total world population” since “per capita emissions of the richer countries are much greater than those of the poorer ones” (Laudate Deum §9).
One notable contributor to anthropogenic climate change – which simultaneously compounds the global food crisis and certainly enables the suffering of God’s nonhuman creatures – is industrial animal agriculture, or factory farming. Regrettably, this is once again an item which has been missed off the agenda in Pope Francis’ papal writings. We believe the lack of explicit engagement with industrial animal agriculture to be a serious missed opportunity. It is predicted that global food consumption will contribute to nearly 1C rise in global warming by the year 2100, with demand for meat consumption expected to continue rising past any measure of prudent consumption. The IPCC states that food production systems are the second leading cause of global emissions and a major driver for biodiversity loss. Food production chains emit CO2 through their energy uses; they also produce methane gas, emitted by farm animals, which traps up to 100 times more heat than CO2. Yet methane’s lifespan within the atmosphere is significantly shorter than CO2. Therefore, a reduction in animal farming would contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This would significantly contribute to maintaining the 1.5C global warming target set out in the Paris Agreement, because methane is responsible for the majority of the projected increase based upon recent emissions; and since its effects are short-lived, reductions in methane would rapidly benefit the climate.
Pope Francis urges humanity to stop denying the climate emergency, yet Laudate Deum denies the stark reality of food production and consumption by clearly overlooking the significance of food systems’ impact on animals, humans and the natural world. This is perplexing. First, Pope Francis addressed the issue of meat consumption in the 2020 EU Youth Address in Ukraine: “There is an urgent need to reduce the consumption not only of fossil fuels but also of so many superfluous things. In certain areas of the world, too, it would be appropriate to consume less meat: this too can help save the environment”. In Laudate Deum, again, Pope Francis praises the actions of individuals to make significant lifestyle changes: to waste less, reduce pollution, consume with prudence, and create a new culture (Laudate Deum §71). Individual actions help to bring about transformation at the heart of society. However, the implications of prudent consumption are left to the imagination. Industrial animal agriculture is contrary to both human and animal dignity. In the search for the greatest profit possible at minimal cost and time, farmers are exploited. Corporations recruit vulnerable immigrants, who are less likely to complain about hazardous working conditions including the risk of diseases and infections. At the same time, animals are subjected to violent modes of oppression. It is imperative that individual actions protect both humans and animals and foster relationships which recognise the fraternity and sorority of all living beings.
We regret that implicit ideas left to be read between the lines are insufficient. Laudate Deum is an urgent final call to action to reverse those effects of climate change which can be reversed, and to slow down or halt the irreversible consequences. Most importantly, the Exhortation continues the trajectory of Laudato Si’ to create a new spirituality, an ongoing conversation which recognises the indisputable scientific data. It is regrettable, then, that the findings of the IPCC and COP26 on the climactic and emissive effects of agriculture are overlooked. We cannot deny any longer the correlation between an accelerated increase of greenhouse gas emissions and the industrialisation of food production. Where industrialised processes were once necessary in order to provide food security, the same, intensified processes now threaten ecological security for the Poor and the Earth.
CCA laments the omission of nonhuman animals from Laudate Deum – a step back from Laudato Si’, insofar as our nonhuman brothers and sisters are not mentioned as animal creatures. A “situated anthropocentrism” should recognise the intrinsic worth of nonhuman creatures in the context of a unique human dignity rooted in responsibility (Laudato Si’ §15, 43, 69, 90, 118). It is now more important than ever that the Catholic Church guides the laity to enact their individual vocation as co-operator with God. Saint Francis’ significance lies in his life, canticles and actions (Laudate Deum §1): the way that we are, the way we think, and the way we live in this world are all connected. We must be better than laying implicit messages within official teaching: we must stand up for the vulnerable, human and nonhuman alike, and offer ethical guidance to stand up for the Poor and the Earth. Political and global action is only possible when we value the individual acts of unique beings. Yet no two individuals are the same. Simply put, those of the low, richer percentage who contribute more to global emissions also carry a far greater burden of responsibility for change. Only through recognising the differentiated responsibility throughout the world do ecological actions truly become social.
The unique dignity of human beings is a double-edged sword: it has the propensity to see itself in place of God (Laudate Deum §73), resulting in an ever-expanding power, lacking the wherewithal to control it (Laudate Deum §24). Yet it is also our only hope to leave a legacy behind, to recover harmonious relationships with the rest of God’s creation (Laudate Deum §18). We call on the Vatican to address the urgent issue of food systems, particularly pertaining to the catastrophic effects of industrial animal agriculture upon humans, animals, and the Earth. CCA urges Pope Francis to encourage the individual actions which influence global change. In this manner, Saint Francis is a beacon of hope, for he approached each human and nonhuman being as an individual brother or sister: we are all connected as intrinsically valuable creatures of God. But, as Pope Francis highlights, “the other creatures of this world have stopped being our companions along the way and have become instead our victims” (Laudate Deum §15). What we eat and how we produce it correlates to a human mastery over animals which inflicts harm upon our relationships. It is therefore imperative that Pope Francis addresses the harmful modes of dominion which exploit animals in all aspects of integral ecology, such as the abuse of animals for human entertainment and research. There is no more room for omissions when it comes to the ecological crisis – this serves only to appear to be concerned, without the courage to produce substantial change (Laudate Deum §56). The Church must add to its social body instruction on the human relationships with our fellow animal brothers and sisters through practical engagement.
Written by Ruby R. Alemu, University of Aberdeen
on behalf of Catholic Concern for Animals
Catherine C. Ivanovich, Tianyi Sun, Doria R. Gordon & Ilissa B. Ocko, “Future Warming from Global Food Consumption,” Nature Climate Change, 13.1 (2023) https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-023-01605-8#MOESM1
Compassion in World Farming, “Ending Factory Farming: People and Poverty,” (2023) https://www.ciwf.org.uk/factory-farming/people-and-poverty/#people-and-poverty-sources
Food Empowerment Project “Animal Agriculture Workers,” (2022) https://foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/animal-agriculture-workers/
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “Climate Change 2023 Synthesis Report: Summary for Policymakers,” IPCC, ed. Core Writing team, Hoesung Lee & José Romero (2023) https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/syr/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_SYR_SPM.pdf
Pope Francis, Laudate Deum (Liberia Editrice Vaticana 2023)
Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ (Liberia Editrice Vaticana 2015)
Pope Francis, Message of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Participants in the EU Youth Conference Prague 11-13 July 2022 (Liberia Editrice Vaticana 2022)
Saint Francis of Assisi, The Little Flowers of Saint Francis, trans. Thomas Walker Arnold (London: J. M. Dent 1907).