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Pope Francis: climate activist? : NPR

Pope Francis is a staunch advocate for addressing climate change.

Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images


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Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images


Pope Francis is a staunch advocate for addressing climate change.

Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

“Activist” and “pope.” Historically, these are not two words that go together. But they have over the past decade, especially when it comes to climate change.

Who is he? Jorge Mario Bergoglio. AKA Pontifex. AKA the Pope.

What’s the big deal? For years, Pope Francis has been using his position to raise awareness of climate change. Now, he’s going to COP — the United Nations’ annual climate conference.

  • He will be the first pontiff to go the conference, and he isn’t stopping there.
  • In 2015, Francis released “Laudato Si,” a major papal document where he urged the world to take climate change seriously and to cut back on material waste and consumption-centered lifestyles.
  • Last month, he revisited the topic in a new major writing, “Laudate Deum.” Over the last eight years, the climate has gotten hotter, and the Pope’s tone in this writing has changed as well.

What are people saying? All Things Considered host Scott Detrow spoke with Fordham University professor Christiana Zenner, who studied the pope’s writings on climate change; and Nicole Winfield, the Vatican correspondent for the Associated Press.

Here’s Zenner on how Francis’ tone has shifted over the years:

This document is a doubling down and an intensification of some of the rhetoric that was nascently present in “Laudato Si” but has been amplified in substantial ways in “Laudate Deum.” So whereas “Laudato Si'” was broad-based in very significant ways, “Laudate Deum” is shorter.

It’s focused. It’s pithier. It’s crankier. And it is focusing in on climate change in particular. Now, we know that climate change, climate crises — these have many different kinds of vectors — water, food security, migration and so forth. And so those topics also appear in this document.

But the pointedness of this document being about climate change — in particular, the veracity of anthropogenic climate change linked to fossil fuel extraction, and combustion, the complicity of contemporary economic paradigms and modes of power in perpetuating that dynamic, and the disproportionate burden on the poor and vulnerable while rich nations continue to over consume and do nothing — that is really the heart of this message.

And the way that it is centralized and the way that it is absolutely unrelenting is distinctive. And I think that’s true not only in relation to Pope Francis and his own writings, but also in relation to pretty much any document at this level of authority from the Catholic Church.

Want more? Listen to Consider This dive deeper into this story.

Here’s Winfield on what the pope may hope to achieve by attending COP28:

I think he’s hoping that this will kind of elevate what he has already said and been saying for many years, but with a personal appearance in Dubai.

He has been very much on the world stage. He’s had envoys going to Moscow and Kyiv.

You know, he’s trying to do what he can on that war. He’s obviously desperately concerned about the situation in the Holy Land. Early on in his papacy, he and the Vatican helped negotiate the breakthrough agreement between the United States and Cuba that led to the détente.

But in terms of actual outcomes, there’s not a lot there, but he does bring to the table the moral authority of the papacy.

And Winfield on how urgently the pope prioritizes climate change among his social causes:

It is by far one of the most, if not the most, critical issue for him, and it’s because he sees this as a very holistic issue.

For him, this brings in issues of poverty, migration, war and peace. And when he addresses it, he addresses it from many different points of view and angles that shows that everything is interconnected. And so for him, everything that matters right now can be pulled together and looked at through the prism of the environment and climate change.

So, what now? COP28 will run this year from Thursday, Nov. 3o to Tuesday, Dec. 12 in Dubai.

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The radio version of this story was produced by Emma Klein and Marc Rivers. It was edited by Jeanette Woods and Bridget Kelley. It was hosted by Scott Detrow.


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