“Need to rethink power; humanity as a part of nature”(LD 24)
Laudate Deum (LD) conveys Pope Francis’ feelings of exasperation and urgency, occasioned by the global lukewarm responses to Laudato Si’ and “business-as-usual” attitudes of most when he states: “With the passage of time, I have realized that our responses have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point” (LD §2) for reasons that “the necessary transition towards clean energy sources such as wind and solar energy, and the abandonment of fossil fuels, is not progressing at the necessary speed” (LD §55). Worst of all, “whatever is being done risks being seen only as a ploy to distract attention” (LD §55).
Drumming up the ripple effects of Laudato Si’ with Laudate Deum on world leaders, especially those delegates who are preparing to meet in Dubai for the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference from 30 November to 12 December 2023, is indeed commendable.
More so, located within the decolonial space in Asia, I gravitate toward LD’s geopolitics, particularly in terms of the “unequal power differentials” between developing nations of the south and the developed nations of the north.
The phrase “homicidal pragmatism” (LD §57) is enigmatic at first glance. Ruminating on the “layers of meaning” as this term percolates within me, I become more convinced of how this term provides me with a hermeneutical lens to gauge the existing power differentials which played itself out in the past eight years in the global theatre.
More than ever, many commentators in Asia, the Global South, and humankind are convinced that the technical solutions borne of science and technology wedded to the “technocratic paradigm” (LD §§ 20-33; LS §106, §108) of the globalized, hegemonic neo-liberalist economic model (LS §§51, 56) is not only homicidal but “an ecocide“.
More alarming is that this model aims nothing short of “an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm … which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery, and transformation (LS §106) that aims, “in the final analysis neither for-profit nor for the well-being of the human race” but ultimately at “power [as]is its motive – a lordship overall” (LS §108).
Furthermore, there is a growing concern that such anti-oikos and totalitarian use of power (LD §§24-28), void of “a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality” (LD §24), only shores up “the ethical decadence of real power” (LD §29) with glaring failure to set limits, ethical criteria and norms for “clear-minded self-restraints” (LD §24).
Without ethical restraints, all short-term (albeit appealing) “efforts at adaptation”, not discounting “some interventions and technological advances that make it possible to absorb or capture gas emissions have proved promising” have thus far been untenable.
In all counts, Laudate Deum minces no words in calling a spade a spade. In his point-blank manner, Francis draws our attention that such solutions suffered from “the irresponsible derision that would present this issue as something purely ecological, “green”, romantic, frequently subject to ridicule by economic interests”(LD §58).
Alas, this is traceable to a lamentable blindness to “what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system” (LD §57).
Fast slipping away is the era of a unipolar world as LD hails the emergence of the multipolar world (LD §42).
LD further spelt out the characteristics of this multipolar world. First of all, this multipolar world accelerates globalization which “favours spontaneous cultural interchanges, greater mutual knowledge and processes of integration of peoples, which end up provoking a multilateralism “from below” and not simply one determined by the elites of power” (LD 38).
I am delighted to learn that this sense of multiculturalism in this multipolar order “is not dependent on changing political conditions or the interests of a certain few, and possesses a stable efficacy” (LD §39).
Much appreciated is the fact that this multicultural sense is actually being globalized especially through the concerns of the “postmodern culture [which] has generated a new sensitivity towards the more vulnerable and less powerful” (LD §39).
It is most affirming to learn from LD that this emergence of multiculturalism arises “from below throughout the world, where activists from very different countries help and support one another, can end up pressuring the sources of power” to concertedly address the climate crisis.
More intriguingly this power shift, accelerated by the assertion of developing countries includes the “radicalized” groups who “exercise a healthy “pressure” for the concerted efforts to bring about intergenerational justice and earth resilience (LD §58).
This assertion “from below” has counterculturally become “a new voice” with “a greater role” (LD §51) in global fora.
This power shift is already heralded by “an evident openness to recognizing the fact that combustible fuels still provide 80 percent of the world’s energy and that their use continues to increase” at the 2022 COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt (LD §50) and “a step forward in consolidating a system for financing “loss and damage” in countries most affected by climate disasters” (LD §51).
The assertion of the Global South for the rights to resilience is morally legitimate, given the climate injustice of “irresponsible lifestyle connected to the Western model” (LD §72) in which “emissions per individual in the United States are about two times greater than those of individuals living in China, and about seven times greater than the average of the poorest countries” (LD §72).
More crucial in our climate-stricken oikos is the need for a new multilateral framework with “required spaces for conversation, consultation, arbitration, conflict resolution and supervision, and, in the end, a sort of increased “democratization” in the global context (LD §43) in place of a rogue meritocracy (LD § ) that “can easily become a screen that further consolidates the privileges of a few with great power” (LD 32) perpetuating “the rights of the more powerful without caring for those of all” (LD §42). Only then can the envisaged multipolar-multicultural “global safeguarding” (LD §42) be actualized.
For this reason, I draw much inspiration from what Pope Francis has rightly insisted: “For this reason, I reiterate that “unless citizens control political power – national, regional and municipal – it will not be possible to control damage to the environment” (LD §38).
This multicultural-polar framework is most crucial and relevant in the post-LD era, with global and effective rules to ensure the “respect for the most elementary human rights, social rights and the protection of our common home”(LD §42) has to be the rightful demand “from below”.
The “cries from below” are echoed by LD which decries the ineffectiveness of international institutions (LD §§34-43). The reasons spelt out are clear: the multiple nations’ myopic prioritization of their “national interests above the global common good” (LD §52).
Even COP 28 is doomed to failure. Francis cuts to the chase and insists that COP 28 must “meet three conditions: that they are efficient, obligatory and readily monitored” (LD §59).
It is indeed very affirming to read LD’s reference to our Judeo-Christian’s “situated anthropocentrism” which further grounds humans in God, in creation and in nature for God “has united us to all creatures” which makes us more mindful that “the entire world is a “contact zone” (LD §66) with the Creator-Sustainer-God, fellow creatures and all lifeforms.
Truly, our situatedness in this oikos is a constant reminder that we humans are “part of the universe [as] all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect” (LD §67).
Lest we become despondent after eight years, let us draw inspiration and strength from this Apostolic Exhortation:
70. Nonetheless, every little bit helps, and avoiding an increase of a tenth of a degree in the global temperature would already suffice to alleviate some suffering for many people. Yet what is important is something less quantitative: the need to realize that there are no lasting changes without cultural changes, without a maturing of lifestyles and convictions within societies, and there are no cultural changes without personal changes.
71. Efforts by households to reduce pollution and waste, and to consume with prudence, are creating a new culture. The mere fact that personal, family and community habits are changing is contributing to greater concern about the unfulfilled responsibilities of the political sectors and indignation at the lack of interest shown by the powerful. Let us realize, then, that even though this does not immediately produce a notable effect from the quantitative standpoint, we are helping to bring about large processes of transformation rising from deep within society.
Let Laudate Deum’s final admonition be carved into our hearts, “For when human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies” (LD §73).
Our consolation arises from Laudato Si’: “Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.” (LS §205).
Indeed “we need each other in order to have a good life through right relationship with God, neighbor/poor and Mother Earth” (LS §66).
Fr. Jojo M. Fung S.J. is a board member of Sacred Springs: Dialogue Institute of Spirituality and Sustainability and a member of Laudato Si’ Asia-Coalition of Culture of Care, Resilience and Ecological Justice (LASIA-CAREJ) in partnership with Asian Sacred Wisdom (ASW). He is an associate professor of systematic theology at the Loyola School of Theology, Manila.
His most recent E-Version of his September 21, 2023 book is entitled A Sacred Sojourn with the Spirit of Wisdom in the Era of Pnuema-Saptientolocen. His upcoming books are entitled Polyhedral Christianity: Creational Pneumatology for Cosmicism & Enspirited Leadership and One-ing With Creation: An Asian Ecological Sense.