Pope Francis Gave Trump a Letter on Climate Change. Here's Why the President Should Actually Read It

Donald Trump
Trump reading the pope's encyclical on climate change is about as likely as the pope binge-watching a season of "Celebrity Apprentice." Reuters

Outside of wondering whether Melania Trump fed her husband a Slovenian pastry, the funniest thing the pope did during President Trump's visit was gifting him a climate change encyclical.

Pope Francis has long advocated climate change awareness, and in 2015—exactly two years ago Wednesday, in fact—he published an encyclical letter on the subject titled Laudato si'. As far as letters go, it's pretty long, coming in at nearly 40,000 words.

"Well, I'll be reading them," Trump said.

The chance that Trump, a climate change denier whose recent budget proposal slashes funding to the Environmental Protection Agency, would actually read a text on the issue that does not feature easy-to-digest bullet points or Trump's own name is very, very slim. Giving Trump such a letter is about as pointless as if Trump were to give the pope a DVD box set of Celebrity Apprentice. Trump did, however, think the pope wold make a good contestant on his former reality show.

Related: Will his summit with the pope help Trump with U.S. Catholics?

Laudato si' is a truly impressive document in which the pope outlines his thoughts about the confluence of science and spirituality as they pertain to protecting the environment. If someone is science-averse but religious, the letter would be a good entry point into the importance of the climate change issue, which is perhaps what Pope Francis was thinking when he decided to offer it to Trump.

The letter is inspired largely by St. Francis of Assisi, for whom Pope Francis has expressed great admiration. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs," Asissi writes in a canticle referenced in the letter's first point.

Pope Francis argues that we cannot continue to pillage the Earth of its resources with no regard for its well being. "Nothing in this world is indifferent to us," he writes, before outlining how previous popes have, in one way or another, shared this same belief.

The appeal with which Pope Francis closes the letter's introduction seems to be expressly directed at people like Trump, who have remained ignorant of the planet's environmental crisis:

I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. As the bishops of Southern Africa have stated: “Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation”. All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.

What follows are six chapters covering all aspects of the religiosity of preserving the environment. Here are some choice takeaways, all of which Trump would do well to heed as he charts a course for America's role in dealing with climate change.

On the need to take action:

At the same time we can note the rise of a false or superficial ecology which bolsters complacency and a cheerful recklessness. As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear. Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a licence to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.

On respecting God's dominion over the Earth:

A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality.

On reconsidering "Thou shalt not kill":

The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others. That is why the New Zealand bishops asked what the commandment “Thou shall not kill” means when “twenty percent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive."

On the need for unity:

Politics and the economy tend to blame each other when it comes to poverty and environmental degradation. It is to be hoped that they can acknowledge their own mistakes and find forms of interaction directed to the common good. While some are concerned only with financial gain, and others with holding on to or increasing their power, what we are left with are conflicts or spurious agreements where the last thing either party is concerned about is caring for the environment and protecting those who are most vulnerable. Here too, we see how true it is that “unity is greater than conflict."

On taking personal responsibility:

In calling to mind the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi, we come to realize that a healthy relationship with creation is one dimension of overall personal conversion, which entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults and failures, and leads to heartfelt repentance and desire to change. The Australian bishops spoke of the importance of such conversion for achieving reconciliation with creation: “To achieve such reconciliation, we must examine our lives and acknowledge the ways in which we have harmed God’s creation through our actions and our failure to act. We need to experience a conversion, or change of heart."

Though Trump is unlikely to give much thought to the letter, maybe he can at least heed this last point and make sure to recycle his empty McDonald's containers.