Pope Francis issued an urgent plea for climate action on Wednesday, just as a new survey was released showing that few people of faith see climate change as a crisis.

The pope’s new letter, titled “Laudate Deum,” which means “Praise God,” criticizes world leaders for failing to take action to protect the environment and specifically attacks the United States for its “irresponsible” behavior, according to The Washington Post.

“If we consider that 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, we can state that a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact,” Pope Francis wrote.

Many religious Americans see the Earth as sacred. So what explains their climate change views?

The new letter builds on the pope’s previous statements on the environment, including the 184-page “Laudato Si” document released ahead of climate meetings in Paris in 2015.

In “Laudate Deum,” Pope Francis adopts somewhat of an exasperated tone, according to National Catholic Reporter, acknowledging that “Laudato Si” did not inspire enough change.

“The world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point,” he wrote.

Religious views on climate change

Although Pope Francis has linked loving God to caring for creation numerous times during his papacy, his message hasn’t totally caught on among American Catholics.

A new survey from Public Religion Research Institute found that only around half of white Catholics (56%) believe it’s “extremely” or “very” important to live up “to our God given role as stewards to take care of the earth.”

A larger share of Hispanic Catholics (79%) expressed strong support for the stewardship statement. But even among this group, few see climate change as a crisis.

Here are the shares of members of various faith groups who see climate change as a crisis:

  • 32% of Jews.
  • 31% of Hispanic Catholics.
  • 22% of white mainline Protestants.
  • 20% of white Catholics.
  • 19% of Black Protestants.
  • 16% of Hispanic Protestants.
  • 10% of Latter-day Saints.

Catholics also aren’t unified around the idea that humans are deepening environmental issues through their actions, which Pope Francis writes about in his letter. A small share of white Catholics (10%) and Hispanic Catholics (6%) say there’s no solid evidence that climate change actually exists.

Here are the shares of members of various faith groups who believe climate change is mostly caused by human activity:

  • 76% of Hispanic Catholics
  • 70% of non-Christian religions.
  • 67% of Jews.
  • 61% of Hispanic Protestants.
  • 59% of Black Protestants.
  • 56% of white Catholics.
  • 54% of white mainline Protestants.
  • 48% of Latter-day Saints.
  • 31% of white evangelical Protestants.

While members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are among the least likely religious Americans to view climate change as a crisis or to blame humans for environmental issues, the survey showed they are the most likely to “feel a deep spiritual connection with nature and the earth most days.”

Nearly three-quarters of Latter-day Saints (73%) agreed with that statement, compared to 61% of members of non-Christian religions, 60% of Hispanic Catholics and fewer than half (42%) of Jews, the survey reported.

Public Religion Research Institute’s new report on religious views on climate change is based on more than 5,000 online survey responses from adults across the U.S. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 1.62 percentage points.

Reactions to the pope’s new climate change letter

Cardinal Michael Czerny, a top Vatican official, told The Washington Post that the pope’s new letter is meant for more than just Catholics. The goal is for a broad, diverse group of people of faith to get involved in climate action.

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“Laudate Deum” “is not just for Catholics or other pious and holy people. It is for the world community,” he said.

Here are other reactions to the pope’s climate change letter:

  • The Catholic Climate Covenant, a nonprofit that aims to help Catholic individuals and organizations better care for the Earth, praised the pope for being direct about where things stand today.

“Laudate Deum is a direct, unsparing and immediate call to action by all Catholics and all people of goodwill, beginning by recognizing the urgency of the climate crisis and its devastating impact on God’s creation and the most vulnerable among us. The Pope’s message is clear throughout the document: our faith demands that we act now to protect our common home, and the dignity and life of all humanity and creation within it,” the organization said in a statement.

  • David Cloutier, a professor of moral theology at Catholic University, told The Washington Post that the pope hasn’t given up on convincing Catholics to see caring for the environment as an expression of their faith.

“It is safe to say that many Catholics still do not view care for the environment as a central aspect of what it means to be a Catholic. ... They view it as an optional activity that some Catholics might be involved in on the side, not a central commitment. But Pope Francis clearly is trying to move the church in that direction,” Cloutier said.

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