On care for our common home

Copies of Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," are stacked on a table June 30, 2015, in New York City. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
Copies of Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," are stacked on a table June 30, 2015, in New York City. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

by Phyllis Zagano

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When you were decking your halls recently, they probably were not in your 30,000 square-foot hillside mansion in Los Angeles. That's not a typo. Things have gotten so out-of-hand in California that The New York Times ran a front-page story about the seventy-foot high $100-million extravaganza the neighbors call "the Starship Enterprise."

Maybe the Archdiocese of Los Angeles should tack a copy of Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home"​ to the front door of the building?

The construction is ruining the environment. No kidding. There are tales of dirty water run-off, trucked-out dirt, even the threat of landslide.

Things are getting quite serious. Maybe not in your backyard today, but tomorrow. …

It is time for everyone to take a deep look at what is going on. Let's connect the dots between climate change, excessive building, and money.

Yes, I know about the Paris climate change agreement. Yes, I know 196 world leaders agreed to do something for the planet. But Paris was essentially about poverty. The excesses of the rich are what cause greenhouse gasses, and it is the poor who suffer. The rich are not generally focused on their carbon footprints or whether they've properly separated the paper and plastic for recycling.

I am talking about the superrich, the folks overbuilding in California and elsewhere around the world. I am talking about the secret rich, who have enough money to keep from being famous. I am talking about the very rich, who settle back in wood-paneled cabins of their private aircraft with double beds and showers and butlers as they jet from one hideaway to another. You can read the details in The Times. You can see the results in L.A.

Of course it's not only in Los Angeles. In larger or smaller measure, the same blight spreads in cities and towns around the globe where zoning and building inspections are minimal or non-existent, or where other shall we say "interests" are considered when granting variances. No matter who you are, someone else has more money, more power, and more connections. No matter where you are, you have the opportunity to suffer the poverty of careless oversight combined with too much money, power, and connections. The overall result: a ruined neighborhood or cityscape, a polluted stream or wasted woodland. Whether really or metaphorically, each of us lives with the truly poor at the bottom of every overbuilt hill awaiting the certain landslide of rubbish and dirty water.

In these respects, with Laudato Si' Pope Francis is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Except of course, there's not that much wilderness left. Francis' words are strong, but realistic: pollution causes premature deaths and the earth is starting to look like "an immense pile of filth."

The bottom line, in Francis' words: "we have no such right."

No, we do not. But, we suffer equally the "globalization of indifference." Whether at the town council meeting or down at the zoning board, high-priced lawyers argue that this or another structure or road or clearing is "in keeping with the surrounding area." Other high-priced lawyers create the shell companies that own the land and structures, so even if a government agency orders a correction or a tear-down, the village, town, or city must expend huge resources just finding out who owns the place.

So it is with the Los Angeles "residence" that seems big enough to house a plane load full of refugees. Who owns it? Who can do anything about it? And, beyond the people at the bottom of the hill, who cares?

[Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. She will speak February 9, 2016 at St. Michael's College, Vermont and May 6, 2016 at the University of St. Michael's College, Toronto. Her books include On Prayer: A Letter to My Godchild and In the Image of Christ: Essays on Being Catholic and Female.]

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