Bill McKibben writing on The Pope and the Planet in the NYRB on the radical nature of what Pope Francis is calling for as ‘care for our common home’: Thinking of my home in Zimbabwe as I read this as well as the devastating pollution of the Angolan coastline defaced by international oil rigs:
But the pope is just as radical, given current reality, when he insists on beauty over ugliness. When he demands the protection from development of “those common areas, visual landmarks and urban landscapes which increase our sense of belonging, of rootedness, of ‘feeling at home’ within a city which includes us and brings us together,” he is not just celebrating Frederick Law Olmsted—he’s wading into, for instance, the still-simmering Turkish revolt that began with plans to tear down Istanbul’s Gezi Park and replace it with a mall and luxury apartments.
He also insists on giving “priority to public transportation” over private cars. This was the precise phrase used by Jaime Lerner, the visionary mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, when a generation ago he launched the world’s best transit system. His vision of Bus Rapid Transit is now spreading around the world, and it works best precisely where it most inconveniences autos, by insisting on dedicated bus lanes and the like. It makes getting around as easy for the poor as for the rich; every BRT lane is a concrete demonstration of what the Latin American liberation theologians, scorned and hounded by previous popes, once called “the preferential option for the poor.”
The pope is at his most rigorous when he insists that we must prefer the common good to individual advancement, for of course the world we currently inhabit really began with Ronald Reagan’s and Margaret Thatcher’s insistence on the opposite. (It was Thatcher who said, memorably, that “there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families,” and that’s that.) In particular, the pope insists that “intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.”
Think of the limitations that really believing that would place on our current activities. And think too what it would mean if we kept not only “the poor of the future in mind, but also today’s poor, whose life on this earth is brief and who cannot keep on waiting.” We literally would have to stop doing much of what we’re currently doing; with poor people living on the margins firmly in mind, and weighing the interests of dozens of future generations, would someone like to write a brief favoring, say, this summer’s expansion by Shell (with permission from President Obama) of oil drilling into the newly melted waters of the Arctic? Again the only applicable word is “radical.”