Charlie Hales and Political Morality

I ran across this on Facebook this morning:  “Why the hell don’t more people care!?!”

My response? “Because we only care about what puts money in our pockets, that’s why.”

Of course there are other reasons folks don’t seem to care. They include having to deal with a personal health issue, meeting a work deadline, finishing a term paper, getting the hay baled before it rains, taking that big trip on the bucket list … those kinds of things. But isn’t it possible people are looking for reasons not to have to get involved with these really disturbing issues? I think so.

But the angry FB comment was about climate change. It was about that person’s feeling that most folks just don’t seem to care about it. Here’s what was going on. This frustrated and angry “What is wrong with everyone” begins with the mayor of Portland, Oregon, Charlie Hales.  Our man Charlie was one of 60 mayors from around the world to accept the Pope’s invitation to come to Italy.  Aaaaand, guess what happened?! A miracle!  Charlie “found religion” so to speak. Here’s Charlie telling about that. Link

Please notice Charlie’s emphasis on what he learned at the Vatican about climate change. “It’s not just a scientific or policy issue; it’s moral issue.”  So he signed a “commitment to work together with other mayors to achieve tangible change.”

I remember Charlie when he was a candidate for city council in 1963. He came to the financial services office where I worked to gain our favor. He was–still is–an attractive, progressive guy. After all, the man he served with for years on the city council and followed as mayor is gay. You don’t get elected in Portland, Oregon as a card-carrying conservative.

But here’s the thing about Charlie; and it’s also pretty much true about all politicians as far as I can tell. He was very comfortable with gushing over the fact that the “Pope himself” taught him that climate change is a moral, not policy issue. Unfortunately moral is usually trumped (pun intended) by money. As you learned from the interview here Charlie’s morality conveniently ignores the fact that Shell Oil Company drilling for oil in the Arctic has dire consequences for the climate. Now, to be fair, most any business or political leader is inclined to focus on those who say our technology has taken care of the problem that caused British Petroleum’s disaster in the Gulf of Mexico a few years ago. That same leader is not, however, likely to listen to the scientists and environmental experts who tell us how much greater the risks are drilling for oil in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska. And the reason for that is very simple. If he did the right thing and joined with the activists blocking the icebreaker from leaving the Portland dry dock, he could never be re-elected! OMG!

Of course his honor, Mayor Hale didn’t join with the hundreds of activists (two of them dangling from the St. John’s bridge) to stop the icebreaker Fennica’s departure. I’m sure his rationale was, if we stop this ship we’ll lose X hundreds of thousands of dollars in the future when other ships go elsewhere for repairs. So the political consequences of being responsible for  turning away significant cash flow into the Port of Portland bank account explains how Charlie quickly lost his new-found religion.

Hey Charlie, here’s what you said just a week ago (this is at the end of the interview):  “The biggest takeaway for me; we heard from climate scientists, we heard from the Pope himself a very consistent message: ‘This is really bad. This is really serious. this is a crisis. but there’s still time to make a difference.’ There’s still time to not have this become an environmental apocalypse. It can be an environmental problem. It already is around the world, even here too. But that was the most hopeful thing. It’s really bad, but it’s not too late.”

You know what’s bad Charlie? Apparently it’s still too early for Portland to stand up and play a key role in saving the planet from environmental calamity.




  1. “Why the hell don’t more people care!?!” There’s an implication here that everyone’s cause is the most important cause. Some of us are maxed out and can’t add every cause that comes along.

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