Portland Mayor Charlie Hales commutes on Portland's lightrail.
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales commutes on Portland's lightrail.

Mayor Charlie Hales of Portland will be knocking on Pope Francis’ door at the Vatican July 21, to meet with the pope and the mayors of 16 other cities that are on the cutting edge of addressing climate change.

“We’re excited to be part of the discussion, to meet the pope, and have this conversation about the exploitation of the poor and the planet,” says Mayor Hales, who praises Laudato Si, the pope’s encyclical.

In preparation for his trip, Mayor Hales met with Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample this afternoon. The archbishop recently returned from Rome himself.

“It was a warm and welcoming meeting,” says Hales. Afterwards, Hales said the two leaders brainstormed on how they could work together after Hales returns.

“This isn’t just a ‘here’s an important message,’” says Hales. “It’s about actions that will need to take place over years of people working together.”

Other American cities whose mayors were invited to the discussion include Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, New York, and Boulder, Colo. Those U.S. mayors expect to share a conference call ahead of meeting with the pope.

Outside the United States, cities include Oslo, Berlin, Rome, Seoul, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg, Istanbul, and Melbourne.

Mayor Hales believes Portland was included on the list in acknowledgement of the city’s leadership in climate action policies. Hales was on the Portland city council in 1993 when the council developed a climate action plan, the first in the country. City council meets on Wednesday, June 24, to update its course on achieving an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

Portland is also a member of the C40 Cities, a group of cities worldwide working to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate risk.

“We invest in the common good, and we live better,” says Hales. “We’re not making terrible lifestyle sacrifices. There’s not a tradeoff between business prosperity and the environment.”

Portland, says the mayor, boasts 12,000 jobs in the “greentech” sector, that is, businesses that produce products and offer services to improve the environment. In addition, Portland boasts a large number of companies outside that relocated here because of the city’s reputation as a green place to live.

Hales describes Laudato Si as being a ground-breaking document that weaves together science, the understanding of how environmental degradation hurts the poor, and the moral argument for change. “It’s so timely. It’s the first time a lot of people have heard the voice of the church so clearly on this.”

He believes Pope Francis’s encyclical will make a difference in the effort to limit and turn around greenhouse gasses and climate change.

Hales says he’s a fan of the pope for several reasons. “He so clearly lives his values, and who he is shines through. And because he has taken on these issues.”

Hales, who had not previously met Archbishop Sample, said that he was grateful that the pope’s invitation had brought the two Portland leaders together. “He loves Portland, and he’s a fisherman,” Hales says approvingly.

Hales’ wife Nancy will accompany him on the trip, as will the city’s director of the Office of Governmental Relations, Martha Pelligrino. Hales and his wife plan to take vacation time to see Rome beyond meeting with the pope. “It would be wrong not to,” he says.